The John Crawford Co., Woodland Hills, CA, is a full-service custom window treatment store that conducts 90 percent of its sales in customers' homes. To do that, Crawford makes the process as easy and comfortable for clients as possible. "I don't feel we hard-sell anyone. I try to educate, suggest and let the customers know their options. When they know all their choices, then they can make the best selection based on their requirements and lifestyles," Crawford says.
About 60 percent of Crawford's sales are in hard window treatments with the remaining in custom fabric treatments, bedding and upholstery. "We cover the whole range of window treatments. We can do everything from swags to cascades to custom Roman shades. If the customer has an idea of what he or she wants-or better yet, a photograph-we can get the job done and make the customer very happy," Crawford says.
Easy Does It
To create a comfortable relationship with a client, Crawford offers quality products, fair pricing and lots of customer service.
"Each sale usually involves two trips to the home," Crawford says. The first to see what's going on there stylistically and to find out what the customer needs, the second to bring in appropriate fabrics, he explains. Sometimes customers ask if they can come to the store and look at fabrics. "I tell them they are more than welcome to, but we have thousands and thousands of different patterns. I recommend what's best is that they let us spend a couple of hours finding fabrics so they don't have to go through all the books. They like that idea right away," he says.
One of Crawford's most valuable customer service tools is a digital camera. He uses it to snap photographs of a client's room without window treatments. Back at the shop, he loads the image into a computer and adds scanned line art of various treatments so the customer actually can see Crawford's ideas displayed on his or her own windows. Sometimes, he can add scanned fabric samples to the image so customers can get a close representation of the actual colors being suggested. "They are so impressed!" Crawford says. "And I don't charge for it as long as they are buying product from me."
The digital images also are placed in a customer's file for future reference. Months later if a client calls, Crawford can pull the file and see exactly what rooms, treatments and colors he or she is talking about. "The customer thinks, 'Wow, what a memory!'" he laughs.
Another idea customers seem to like is Crawford's pricing. "I price things out fairly. I don't overprice and I don't underprice," he says. "We try to price hard treatments the same as the national retailers. Actually we're a little higher, but I don't add on charges for measurements and installations. We offer one price with everything built into it. I don't nickel and dime them," Crawford explains.
"Some people are just shopping for a dollar amount and they don't care what they are getting. If they are shopping for a number, then I'm not going to be able to help them. But if they're shopping for a quality window treatment, then I'm perfect," Crawford says. "If someone puts me up against the wall by finding a cheaper price somewhere else, I tell them to go wherever they feel the most comfortable. They usually feel more comfortable with me," he says.
"I've had people tell me that they could have gotten it cheaper from somebody else, but they felt I was the honest person, would follow through and they wouldn't have to worry. That's pretty much what I try to do," Crawford says.
The style trends Crawford sees most often is for a very casual look. "The trend is a softer look. Instead of the abrupt look of either a mini- or a vertical blind, people now want to soften the look a little bit. Layered looks are very hot," he says. In fabrics, he sees stressed, 1940s prints. "Washed out colors, pale colors, neutrals, but some heavy colors coming in now," he adds. The same look applies to windows. "I call them poor-boy swags-an unstructured fabric thrown over a pole," Crawford says. Hardware, especially wrought iron, also is a big seller.
"The trend, at least in my business, seems to be to address the entire area-the room or the whole house-instead of simply a window at a time. We are always selling with the whole house in mind. That way when one project ends the next can begin," he explains.
To help customers with decorating, Crawford will work always within their budgets, but also in steps according to their priorities. "I tell a customer that it doesn't matter to me if this project takes one week or if we stretch it over three years. It's up to them and how soon they want it done," he says.
Most new clients are referrals from previous customers. Both tend to be two-income families, often from a middle- to upper-income bracket. To reach them, Crawford buys a half-page advertisement in a local area mailer. Crawford uses co-op advertising money from manufacturers as well as prepared advertising materials.
The mailer is distributed to 30,000 upscale homes in the San Fernando Valley, where most of Crawford's customers live. What often happens is that a family sees the ad and passes it on to a son or daughter who may be more likely to need Crawford's services immediately.
John Crawford Co. also runs an advertisement in the yellow pages telephone directory. That ad, apparently, is just the right size. "A customer called me one time and told me, 'You know what? The reason I called you was because you had a medium size ad. If it's too big, then you charge too much. If it's too small, then you're probably not selling enough.'"
Coast to Coast
Crawford's career has evolved from a hobby to a full-time business. He has been involved in retail in one way or another since high school, although not always with window coverings. While making no claim to possessing book-smarts, Crawford says he has always excelled in mathematics and art. He also seems motivated to work and to own his own business.
Crawford once managed a shoe store and at two different times has worked in a furniture store in upstate New York. At one, he created his own job. "I wanted the store to look nice, so I began keeping myself busy by handling the product displays. Five or six years later, I left as display manager for five stores," he says.
Crawford's introduction to the window treatments industry was while working at a vertical blind factory. "I recall noticing that my boss would go out to a customer's home, take measurements and return with a nice deposit," he says. "I figured I can take measurements. I'm handy with tools. I can do the same thing."
In 1989 Crawford began selling mini-blinds on his own. He gained enough sales experience to impress the curator of the Vanderbilt Estate in Hyde Park, NY. "We discussed work that needed to be done. They had specific design requirements, which I was able to fulfill, so I got the job," Crawford says. Right next door was the Roosevelt Estate. "I was at the right place at the right time and had the right products, so I got that project as well," Crawford recalls.
When the New York economy took a turn to the downside, Crawford had an opportunity to move to California. He settled in Woodland Hills in 1993 and after a brief stint with a wallpaper store opened the John Crawford Co. in 1995.
Located at the end of an off-ramp from the 101 freeway on Ventura Ave., the store gets very few walk-ins, but lots of exposure. Many customers, Crawford says, call after having driven by the store many times. While on the small side, the showroom features lots of window treatment displays along the walls including swags, valances and draperies and, of course, fabric samples.
The fabric treatments were added to the business as trends changed over the past several years. "If I sold only hard treatments I'd be in trouble right now," Crawford says. "Where once clients simply wanted new window shades or blinds, they now look at the total design package-the entire room, and often the entire home. Very often we deliver entire rooms from sheers or swags and shades to custom bedding and upholstery," Crawford says.
Crawford has two employees to help with the workload. Darlene Rubin is his assistant. Mario Sanchez is his installer. As far as competition, Crawford really doesn't feel it. "When I get overwhelmed with business, I will refer customers elsewhere," he says. "Since I have such a large referral base, the job is 90 percent sold before I get to the customer's house."
When asked, Crawford will say there are two keys to his success. One is to show up on time. "The only way to show up on time to is get there early," he says. He has followed this rule to the extent that even if he has forgotten something as basic and as important as a tape measure he will show up for an appointment without it rather than be late. The other is to be a good listener. "Just listen to what customers are saying," he advises.
But experience has taught Crawford at least two other important lessons. He's learned to follow up on every sales call regardless of the size the order seems to be. "I received a call from a woman who lived in another state," Crawford recalls. "She wanted a mini-blind for her bathroom-hardly worth the trip of about 120 miles. However, I made the trip and got an order for one blind. I knew I wasn't making any money on this sale, but I felt compelled to go and eagerly made the sale. I returned about a week later and installed the blind. The customer was very pleased. She asked me if I had time to give her neighbor a quote on some verticals. Of course, I went willingly and got an order of vertical blinds for an entire house!"
Crawford also has learned to be prepared to make an additional sale. "Be ready for add-on sales such as fabric valances, wood cornices, bedding or whatever decorating idea you can suggest. A lot of these sales occur during the installation of the initial item the customer requested. While a treatment is on order, I have time to pick out fabrics and think of decorating ideas the customer might consider. I then suggest these ideas during installation," Crawford says. "I'll stop suggesting when the customer stops buying."