"Our philosophy is to try to get good people and keep good people. Fortunately we've had very low turnover over the years. I have several people who have been working for me for 15 years," says Rick Pease, co-owner. "We try, from a pay, benefits and company culture point of view, to create an atmosphere that makes people want to work for us and want to stay with us."
As a retailer and a manufacturer, Innovative Openings has a good size payroll: 37 employees, many working in the manufacturing side of the business. But the importance of Innovative Openings' people-centric philosophy is even more evident when you consider it can be the deciding factor in corporate planning, such as when the company opened its third retail store last year in Fort Collins.
"The biggest thing behind expansion in our eyes really is people. We want to create opportunities for the good people that we have. That was what was behind our decision to open the store in Fort Collins. We found a person we wanted to have work for our business, then we decided to open the Fort Collins store as opposed to saying, 'Let's open a store in Fort Collins,' then putting an ad in the paper to see if we could find anybody that would want to work there," Pease says.
"Philosophically, we place more value on people than on whether we want to have more stores. It is a people equation that will determine that," Pease explains.
Covering the Market
Innovative Openings' three stores are located in Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins. Each is staffed, on average, with four salespeople. Typically, they are among the best and most experienced available. "Our salespeople average 15 years in the business, although not all with us," Pease explains. "We've tried to go after people who were in the business and were in the industry they wanted to stay in."
The stores sell all the major national branded window covering products along with some of its own products and unbranded products from other fabricators. "In our retail stores we sell everything from blinds, shades, draperies and wood shutters to retractable awnings and solar shades. We do lots with motorization and specialty treatments that may be for overhead glazing or greenhouse treatments," Pease says.
All three stores feature full-size product displays including drapery vignettes. But the stores vary in size-from 1,500 square feet to 3,500 square feet-and in surroundings. Innovative Openings' original, and largest, store is in Boulder situated in a light industrial area with highway frontage. The Denver store is located in a strip shopping center along with a grocery, a hardware and a furniture store. Its newest store, Fort Collins, is in a smaller retail center next to a furniture store.
"Our Boulder store works the best for us because we've been there the longest and we have the most past customers and referrals from that location," Pease says.
"All three markets are competitive," Pease continues. "In a given product segment, say basic wood blinds, I have lots of competitors. But if you look at our product line, we cover a wider gamut than what most of our competitors cover. I have very few competitors-maybe zero competitors-that sell everything we sell," he adds.
"We try not to focus so much on worrying about a particular competitor. I think we have lots of good competitors, whether they are the big box companies, retail fabricators or just an independent out there. We're more concerned about what we're doing. We're trying to offer quality service and something different in the service end of the business that the big boxes can't compete with. We're willing to price things where they need to be priced to make a profit, and if we lose the job at that point there's plenty of other jobs to get. We think there are lots of customers who are willing to pay for expertise and service, and pay a fair price. That's how we have positioned our business," Pease says.
To reach its customers, Innovative Openings spends "a lot of money on advertising," says Pease. "I probably spend more money relative to our sales in Fort Collins than we do in our other markets, but when you move into a new area you're starting from ground zero. We knew this time that that is what it was going to take so we took a longer view at getting a return on our time and energy," Pease explains. "We use a combination of newspapers, direct mail, yellow pages and direct selling. We're looking to take it up another notch in Fort Collins."
Customers respond to Innovative Open-ings' advertising either by calling or stopping by one of its stores. "If they come into the store then we have an opportunity to work with them, narrow down their interest and qualify them," Pease says. "Then we would go to their home and measure it and take it the next step," he adds.
"If they call, then we try to do some level of qualifying over the phone and determine if the next step is for them to come in or for us to go out. It depends on how far along they are in their selection process," Pease says.
"Our salespeople have a lot of experience, and when you have a lot of experience you sell that. You want to ask the kind of questions that lets some of that experience come through. You're interested in what type of room they're looking at treatments for-is it for a new home?-and just get a feel for the scope of what they are trying to do and maybe how far along in the selection process they are," he advises.
"Quite often somebody will call up and ask for a particular branded product. They are not necessarily looking for that brand, but it has become the generic name they know. So in going through some of the qualifying you should be able to determine if they are getting three bids for the same brand, or if they are looking for a certain look," he says.
Even if a customer is price shopping, Pease believes Innovative Openings can make a sale. "In a given product category we carry more brands and more selection than most of our competition. So, even though we manufacture vertical blinds, if they're looking for vertical blinds we can show them six or seven other brands," Pease says adding that he tries to cover the gamut in price points in each product category as well.
Most Innovative Openings' sales are completed in the clients' homes. But for many customers a trip to the showroom is necessary. "There's a certain amount of consumers who are looking for selection-or a particular color-and we might go through every book in the store trying to find the right selection for that customer," Pease explains. "We have lots of customers who come in and don't have a clue. They haven't bought window treatments in 12 years and half the things available today they aren't familiar with so we have to do more education for them."
While Pease estimates about 80 percent of sales are to residential customers, the company is just as comfortable working with contract clients. His salespeople have worked with architects, interior designers, general contractors and facility managers.
The new home market is very strong in Colorado these days and that makes Pease happy. "Our salespeople would just as soon go into a new home and sell 37 shades as opposed to two shades in an existing home," he laughs. But even a booming new home market has its downside as owners tend to be a bit price sensitive. "Our competition in the new home market is the other things home owners may want to spend money on for their homes, such as landscaping, than other window coverings companies," Pease explains.
The company's three city area also tends to be a bit soft on soft treatments. "There's probably more alternative window treatments sold than draperies, probably more from a price point than whether people really want them or not. Certainly the top treatment market is coming back," Pease says.
"Many retailers struggle with selling draperies. It's a harder treatment to sell than a cellular shade or wood blind. It takes a lot more time from the selling end to find the right fabric, the look and suitability of a particular treatment. It takes a lot more expertise to sell draperies well. Some of our salespeople are very good with draperies and sell their design expertise," he says. Innovative Openings uses an independent workroom for fabricating soft treatments.
Two years ago Innovative Openings moved its main headquarters into an existing building in Louisville. This location houses the company's main office and an industrial building for some of its manufacturing. It also is where Innovative Openings dispatches its own employed installers.
"We have a shop here so we can make something up special, or do repairs in-house. Things like cellular shades, we warrant cord breakage for the life of the shade and we string them ourselves as opposed to sending them back," Pease says.
Success in the Long Run
Pease started his own business in 1980 concentrating on exterior rolling shutters, an adjunct of a family building products company, and with partner Dave Friedlander it has grown since then. "It kind of evolved from there into more exterior and energy efficient treatments-things like window quilts and retractable awnings and solar screens and those types of products," he says. The company began selling interior products in 1985.
The company still manufactures and sells rolling shutters today. "It's a product that we like and are interested in, although in the national scope of things it is a niche product," Pease says. The three other product lines it fabricates are vertical blinds, including a five-inch vane and blinds using European fabrics and solar screen fabrics; motorization lift systems for wood blinds and cellular and Roman shades; and solar screen and blackout shades. Pease says these products are sold both in his own retail stores and to other dealers in other markets. There's even a wholesale division of the company, Insolroll Shutter & Shading Systems.
With three retail locations up and running is Innovative Openings looking to expand further? "We are always looking at opportunities. I don't think we have a preconceived idea that we have to have x-number of stores or whatever. We're looking to grow our business, but the business plan changes and evolves over time."
When asked to explain Innovative Openings' formula for success, Pease lists three ingredients, but it's no surprise which comes first: "We've got good people. We have good business sense and understand what we need to do to make a profit. We take care of the customers. If you do all those things right, you're going to be successful in the long run, and it has worked so far."