Joseph F. Jankoski
Corporate Vice President, Merchandising
Cultivating extremely satisfied customers is the essence of success in our business.
Unfortunately, our product category (custom ordered window coverings) is not one that enjoys top-of-the-mind consumer awareness. Our challenge is to motivate consumers to seriously consider purchasing our products and, obviously, to come to you to make that purchase.
Today, those retailers who invest in advertising that is designed to reach specifically targeted households simply get better quality leads at a lower cost.
Today, those retailers who capture and utilize their customer databases get much more out of their happy customers. Think about it, the typical three- to four-unit purchase will cover only 20 percent of the existing windows of the house. That customer could and should be back to you again and again.
Today, those retailers who present their products in a fashion-forward, upscale manner capture a larger percentage of big-ticket sales. The consumer cost for a multiple unit purchase of Silhouette® or Luminette® typically exceeds $2,000. Competition at that price point is not other brands of window coverings, but other $2,000 items such as a personal computer, big screen television or dream vacation. You must make your $2,000 purchase option look as attractive and desirous to buy as the other $2,000 items.
Today, those retailers who offer a wide range of value-added services and have knowledgeable salespeople are able to differentiate themselves from the crowded marketplace that seems to compete only on price.
Today, those retailers who cultivate extremely satisfied customers will benefit directly as those old customers happily tell their friends, neighbors and relatives about you. Success indeed breeds success.
Today, Hunter Douglas has developed a wide assortment of marketing tools and education programs to help the retail community create the consumer value that results in success. We sincerely thank all of the retailers that supported us this past year and look forward to working even harder for you in 1999.
Develop a Reputation as the Best
Retailers can have an excellent 1999. A focus on fashion and quality will steer your customers to you.
You can develop the best reputation in your area by offering your customers distinctive products, such as Vertilux Collection washable fabrics, which show your customers that you understand their needs. Customers approach you for your knowledge of the products and your ability to meet their needs.
Learn what is new, and what works in different settings. Vertilux Collection spends a great deal of time and energy identifying customer trends and marketing methods, and we know the market will not be satisfied with the solutions from 10 years ago. Customers call several suppliers looking for lower prices, but if you can offer something better and different they have no reason to call the next person. But if they do call, you will win the deal by helping them. Always start by identifying their needs. Too often retailers try to sell what is easy. Customers will not be excited if you offer the same solutions as everyone else, or if you sell based on your own needs. If you find out what your customers really want and help them get it, they will be ecstatic.
Buck the Trend: Provide Service
Comfortex Window Fashions
What can retailers do to make the most of sales in 1999? Surprising as it may be, the answer is service.
I was stunned recently while watching a report broadcast on a major nightly news station. The report stated that service is passé. It said that even many business schools were de-emphasizing the importance of service to bottom-line profits. The point of the report was that with less money invested in good, personal service, you'll save money on the cost of products and customers will still come.
However, what the report failed to elaborate on, although it was mentioned, was that the positive net impact was short term. What possible good can come from short-term targeted practices that have a negative impact on the long-term viability of a business? There isn't a business student in the country who wouldn't know the answer to that question.
What can retailers do? If the trend is, in fact, toward less service and greater short-term, bottom-line dollars, then the best thing a retailer can do is buck the trend. As incredible as it sounds, you'll be providing something that customers appreciate and will come back for. You'll gain positive word-of-mouth advertising-the best kind. You'll create long-term relationships and secure your future. Businesses that have been around for a while know this secret. Let the giants ride the trends and watch the giants fall.
Forge Reliable Relationships
H.T. Barnes Co., Inc.
Forging a relationship with a multi-product distributor increases productivity and profits from sales. These professionals should be developed and relied upon as you would your banker or accountant.
Buying smarter means more than purchasing at the lowest price. It means: 1) Increasing profits by purchasing multiple products at a time, taking advantage of suppliers who offer free freight on certain dollar purchases. 2) Planning ahead for fabric, trim and accessory needs to avoid costly delays at peak demand times when supplies are short. 3) Avoiding overnight shipping costs by placing orders in advance. Rush shipping adds substantial cost to any job. 4) Taking time to consider your needs in hardware and other supplies for installations to avoid restocking charges and additional handling fees along with call-back charges incurred from installers.
Rely on your supplier to provide more than just product. He should have a knowledge and willingness to assist you and find items that may not be stocked normally. With the large number of items available, it's almost impossible for a supplier to stock every item. However, if you use and rely on this partner, he should keep those items you prefer, personalizing his inventory for you.
Attend supplier-sponsored seminars to gain product knowledge and new trends. Hearing and seeing the product and services your supplier offers makes you a more profitable professional.
Knowing your supplier and what he can offer adds to your profits. Remember, he sells more than product. He sells service, and good service saves you money.
Selling and Installing Custom Treatments Is Not Enough
On-Site Drapery Cleaning & More
Offer a service contract with each sale. Retailers then will be able to answer their customers' concerns regarding cleaning and maintaining their new window treatments at the same time-greatly increasing profits.
Consumers recently have been purchasing Hunter Douglas' Luminette® Privacy Sheers as well as the Silhouette® and Duette® shadings without having the slightest idea about how to clean them. Now and in the future, they will be coming back to the professionals who created or installed them looking for answers. On-Site Drapery Cleaning & More provides you with the answers.
The On-Site system has proven itself to be the only method for cleaning many of the impossible-to-clean window treatments on the market today. In a recent test against several other cleaning methods, the On-Site system, with its new proprietary cleaning head, was found to be the only effective means for cleaning treatments such as Luminette without shrinkage or damage.
Window coverings professionals now have the means to increase their profits dramatically by offering this simple, effective, guaranteed method for cleaning popular window fashions that cannot be cleaned using traditional methods. It is no longer enough just to sell or install popular window treatments-sooner or later, consumers are also going to want to have them cleaned. If window coverings professionals have the answer or, better yet, offer the service themselves, they also have an edge over their competition.
Make the Timely Transition to Automation
BTX Window Automation, Inc.
The important trend to be involved in is functionally movable window coverings, which will be integrated in the home automation process.
The move toward structured wiring in the residential building market is progressing rapidly. Traditional market drivers such as video services, home theaters, etc. now are being overshadowed by the need for wiring networks driven by the use of home computers connected to the Internet. The 10 million home offices today are estimated to triple by the year 2000. There is an enormous potential demand for structured wiring, which is beginning to get builders' attention. A recent survey by Pro Builder Magazine shows approximately 50 percent of the builders now consider the availability of home automation systems and integrated wiring systems important. A drastic change from only a few years ago.
The ability to control operational functions throughout the home within the integrated system eventually will become a basic requirement. All functionally movable window coverings fall into this category. The challenge to the window coverings industry will be to make the transition in a timely manner.
To bring products and technology as closely to the market as possible, BTX/Elero Supply provides the necessary motors, components and controls that permit manufacturers to provide their motorization systems at competitive pricing. A strong engineering back up team will help take fabricators and suppliers through the learning curve as technology gains a foothold. A vast market with great new profitability is unfolding. Forward thinking companies are getting into this now. Once you see the bandwagon, it may be too late.
Take the Art of Sales to Next Level
Skandia Window Fashions
As 1999 begins and we look beyond, training and sales savvy will become the pertinent trend in our industry. Anyone can give away price; who can persuade and influence? As prices bottom out it will be the window coverings professional's dedication to knowledge and learning new skills that will win!
Selling is an art; most people won't make the commitment to further their expertise in their chosen field. Seminars, books, product knowledge and overall training will separate the winners. The old saying is so true, "Knowledge is power."
Who will challenge their abilities and go to the next level? Tomorrow never comes for some. Take action now! Work on your presentation skills, your appearance, your knowledge and sales ability. The outlook for 1999 will become a lot clearer.
Expand Product Offering and Knowledge
Indian River Shutter Co.
Increased product knowledge and professional support will continue to be the keys for success at the retail level. Customers have become more sophisticated in their decision making, evaluating their purchases for overall value including functionality, maintenance and cost.
Consumers will require retailers to be on top of their game, providing direct answers to their most challenging questions regarding products and application. Retailers will be forced to expand their knowledge and sales into product groups and categories they neglected in the past. High-end products such as shutters will continue to offer the greatest sales opportunity for those retailers looking to expand. Retailers who remain reluctant to enter the high-end market will lose out, big time!
Retailers must access their professional support groups to obtain the knowledge necessary to gain the competitive edge. A wealth of knowledge can be supplied by your current supplier, their sales and customer service groups and your installer. Remember, the professionals you chose are an extension of your business and will contribute directly to the success you achieve. If your current support groups seems disinterested or too busy to help, replace them with others who are willing to help support your business.
Be Visual, Help Customers with Store Displays
Color and Design Analyst
Kirsch Decorative Hardware
Even though decorative drapery hardware has been popular for a while, many consumers still are not confident using it. The choices involved in any interior design project represent a personal style statement, which is risky and frightening to the average home owner. Consumers are looking for ideas, rules and reassurance in their choices. They are looking to you, the expert, to provide them. If you do, you'll create the level of confidence required for a shopper to become a buyer.
During the coming years you will see two definite trends in decorative drapery hardware. First, you will see many new materials and finishes well beyond common metal and wood selections. Second, you will see manufacturers responding to a demand for functionality and flexibility working hand-in-hand with aesthetics.
Consumers are unlikely to buy products unless they are taught why they need them (the benefits) and how to use them. With window treatment design, that means showing consumers how elements come together to create a look-a style statement-not simply a window covering.
The key is to be visual with your customers, your shopper needs to see the soft goods and hardware displayed together in treatments. The bulk of your customers simply cannot visualize a treatment when the soft goods are hanging in bags and the hardware is lined up in boxes.
We have seen display vignettes used very successfully at retail, all the way through to coordinating accessories. These visual presentations have the endorsement of an expert and tell the customer, "Here is how you use this." The result: people are taking it home.
You can do this through in-store vignettes, visual brochures, your personal portfolio, Kirsch's Window Shopping book, maybe even a portfolio of magazine clippings you've put together to offer ideas.
A well executed window treatment vignette builds excitement toward the product and gives consumers the confidence to put a similar treatment in their homes.
Vignettes also are your opportunity to sell up. When you use a high-end collection, like those from the C.W. Kirsch Signature Series, the consumer will position her thinking at a higher level and you will likely end up with a higher ticket sale.
Displaying products in end use can serve to increase individual sales, as well as overall volume.
We know there is a trend toward people personalizing their homes, but they still want help. In fact, they need help to become confident enough to actually purchase a product. Research shows that women want to be shown many choices and want visual presentation of those choices. They take this information and adapt it to fit their own personal styles. Sometimes this means using a common product in a very uncommon way. The Kirsch product development team's goal when developing new products is to create products that are aesthetic, simple to use and flexible enough to adapt to many uses. These product attributes fit the time starved lifestyle and the aging population well, as they demand products that are simple to install, simple to use and aesthetically pleasing.
The Best Equipment Makes the Best Product
David A. Walker
LTL International, Inc.
With the popularity of two-inch horizontal blinds at an all-time high and consumer demand steadily increasing, horizontal blind fabricators are facing many new challenges.
Historically, whenever the demand for a product increases, the desire for lower costs, higher quality and faster delivery increase as well. One year ago the average delivery time for two-inch wood blinds was approximately two weeks. Today, anything over five working days is considered slow. This trend has prompted many companies to gain control by fabricating their own two-inch blinds.
Two-inch horizontal blinds are one of the most labor-intensive products in our industry. Labor represents the second highest cost factor in each blind produced and is the most difficult to control. Due to the nation's low unemployment rate it has become increasingly harder to find and keep qualified employees who are willing to work for the wages fabricators can afford to pay.
As a third generation horizontal blind manufacturer with more than 30 years of personal hands-on experience, the owner of LTL International, Inc. recognized the need to design and manufacture machines capable of significantly decreasing the labor requirement associated with the production of horizontal blinds. Consequently, in March 1997 LTL introduced the Fully Automatic Wood (FAW) machine, which has already proven to reduce the labor requirement by as much as 33 percent. Today, LTL has more automatic two-inch machines in use than any other company.
Companies using the FAW have dramatically increased production without increasing their overhead by hiring additional employees or increasing the size of their facilities. The result is a higher quality blind delivered faster and in many cases at a more competitive price.
Our advice to retailers for a successful and profitable 1999 is to make sure your supplier is using the most advanced fabrication machinery available.
Stay Sharp, Focused and Informed
Today's retailers are facing some of the toughest challenges in years. Today's market is more competitive. Today's consumers have more window treatment choices than ever before from an increasing number of sources. And, today's consumers are more knowledgeable than ever before. The Internet is a powerful tool for consumers to research new products, find sources, conduct price comparisons and simply get an education. Retailers need to stay competitive, sharp, focused and informed.
Insightful retailers will anticipate this need and prepare themselves to meet the demands of the increasingly well-informed and demanding consumers. Salespeople will need to be more aggressive, more knowledgeable and solution oriented. Successful retailers will offer solutions that incorporate the latest technology, address new design trends and add value to every sale.
Retailers need to position their product lines so that upgrades are always a possibility. Moving a customer up a level is an opportunity that should never be overlooked. Adding value can mean maximizing profits in a sale or occasionally, in today's competitive environment, it means securing the sale. Salespeople need to recognize and separate the opportunities. Whether you are adding value to close the sale or to maximize profits, it is going to build consumer confidence, loyalty and good will.