Shubert's Draperies specializes in custom-made window coverings, top treatments, horizontal and vertical blinds and shades. It also offers drapery dry cleaning with pick-up and delivery service. It's a business Shubert has spent a lifetime building having gotten his first taste at selling window treatments during his junior year in high school. Each day after school he went to work for a window shade and Venetian blind store on Chicago's northwest side. "It made a big difference for me," Shubert says, "I've stayed with it all my life."
Still Got It
Shubert and his wife, Sylvia, run the business, which is 90 percent custom-made draperies and entirely residential these days. Rudy handles all of the store's in-home sales and does all the measuring himself. Sylvia takes care of the in-store sales. "We only allow ourselves so many calls per day," Rudy says. "It's not how many calls you make in a day, it's how well you make the calls. I don't go for volume, I go for quality sales," he adds.
Shubert's success can be summed up by time-honored values: hard work, quality products and service. "That's what we specialize in," Shubert says. "We start early in the morning and whenever the last customer walks out, that's when we go home," he says. "In the window shade business, back when I was in high school, on Mondays and Thursdays the store used to be open until nine o'clock in the evening. On Saturdays we used to be open from eight to six," Shubert remembers.
Quality products are a hallmark of Shubert's Draperies beginning with the treatments Rudy designs. Each drapery begins with "good, quality fabrics," he says. Shubert names Mitchell Fabrics, ADO, R & M and Kashmir as his top fabric suppliers. Hunter Douglas and Beauti Vue Products supply the hard treatments.
For service, it all comes down to doing whatever Shubert's Draperies can for its customers. To start, that means Rudy personally pulls samples to load into his van to take to a customer's home. "In retailing, shop-at-home is customer service. It is very important," Shubert admonishes. Not only does he measure a customer's windows, but after one of his two installers hangs a treatment Shubert goes back to check on each job.
Financial services are yet another way Shubert helps his customers. He makes a point in all his advertising to mention the store accepts all major credit cards. That way, Shubert makes it easier for customers to purchase a truly custom treatment and, in return, he is able to ask for-and get-a bigger deposit.
Shubert's Draperies also does something rarely heard of anymore in this industry. "We still do a small amount of business in which we finance the purchase ourselves," Shubert says. "We can't get away from the old customers who used to buy that way and we still give them time payments with the old-fashioned coupon book-we still have that, but only for preferred customers."
Give Them What They Want
Perhaps above all, Shubert believes in treating customers right. "They'll always come back, and that counts," he says. "We're not a high pressure store." One of the virtues of being in business for 41 years is that you get to work with the grandchildren of some customers. "We're on third-generation customers," Shubert says. "That's a sale as soon as they walk into the store."
Shubert's philosophy might be: Give the customers what they want. When he designs a window treatment Shubert bases it on experience and "what sells in the neighborhood. I keep it affordable. There's no sense in designing something nobody's going to use," he says. "The biggest thing that's selling right now in my neighborhood-and you've got to remember, every neighborhood is different-is vertical blinds with top treatments. Vertical blinds have been very strong for the last three or four years," Shubert says.
Do customers know what they want when they walk into the store? "That depends on the age of the person. I would never suspect in all my years in business that women over 65 or 70 years old would buy verticals. But they are. So I have to change my attitude, because this is what they want and this is what I give them."
But more in fitting with its name, Shubert's Custom Made Draperies is selling more draperies these days, especially sheer draperies with top treatments, according to Shubert. "Of course we sell pleated shades for bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms. This is what the customers want," he admits. He adds that pleated shades are starting to bypass horizontal blinds in sales.
Those customers who aren't referrals come to Shubert's Draperies through advertising. "We advertise. That's one thing I've learned," Shubert says. "I remember one thing that I read years and years ago about Mr. [William] Wrigley Jr. of Wrigley's chewing gum. As much business as they do, they still take a percentage of their sales and advertise. And I do the same thing. We advertise locally in our community newspaper every week because there's always people looking for an item we're handling," he says.
Shubert's newspaper ads invite customers to visit its showroom or shop at home. "But we emphasize a visit to our showroom because it's a better sale if they come into the store," Shubert says. The 1,800-square-foot store is three-quarters showroom and filled with "the best fabric selection on the southwest side of Chicago," he boasts.
"We believe in store displays because when the customers see a product then they know exactly what you're talking about," Shubert says. The showroom features two large display windows facing busy Archer Ave., a primary business artery through Garfield Ridge. The display in the window on the west side of the door features custom-made draperies and swags. "That window is only custom-made all the time," Shubert explains. The display in the window to the east of the door changes. "Right now we're featuring verticals with top treatments. This summer, when it gets real hot, we'll feature a whole window of custom and stock window shades," he says.
Shubert's Draperies has been located in Garfield Ridge since its beginning. Shubert decided to open a retail showroom after expanding his product offering. "I originally started out handling Venetian blinds only," he says. "I used to sell 100 blinds a week at full market price using a 24- by 24-inch hand sample," he adds.
When Shubert's sole supplier of blinds, Universal Venetian Blinds in Forest Park, IL, added a line of drapery hardware Shubert started selling drapery rods even though he didn't offer draperies. He then met Saul S. Siegal, a large manufacturer and distributor of drapery fabrics for the Chicago area, and established $1,000 credit with a handshake. When a second textiles company heard about the deal, it offered to match it. "They trusted me," Shubert says.
Shubert chose Garfield Ridge because the area surrounding Midway Airport, Chicago's first but lesser known airport on the neighborhood's eastern edge, was experiencing a construction boom. "Houses were going up by the block," he recalls. Midway still brings millions of dollars into the neighborhood every year, Shubert estimates. He notes that quite a few of his customers either work at the airport or at one of the many businesses supporting passenger air service.
An established, primarily residential neighborhood made up mostly of married couples with children, Garfield Ridge has experienced a new wave of construction over the past three years that has invigorated the neighborhood. It has made Shubert's decision to locate and stay there all the wiser. "I decided a long time ago that I wasn't going to go to the suburbs and I made the right decision. In the suburbs they've got competition on top of competition, and the rents are very high," he explains.
Shubert still has no plans to add other retail locations or products, but even after 41 years he and Sylvia are far from winding down the business. "We've still got years to go. We're enjoying it," he says.
After 41 years, Rudy and Sylvia Shubert still enjoy their custom window treatment business and have "years to go."