These questions are the first ones you must ask yourself when you decide to go into business. You also should ask them frequently-at least twice a year-because you will find your customers change and you will need to appeal to them differently. You also should ask a variation of these questions directly of your customers.
The importance of knowing who your customers are can be illustrated by the following two examples:
• A small chain of retailers in the Midwest started as an office supply store, but found its customers preferred to use them for specialty services-presentation packages, color slide making, high-end printing and award making.
• A full-service grocery store in upstate New York found its customers, about 90 percent college students, used them as a convenience store, buying two or three items at a time (business that does not pay in the low-margin grocery store business.)
Both of these businesses learned about their customers after they were in business. Learning quickly helped save the company in the first example, and it actually became more successful as a result. The company in the second example learned about its customers shortly before it closed.
Did you get into this business selling draperies and find yourself selling more hard treatments? What happened? If you wanted this to happen, and you controlled it, then you are better off.
Many window treatment retailers let their businesses, or their competition, control them. They see there is a market for their products, regardless of its size or the amount of competition, and they pursue it with vigor based on a feeling they have. The PVC vertical market is a good example. There is a true need for PVC verticals. The product has a function and style in the proper window setting. But many professionals have decided to follow this course and too many of them feature the same patterns.
Do your retail customers need all this PVC? Let's try to figure it out. Who are the designers' customers? According to research by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), only 12 percent of home owners stated cost was a related reason for not using a designer. Another 29 percent just wanted to do the work themselves. One way to interpret these figures might be that if a customer hires you, then 1) the customer understands there will be a cost and is willing to pay your fees, and 2) the customer wants you to make the design plans for him or her.
While other interpretations may exist, I prefer this one and so should you. It means you should not be afraid to offer treatments that cost out toward the higher end of your customers' budgets, and you should offer design options that might not have been considered originally.
So, do customers need all this PVC? I don't think so. While you should be able to offer high-quality PVC collections, like the new collections from Vertilux, your customers also would appreciate the quality and beauty of fabrics, also available from Vertilux. These collections are offered in several price groups to provide the variety you need to make your designs.
Do your customers live in $350,000 houses, but want to spend only $35 on window treatments for a single bay window? If so, you either should sell them on a higher end product and the benefits of having a beautiful window treatment design, or refer them to the local home center to do the job themselves.
The best solution for satisfying your customers' needs-whoever they may be-is with designs they like, designs that meet their lifestyles and are within their budgets. To do this, you first must know who your customers are. The best way to get to know that is to ask them.
When you look to join a health club, you usually start your initial tour with an interview. During this interview the trainer tries to learn what you need, or want, from the health club. The trainer then refers to your answers during the tour to show how this club has what you said you wanted.
As a professional designer or retailer, you should do the same. Before reaching for the ruler or sample book, sit down with customers and ask why they came to you or asked you to visit. What are their objectives for you? What are their budgets? Later, offer solutions to these needs and show how they meet the customers' demands.
If you know your customers, selling is easy. Learn about them, and they will show their appreciation with a purchase.
Ben Kutell is national marketing and sales director for Vertilux Collections, Miami, FL, (305) 593-9494, fax: (305) 591-3268.