By this fall Jim Servies, president, plans to expand in both scope and physical presence the business he started in 1996 with Mike Ballerini, who heads the company's sales and marketing. The first step is to move WindowPros into a new 20,000-square-foot facility to make it easier to add product lines, which currently includes mini-blinds, vertical blinds, fabric shades, arch window treatments and skylight coverings along with such national name brand products as Hunter Douglas and Levolor, and to increase the fabrication capacity of an extensive line of its own branded wood blinds.
But the biggest step planned for WindowPros is to add five new distributors in five cities from North Carolina to Missouri. Each distributor would have its own exclusive territory and carry the company's brand name. They are not planned as franchises-at least not yet. But it's something Services is looking into for down the road. "We're just not quite there yet," he says. "We want to test the waters with distributors. We want to make sure we get all our systems working and the processes right before we go out there full bore."
The relative quickness of WindowPros' success is based on the years of experience Servies and Ballerini have as installers-in Servies' case, from about the age of 12-where they learned the intricate details of a wide range of window coverings products and they ins and outs of customer service. But the company's most rapid growth has been seen in just the last 18 months and is due, Servies says, to a three-part equation: "Technology, quality and delivery. It all starts with technology, you've got to have the equipment to be able to deliver the product and it has got to be a quality product."
In business, technology is a pervasive double-sided coin effecting both the selling and buying of products, and WindowPros is no exception. Established as a retail business, Servies and Ballerini began selling window treatments while working out of a two-car garage. The business changed forever, however, when they added their own fabrication equipment and began making two-inch wood blinds. "We saw the products that were out there and we saw some of the problems that were in the industry and we thought maybe we could make blinds," Servies recalls. Within six months, WindowPros was a retail fabricator and business took off.
In the back room, computerized equipment from LTL International has helped WindowPros maintain efficiency and control. "We're very efficient at what we're doing," Services says, adding that the full-time production staff of four pushes "quite a few lines out of here." And for a couple of hands-on guys like Servies and Ballerini, control is important. "I like having total control over our product line from start to finish," Servies says. "We want to make sure we keep control over all of it. Control of the quality, control of delivery and control of customer service. That's so key to us in our growth."
WindowPros grew from two to 11 employees and moved into a 6,000-square-foot facility that housed a production department and a retail showroom. Although small, the WindowPros showroom is a vital part of its success. "A lot of times customers come into our store and they don't know what it is they want until they see it hanging in one of our kiosks and ask what it is," Servies says. "That point-of-purchase display is important to present product throughout the store."
Sales is certainly no stranger to technology. On that front, WindowPros is in the process of getting each of its sales reps onto laptop computers so they can input orders from the field directly into the company's system. "Business is going that way and we want to be right there on the cutting edge," Servies says. He adds that proper fail-safe systems are in place to make sure an order never gets lost and a paper trail exists.
On the other side of the coin, WindowPros maintains a Web site (www.windowpros.com) for its customers, which is targeted for expansion in 2001. "The retail customer is researching more (on the Web) and we've had to stay on top of that," Servies says. He plans for the WindowPros site to provide product information and to include how-to instructions. But even now the Web site has shown its worth. Servies estimates he gets one or two sales calls a month from customers moving into the Knoxville area who visited their site first and knew who to call when they got there.
Quality is a hallmark in everything WindowPros does from the smallest component to what can be considered the company's business philosophy: If you're going to do it, do it right and don't cut corners.
All of WindowPros' products follow the same quality guidelines right down the line, and that's the way it's been since it first started. "We said we want the best cradle for this, we want the best cord lock, we want the best cord . . . we went that route. If we were going to do this we were going to build it the best way we can, no short cuts," Servies says.
That attitude stems from the days Servies and Ballerini worked as installers and learned firsthand what worked best and what didn't work well. "We saw a lot of what other people were doing in terms of how they treated customers and the problems products were having. We decided we could do it a little better," Ballerini says.
That philosophy extends beyond products to the very way WindowPros is run. "We don't cut any corners. We're not out there to be the lowest price," Servies explains. "You're sacrificing something somewhere if you're selling at the lowest price and it's either service or it's the quality of the components. You're doing a disservice to the industry and to the customer if you're the cheapest."
"We try to hit budget points for our customers," Servies explains. "Wood blinds being the most expensive and two-inch vinyl the least expensive. We offer budget points because we service not just the high-end customers, we service every budget level we can hit."
Maintaining high quality standards also effects what's in store for WindowPros's future. For example, Servies says the company's goal is to add plantation shutters to its line of fabricated products by November and to have wood blind and shutter production housed together in a new facility by 2001. But like everything else, it has to be done right. "It's a big step for us. We've researched the market. We know we want to offer a quality shutter, but we don't want to cut the corners," he says.
The third part of WindowPros's equation for success, delivery, is the logical result of the efficiency and control afforded by its investment in equipment and insistence on maintaining high quality standards. The goal is customer satisfaction at a time when customers want products as quickly as they can get them. "Three weeks used to be the norm for delivering custom wood blinds. Then it went to two weeks. Now it's two days," Servies laughs. "Next-day delivery is our goal. We're not quite there yet, we're at a week delivery."
But for WindowPros delivering the product also encompasses everything that falls under customer service from having a live person answer the telephone to having in-house installers, following up on sales and handling repairs locally and promptly.
"We're out there to give our customers their money's worth," Servies says. "We lifetime warranty everything we do. As long as the original owner has it in the house, we stand behind it and we'll service it." WindowPros also extends by a year the warranty on the other manufacturers' products it sells to let customers know the company will be there to take care of them. "Normally it's something like a shade needs to be re-corded or things of that nature," Servies explains. "That's not a big deal for us, but it's a big deal for the customer if it has to be shipped back to a different state, and it's a very big deal if it's in their master bedroom." Servies adds that WindowPros can handle many repairs in a day.
If customer referrals are the measure of good customer service, than WindowPros can be proud of its record. "A year ago it was one referral a week maybe." Services says. "Now it's one a day or one every two days. A lot of our customers are just happy to refer us. They are happy with the service they received," he adds. "That was one of our keys when Mike and I started WindowPros. We know the service we've received from other industries. We wanted to be the company people would remember for taking care of them."
"We have to be competitive," says Ballerini, "but a large part of the WindowPros process is service. From beginning to end we really try to take care of our customers. We try to follow up with every customer, let them know they can call if there is any problem. A customer buying one blind can refer dozens of customers to us. We take care of everyone, no matter the order. You never know who you are dealing with."
But like every retailer, once in a while WindowPros runs into someone who strains the meaning of customer service. "We decided long ago that you're going to run into customers who aren't fair," Ballerini says. "It may cost you $200, $300 or $400-or whatever it may be to fix-to make them happy, but it'll save you money in the long run. We make sure we take care of the customers who are problems. It just makes everything else go more smoothly."
Operating smoothly certainly is an asset for WindowPros with its ambitious plans for growth. By this time next year Servies looks to have a new retail showroom in one of Knoxville's shopping districts and an expanded production facility supplying and servicing five regional distributors with branded wood blinds and plantation shutters. It's quite a different scenario from when Servies and Ballerini first started, but with WindowPro's three-part equation for success in place, it all adds up.