Founded 20 years ago by Ida Rile and Norma Lesher, the store was purchased by Ida's son, Steve Rile, last year and has since brought a local workroom in-house, taken its first steps onto the Internet and is preparing to move into the computer age. The whole while, Ida & Norma's is banking on a few, essential constants: its solid reputation for custom draperies and window treatments, top-notch customer service and its extraordinarily wide-ranging name recognition. "People know that we've been around a long time, and that helps," Steve says. "We're going to be here in the future. There's a real commitment, and I think people realize that."
In 1980 Ida Rile and Norma Lesher began advertising their custom drapery and interior decorating business on local television through locally produced commercials. At the time, they were one of only two or three area businesses making use of television ads and it has paid off in the ensuing years in name recognition alone. Featuring the two women on camera and updated regularly, many of Ida & Norma's customers most likely grew up watching these commercials as Ida and Norma became local, even regional, media stars.
The television ad campaign is expensive and takes up most of the advertising budget, Steve Rile admits, "But it's extremely effective. It's almost instant response. We get people who will see it, call us and we'll make the sale. It's tough to take money away from something that gives you results like that."
The Spokane market plays an important role in the commercials' success. The largest northern-tier city between Minneapolis and Seattle, Spokane is a city surrounded by many smaller communities, and television is the one common denominator reaching all of the store's prospects. It's no wonder it remains the center of its marketing strategy today.
From the start, Ida & Norma's Draperies' made in-home sales calls throughout a 100-mile radius around Spokane. Today, its market even can stretch into Canada thanks to the television ads. The area has seen ups and downs in the housing market, but seems to be experiencing another rise thanks to the influx of small, high-tech businesses and the health care industry, which now is the area's largest employer.
Ninety-five percent of sales are residential, with a higher percentage these days being remodeling projects and a lot of fabric treatments now being top treatments. "Customers are buying a blind or shade first, then putting a top treatment over it—anything from something fairly simple to something completely elaborate. We're seeing a full range of the different things they'll put up for top treatments," Ida says.
Illustrating this point, Steve created an unusual top treatment that won a decorating contest held last year by Hunter Douglas Window Fashions. (See D&WC, February 2000.) Using Luminette Window Shadings and the matching fabric program, Rile worked on the Sarah Jae Hee house during the Showcase of Homes at Shelly Lake. The four-bedroom home was designed in a Far Eastern, Zen-like style. For the master bedroom, Rile created a fabric and wood frame top treatment inspired by traditional Japanese shoji screens.
Not all customers have clear ideas of what they want in their homes, however. "That's where our decorators come in," Steve says. Ida and Norma's has a full-time office manager, Alyssa Howes, who also covers the showroom floor, and two outside decorators, Connie Boucher and Karlene Schoedel.
"The thing that makes us the most different is that we have the ability to do anything the customer wants," says Steve. He tells of a national department store that has been making plans to return to offering custom draperies. The store contacted Ida & Norma's to see if they would be interested in the work. Steve brought the offer to his decorators. "Connie said, 'You know, I want to do what the customer wants, not just what we have to sell'," Steve says. "There are no boundaries. We have done all kinds of custom things: custom-built cornices, painted and with wallpaper border, and any kind of custom window treatment that can be dreamt up."
Steve admits he can't compete with low-cost outlets for home owners looking for the lowest price, but then that's not the clientele he serves. "Customers are willing to pay more to get the value of having us here," he says.
"Also, if they have a problem, we're here to put a new cord into their shade. We'll do that service for anything a customer has purchased from us," adds Ida.
Of course, Ida & Norma's charges for repairs on products not purchased there, and the store has seen an increase in this service. Actually, Steve says the area's big outlet store is one of their biggest referrals. "Customers will look for parts there and can't find them and they will send them to us," Steve says.
Ever since Ida & Norma's first opened for business, the store has always used local workrooms. Ida explains it was important for the work to be done locally. "The quality could always be watched and problems handled as they arose," she says. This year, Ida & Norma's took a big step and brought in-house a workroom it has used since the very beginning. In fact, even Wilma Carrell, one of the sewers who started working with Ida and Norma in 1980, is now officially a part of the business. In mid-September, Steve was busily helping move equipment and tables for Carrell and Caroline Hurst to set up the new workroom in a separate facility not far from the showroom.
There are definite advantages to having its own workroom and having it nearby. "Now our workroom is going to be close enough that if we need to take a customer there to see something before it even goes in the home, we'll be able to do that," says Ida.
But as Steve adds, the advantages begin before that. "Even the ability to have the designer run down and look at it is important, too," he says. "They can tell right away if it isn't what the customer wanted or that it isn't quite the way we wanted to do it, or if we need to change it before it goes out. We're going to have a lot more control."
By control, Steve is particularly interested in organizing, streamlining and increasing efficiency. The first step is to use the store as the gatekeeper for the workroom. "They will be able to sew and produce, while we'll be doing all the figuring using one set of work orders," he explains. "The routing of fabrics will come through here, be checked in, assigned to the job and then go to the workroom."
"The phone shouldn't have to ring very often down there," Ida adds.
As with many aspects of the business, Steve is looking to further bolster the workroom in the future. "We're going to start this [workroom] business doing just our work, until we get things really working smoothly. Then we'll look into taking in some other accounts," he says.
FROM PAPER TO CYBERSPACE
The biggest steps Ida & Norma's is taking to ensure continued success has to do with new technology. After 20 years of running the business on paper, Steve is ready to computerize its operation. "We've found that the paper system works, but as the business grows it becomes more and more difficult to keep up with it," he says. "We've got our computers, we have our software, we just basically have to implement the whole system. It will involve computerizing the entire process from the point-of-sale through the accounting, through the purchase orders and accounts receivable—everything including costing out the jobs."
Steve looked at many accounting software packages, but decided on a custom-made program. "There's a lot of accounting software out there, but I wanted a point-of-sale software that would tie together with an accounting software and this one basically does it all. Our front-end terminal we'll make the sales terminal, and it will automatically go right to the back-room terminal and it will all be connected," he says.
The next step after that will be looking into computerizing the workroom. "There's also a lot of workroom stuff out there," Steve says. "When we get to that end we're going to try to streamline that process a little." The biggest challenge right now is determining how to factor workroom costs into the system. "We're thinking of coming up with what it costs us per hour to run the workroom," Ida says, "and then using that per-hour cost as a basis for the cost of the job, so all the ladies will really have to do is tell us how many hours they spent on each job."
In the meantime, Ida & Norma's has already made the leap into cyberspace with a store Web site (www.idaandnormas.com). "Everybody says you have to have a Web site these days, but I wasn't totally convinced," Steve admits. "Initially I thought, how are we going to sell custom draperies over the Internet? The more I looked at it, thought about it and talked to people, I thought maybe there are some things we can do with this."
At first, Steve saw Web sites as a glorified yellow pages ad and thought that's all it ever would be. But Ida & Norma's was recruited by a Web design and e-commerce firm, which got Steve interested enough to followed up. But it was probably a personal online shopping experience that finally made Steve decide to do it:
"The last time we were shopping for a bicycle for my daughter we got out the phone book, looked up the normal suspects and found they had Web pages. So we got on their Web pages, and we were comparing three different brands of bicycles. We made the decision, and then we went to the store in person. It's a great tool. Even if there isn't any actual purchase over the Internet, it's a great tool to show the product and hopefully customers will come to us when they are ready."
Ida & Norma's Web page went up quickly, basically to cover its television ad campaign. "I wanted to do this TV ad and I wanted to be able to says Ida and Norma's dot com," Steve says. For now the site includes a few photographs and the basic contact information, but Steve plans to add a "What's New" and an "About Us" section soon. "It's a quick, easy way to get a lot of information out there," he says.
In the long-term, there are some exciting ideas Steve has about Web marketing. "I'm thinking we might even be able to do some of our own, exclusive line of drapery-related products—custom-made finials and things like that." He is working with a local stain glass maker and is considering offering custom-color glass finials over the Internet.
It's just another step Ida & Norma's is taking to ensure continued success.