Its owners, Robert and Sandra Wininger, offer full-service interior decorating through a recently updated showroom, which has been known to catch the eye of several passers-by including a celebrity or two. The showroom presents the gamut of window coverings products from inexpensive mini-blinds to high-end draperies as well as shutters and decorative fabrics.
Over the past two years, Rob and Sandra have expanded both the showroom's space and its contents primarily because customers had been asking them to do more for them. Their product offerings now include flooring, "quite a bit of reupholstery" and custom bedding, pillows, trimmings, wrought iron rods and window screens. Still, about 80 percent of the business is custom window coverings.
As a company, F & R Blinds and Interiors has gone from operating out of a spare bedroom to its current 1,700-square-foot showroom in just 10 years. Its success is based on creativity, fun and hard work.
Rob Wininger credits his wife, Sandra, for the creativity. Sandra Wininger had been raised in the business from the time she worked for her mother, a designer, in Paris. "When Sandra was a little girl she literally was hooking the draperies to help her mother. In those days they didn't have workrooms," Rob Wininger says. Then, before joining Rob full-time, Sandra worked as a costume designer.
She, on the other hand, remembers the early days, the long days and late nights Rob put in booking as many appointments as possible then staying up to write the estimates so they could be faxed to clients the next morning. That effort has paid off in many ways and is at the core of Rob Wininger's drive to keep building the business.
"If you ever stop growing, you die," he says. "You've always got to be looking ahead, planning and trying to grow. You can't just settle for the status quo; this business is just too fast and it's too competitive. You've got to be ahead of the game and constantly evolving."
The fun part comes from working together with clients. "We have fun with what we do," Rob says. "I think we really, truly enjoy it, especially when we get into the design process. When we really get involved with our customers they see that we're treating it like it would be our own home. We just enjoy it, and they get that."
SHOW AND SELL
The showroom for F & R Blinds and Interiors recently underwent a renovation. Walls were torn down to open the space, a new color scheme was created and its overall look was updated. The aim was to invite passers-by to stop in and to appeal to higher-end clients.
It became necessary to update the showroom, Sandra explains, to reflect changes in styles and fashions. "If we got tired of it, I'm sure our clients got tired of it," she says.
"Now we have some red walls, some green walls and yellow walls, and a black floor to keep it different than what you would expect, I think, in a drapery showroom. It's not just to build a room to display the draperies or the samples, but to really give you the feel that you are in a design space."
Plans for the showroom's large storefront display windows call for creating two vertical panels with window-size openings to showcase fabrics that can be changed regularly. Inside, full-size window displays provide clients with a feel for what a treatment in the showroom will look like in their homes. Fabric samples hang from wrought iron rods of Sandra's design. And sure to catch someone's eye, a fashion mannequin cleverly displays fabric and trims.
"I like using props," Sandra says of her showroom displays. "Sometimes it's old pieces of wrought iron I find in the trash. We need to bring together various aspects of the business and the outside world and not just concentrate on draperies," she explains.
"We actually have an antique bathtub—I don't know where she got it—all of sudden it became beautiful," Rob says. "It was just overflowing with these gorgeous fabrics. That was in the front of the store for a while."
"Because of our location," he continues, "there are a lot of very high-end and top designers and just private clientele walking by the street, and you have about the time it takes to walk 15 to 20 yards to catch their attention. So you have to have something that's going to catch their eye and bring them into the showroom. That's what we aim for."
One of Sandra's unusual displays involved a gold picture frame hanging from the ceiling with clear line. She then draped about six yards of fabric from the floor, through the frame and back to the floor again. "We had so many people walk in just asking about that fabric," she says. "It was a really special fabric, but it was also displayed in an interesting way.
For Rob and Sandra, it's not unusual for someone driving by to stop and run into the showroom just to grab a business card. "Most of those become pretty big jobs," Sandra says. Sometimes those customers are celebrities who may drive around, but don't usually shop around. "Once in a while something on display will grab their eye and they'll come in to grab a card. A month or two later we'll get a phone call," Sandra says.
"We had very famous, international celebrities—and we had no idea who these people were—who just ran in and took a card," Rob recalls. "The guy says, 'My wife has been driving by your showroom and she loves it. It's the only thing that she sees that she loves.'
"So we made an appointment. I went out there by myself the first time, and when I saw the house, I realized what the size of the project was. I took the initial measurements and got an idea of what we were talking about and Sandra went out later on. It ended up being a $35,000 job. That's literally from these unusual designs and fun little things that we do and someone sees we're creative."
"People do like to see creative things," Sandra says, "and it definitely attracts them. However, they often end up with very traditional and classic things in their homes even though they like to be stimulated by something different. But once they see that we can create something different, they start developing a trust in us and they say, 'Yes, I think you can help me.'"
For those clients who are not celebrities, it's a good bet they are repeat customers or came to F & R Blinds and Interiors through a referral. Rob Wininger says about 60 percent of the business falls into this category. "I'm only too happy when I get a phone call from someone who remembers us from nine years ago," he says. "It's a real honor, and it just says something about our business when we get those phone calls."
About 10 to 20 percent of sales are to the design community. "We have a very extensive interior design clientele who trust us even to walk through homes with them to evaluate the window coverings needs," Wininger says.
The second largest group of clients comes to F & R Blinds and Interiors through its directory listings. Although not as notable, perhaps, as some big-name residential and design clients, these are the customers who support the business and have helped it grow to where Rob and Sandra needed additional staff to cover the workload. "I'm really proud of those smaller jobs," Rob says. "We really try to leave our doors open. We're in a very high-end designer area, but I don't think we've ever wanted to close the window of opportunity as far as who comes in and who we'll sell to." And, in fact, many of these clients lead to bigger and better jobs.
"About seven years ago, a woman came in and she needed one pleated shade in a rented house not too far from where I was living," Rob says. "The whole job may have been $80 to $90. I actually installed it myself on the way into work one day. Two weeks later I get this phone call from a fairly popular interior designer who said her client was in the hair salon and heard from the stylist about this great window coverings company. This turned out to be about a $20,000 motorization job, and to this day we work with this interior designer.
"I've always looked at this as not so much a sales business, but a relationship and creative business," he continues. "Our whole lives are based on relationships whether they be business or personal, and the quality of those relationships will reflect in the quality of the business that you build and grow. I go into every job with total, good intentions, really wanting to do the best job I can, and everybody in this company has that philosophy."