The Peysers own and operate Gamache & Lessard Co. in Auburn, ME. Although they have owned it for 18 years, the store dates back to 1945 and enjoys a solid reputation, as well as name recognition throughout the community, state and now, thanks to the Internet, much of the United States.
The company's Web site, www.windowdecorators.com, was an idea first explored by Peysers' son-in-law Chris Bilobeau, who works at Gamache & Lessard along with the Peysers daughter Amy. At first, the site was basic, Ron Peyser explains, but it since has been updated to include product information, photographs, sizes and colors, ordering information and even links to Web sites of some of the company's suppliers, which include Comfortex, Levolor, Hunter Douglas, Graber, Kirsch and Waverly.
"It has turned out to be pretty good," Peyser says of his venture into e-commerce. "We were amazed at how all of a sudden all of these different clients were coming from all parts of the country and actually ordering shades from us. We have a little packet of samples we send them if they request samples. They call us with their sizes, and usually we ship them out within two days. We've had a lot of repeat customers from that alone," he adds.
In one case, the store's Web site has led to a lasting relationship with an entire town—Ennis, TX—more than half way across the country. "They have absolutely nowhere to go locally for window treatments," Peyser explains. A woman in town found Gamache & Lessard on the Web and e-mailed Peyser asking about custom scalloped shades. "We sent her samples and she ordered a few of them. She liked them so much she ordered more," he says.
Some time later, the same woman e-mailed that her husband was working on putting together a community Web site for Ennis and wanted to list vendors people could go to for different products. She asked for Peyser's permission to include his site. "We said, 'Sure,'" Peyser says. "It has been very interesting. We're seeing business from other people in the town for similar types of treatments they have been unable to find elsewhere."
Peyser notes that many fewer online visitors than he had expected are using the Web site just to price shop. He says most e-mails are from someone asking which product would best suit a particular need, or from someone searching for a particular product or fabric print. He adds that the Web site is likely to get even more of his attention in the future.
"It has been a worthwhile experience. We'd like to see it grow," Peyser says. "We have a very strong base within our showroom and local area and throughout Maine, but the Internet is another area that makes it all exciting.
"It wasn't a terribly big expense. At the time I thought, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I didn't know a small company like ours would ever benefit from it."
There is much more to Gamache & Lessard than its Web site. "We're a pretty well-rounded company at this point," Peyser says. The company's product mix includes the full range of window coverings: vertical and horizontal blinds, shades of all types (pleated, cellular, roller, Roman, sheer and quilted), shutters, fabric, draperies, valances and rods. The store stocks wall paper borders and orders wall coverings from its select list of its more reliable suppliers. Flooring—carpeting, linoleum and ceramic tile—was introduced about 10 years ago.
"We lean toward customers who want to do everything within the same store or showroom when doing a complete decorating project," Peyser explains. "We're primarily window treatment people. We have our own workroom; we make our own draperies and top treatments. We can generate just about anything the client brings in to us for ideas, or if they want us to create something unique, we will do that as well."
The store is one of three retail spaces in a small strip mall on Auburn's main road. One of the other stores sells household appliances, and the third looks to open soon as a custom laminate countertop showroom. All three stores, then, could benefit from crossover customer traffic. "People looking for appliances, especially those with new homes, will venture into our place to look for window treatments and carpeting," Peyser anticipates. "We're right where we want to be."
The Gamache & Lessard store puts the show in showroom. Roughly half of the facility's 3,500 square feet is display space. Beginning in the storefront windows, treatment vignettes, product displays and sample books offer customers a visual menu of what the store has to offer.
Right out in plain sight is the custom shade table. "Our customers can see it being made right in front of them," Peyser says. "Our customers like that. They like being a part of the process. Sometimes they even come behind the counter and look at how we do things. It makes it interesting for them, and it gets us a little bit more involved with our clients."
The company's workroom and warehouse is located in back.
MADE IN THE SHADE
From the very beginning, dependability and quality service have been the hallmarks of Gamache & Lessard Co. Founded in 1945, the company began manufacturing Venetian blinds before adding draperies and shades and opening a retail store. It quickly became the place to go in Maine for two-inch blinds—some of which are sill around. Peyser says every once in a while a Gamache & Lessard blind will be brought in for repairs.
Ron and Jeannine bought the business in 1983 from a former employee of the original owners. But before completing the deal, Ron Peyser worked at the store for a while to see if he could make a living at it. The window coverings industry offered Peyser an outlet that matched his background. His business career began as a buyer for The Value House, a catalog showroom that later became Service Merchandise. He also attended the New England School of Art in Boston, MA, majoring in commercial design and advertising, but also taking several classes in interior design.
"Knowing that the business had been in the area for so long, and that it was one of the few businesses at the time that did all that it did, I thought it looked interesting and creative. It was a gamble that we all took, and it paid off," Peyser says.
That Gamache & Lessard manufactured some of its own products also set it apart. "The big thing at the time was making a custom shade in-house—a good quality custom shade that people could rely on and we could stand behind. That was a big part of the business when we first bought it," Peyser recalls.
At the time, Peyser says the company was making 25 to 30 shades a day. Today, it produces close to 300 shades a week. "The shade business itself has been very good," he adds.
THE RIGHT CHOICE
Gamache & Lessard's sales are split almost evenly between contract and residential. Health care facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living centers are some of the company's biggest accounts. Peyser notes that many more of these facilities are being built in Maine, especially along the coast.
Peyser started in this sector a few years ago when he began working with an architect on a nursing home. The owner recommended Gamache & Lessard based on previous jobs. "We did about 450 windows for this architect on this project. From that point on she has used us steadily," Peyser says.
Residential customers tend to be established homeowners who have lived in their homes a while and now are ready to make more permanent types of changes. "We encourage people to live with their surroundings for a while and do the basics—put the shades in or whatever type of treatment they would want for light control and privacy—and, if they are not in a big hurry, we try to make our recommendations about what they could use and let them think about it," Peyser says.
When it comes to window fashions, Peyser describes Maine as a "meat-and-potatoes" type of area. "We're trying to be a little bit more innovative," he says. "We're in tune with what is going on across the country and we're trying to introduce more of that. We try to steer our clients in the right direction according to their needs and try not to overload them with things that they're really not looking for."
About half of the customers know what they want when they call for an in-home appointment, Peyser estimates. The other half doesn't. "The clueless ones are the ones who are really fun to work with because they don't know what they want, but we know that in the backs of their minds they have to have something because they came in for a reason," he says. "Even though they don't know exactly what to put on that window, they did other things—other decorating things—in their houses so they have to have some sort of idea in the backs of their minds. We try to pull that out of them the best we can. We want it to be their ideas. We will definitely give them all kinds of ideas to work with, but ultimately we want the ideas to be theirs. We take as much time as we need to make sure they are very happy and very satisfied with the fact that they participated in the design process."
After all, Peyser understands that custom window treatments are an expensive investment for homeowners, and he wants customers to feel good about coming back to Gamache & Lessard. "We want them to make the right choice because we want them to remember us down the road as having helped them that way," he says. "We want them to know that we are there for them."