What's in a name? Apparently a lot, especially if it signals the kinds of changes that took place when Jeffrey Kaplan moved his ready-made curtain shop, called Curtain Time, to a new location, upgraded its product mix and started calling it InnuWindow.
In just six years, InnuWindow has gone from a virtually unknown new business
in the west metro area of Boston, MA, to a successful home decorating
shop featuring custom soft and hard window coverings, furnishings, bed
coverings and a wide variety of accessories.
In the process Kaplan created a warm and inviting showroom in Natick,
MA, that draws a higher-end clientele. It is located in an area chock
full of home decorating outlets, which includes a carpet store and several
furniture stores—one selling imported antiques and reproductions,
another offering ornate Italian furniture. InnuWindow itself has become
a decorating destination.
Kaplan's first step in recreating his business was to begin offering
more custom treatments. That decision, he says, was based on customer
requests and a realization that the future for InnuWindow was in custom
treatments. "Little by little we added custom draperies and custom
hard treatments. Whereas our ready-made business seemed to be flat over
the years, the area that was growing for us was our custom decorating
business. We saw that that was where our business was heading, eventually
it became a 50/50 mix of custom and ready-made."
That mix today stands more like 80 percent custom and 20 percent ready-made
curtains, top treatments, hardware and furnishings such as iron beds,
upholstered furniture, toss pillows, throw blankets and imported linens.
What happened, Kaplan noted, was that many textile manufacturers began
selling ready-made bed and window coverings products to national retail
chains. InnuWindow's customers began looking for accessory items
to coordinate with purchases they had made elsewhere. "We learned
right away that we had to differentiate ourselves, so we traded up,"
he says. "We started carrying imported linens from companies like
Palais Royal and Peacock Alley. What that does for us is, even if we don't
sell a ton of it, it really dresses up the store nicely."
WARM AND FLUFFY
"The more technology that's introduced, the colder the outside
world becomes and the more people want warmth and comfort. That's
what we try to give people," Kaplan says, and that's the idea
behind InnuWindow's showroom.
Kaplan describes his first showroom as typical of thousands of window
treatment outlets across the country: carpeted and tiled floors, basic
white walls with plenty of product displays. InnuWindow features all hardwood
flooring and halogen track lighting that's "focused on products
and really makes things shine," he says.
The store's 3,000-square-foot showroom also features iron beds, room
vignettes, artwork and accessories everywhere. There is a pine worktable
surrounded by parson's chairs (which are offered for sale) and several
seating areas including a sofa and coffee table for looking through sample
books. "We try to make it as comfortable as possible," Kaplan
"I learned the lesson that you have to make people feel at home in
order to get them to want to be in your store and spend," he continues.
"Just like in advertising, you have to create in your store the image
that customers want so they want the lifestyle that your store projects.
We have a lot of nice warm, fluffy things all around."
Those things include imported bed linens, throws and quilts. "Even
though they are a small part of the business, and expensive to inventory,
they pay for themselves in getting people to just love the place when
they come in," Kaplan explains.
Taking the merchandising concept a step further, Kaplan says he tries
to appeal to and stimulate all five senses. "Obviously we have color
for visual," he says, "but we also give away candy for taste,
and in the fall we offer cinnamon apple cider. At Christmas we have Christmas
fragrance. We just converted over to the smell of spring. We give out
little soaps. I sell potpourri and candles. It's all just to give
the store atmosphere. It all creates the image we want."
One of InnuWindow's best features is its large, 40-foot storefront
windows, which allow passers-by to see all the way into the store. Given
the store's location, Kaplan welcomes a good amount of walk in business.
A manufacturer's rep once told him his front door was his best customer
qualifier. "People won't even walk in our door if they're
looking for the cheapest price," he explains.
All of these efforts have led to InnuWindow attracting a higher-end client
than his ready-made store. "We cater to a better clientele, certainly
not the highest-end because they are going to designers and we don't
have a large designer trade." But he assures that people who come
in are always going to get a good price. "We have very, very fair
pricing. We're not the lowest guys on the block, but we're very,
very competitive. We're certainly not the most expensive," he
The greater Boston area would not be considered a booming home building
area. Kaplan estimates a population growth of about three percent a year.
"People do not flock here from other parts of the country,"
Still, InnuWindow seems to get a handful of jobs in which customers are
doing treatments throughout their entire houses. "I just received
a deposit from somebody who is doing shutters and blinds. They ordered
20-some-odd units, and we're not even a third of the way through
the house. At the same time," he admits, "the bulk of the jobs
are just a couple of rooms here and there."
For Kaplan, Roman shades are the biggest portion of his window treatments
business followed by blinds and shutters. Draperies, top treatments and
upholstery are next. Workroom services are contracted out, as are installations.
With Kaplan are four designers including a store manager. He is about
to hire a part-time person. Most of this staff has been with InnuWindow
since its beginning. "I treat them well, they make good money, they
have a lot of fun. It's very family oriented. Everybody gets along
very well. I treat everybody with respect," he says.
Kaplan runs a separate business that fabricates custom shutters, which
he describes an "an interesting business" that can be costly.
Fortunately for Kaplan the market can bear the expense. "We offer
a good price [for shutters] for our market," he says. "When
I talk to people in Florida or Georgia or California they all laugh when
they see how much we get for our shutters. It won't always be that
way, but we'll do it while we can."
SERVICE AND CACHET
Most of InnuWindow's customers have heard about the company by the
time they meet Kaplan in the store. That's saying quite a lot considering
it was a new store with a new name in 1996. Kaplan runs radio advertisements
nine or 10 months of the year on two or three area stations and sends
mailers to new homeowners. Still, he confesses, "you can never market
Yet in a relatively short period of time, InnuWindow has developed a sort
of cachet with customers. Kaplan is sure it has to do with his showroom
atmosphere and the quality of service he provides. "People like the
feel and look of our store, and they like our staff," he says. "The
other thing is that we really service people. If somebody isn't happy,
we take care of him. My people are very good; they are very conscientious.
We don't walk away from anything."
"Sometimes customers may pay a little more than elsewhere,"
Kaplan admits, "but they get excellent service." That kind of
word gets around. "When we first opened up, people didn't know
who we were," he continues. "Now, on a daily basis, people walk
in and tell us we're doing a friend's whole house and they sent
them here," he says.
From ready-made curtains and comforters to custom home decorating, Kaplan
and InnuWindow certainly have come a long way in six years, and the change
has definitely been for the better. "When you're a curtain store,
people come to you because they don't want to spend. They are looking
for a cheap alternative. That was exactly true," he says. "When
we became InnuWindow, it was a whole different feel. All of a sudden it
became a design destination store. It has been good."