No. Not possible,” I would have said two weeks ago. Facts and experience tell us it doesn’t work. Ask a drapery manufacturer such as Kasmir, Carole, Wesco or Lafayette Interior Fashions. Rarely happens, they’ll say. Ask a blinds franchisor or business opportunity network. “Hard” seldom transitions to “soft.” If a person does learn draperies, it’s probably a woman. Guys are too impatient. Blinds salespeople are usually men, and they almost never learn draperies. This is not a gender judgment, just observation. Men and women each have fabulous strengths and make great contributions to our industry, but there are gender differences, and desire to sell draperies is one of them. (See “Managing For Money,” DW&C, March, 2004, page 87 about Donald Trump’s “Apprentice.”) Suppliers, franchisors and leading retailers agree: Selling blinds, shadings and shutters is a different culture from selling draperies and fabrics.
COULD WE BE WRONG?
I’ve long said that a blinds retailer might manage a drapery
salesperson, but would never master drapery sales him- or herself.
Now, I think we may all be wrong. Here’s why.
Last week I worked with my wife, Valerie, and one other leading sales
trainer in a four-day class to teach professional window covering
sales. Two days of home study preceded the class attendance at the
Lafayette Venetian Blinds Co. in West Lafyayette, IN. What we found
The class was originally intended for new persons to our industry.
But of the 12 attending, 10 were experienced. Eight were “hard”
window products salespeople who have never mastered drapery sales.
One business owner was a multi-million dollar operator who brought
two salespeople to the class. His insights and comments were of immeasurable
value to the students—and to us as instructors. (Proof of the
old saw, “When one teaches, two will learn.”) By the end
of the class, instructor and student to a person became convinced
that blinds salespeople could, and would, sell draperies. Every salesperson
decided by the third day that it was important to their businesses
and sales success.
WHY DID THEY CHANGE?
As Valerie and I drove home we talked about what we observed and the
dynamics of the class. After a lot of discussion we agreed on these
conclusions about blinds and shadings salespeople:
1. They are in a hurry and don’t see the financial benefit to
2. Draperies are too complicated—hard to design, hard to price,
hard to order and prone to error.
3. They fear decorating and don’t see themselves as decorators.
Yet, with all these barriers, by the end of this class they felt it
was important to change—and that they could sell draperies. Why?
The major business owner said it best. “I think blinds are reaching
a peak. Within five years draperies will be strong again.”
I thought about that, and the cycles of draperies in and out of favor
at least twice since the 1970s. I agree. Blinds are overly competitive
today. You can buy them on the Internet, from catalogs, box stores
and non-stores. Any person with $1,000 for samples can be in the blinds
business. Franchises and independents are growing like crazy. But
now, experienced leaders are looking for a competitive edge—and
some think it can be draperies, swags and valances.
As the class listened, each member gained insight. Resistence melted.
Enthusiasm grew for draperies as we solved objections one by one.
Here is a quick overview:
• In a hurry. Blinds salespeople love to brag, “I
want five appointments a day.” The answer is in the numbers.
Frequent readers of this column know that one appointment per day,
or 25 per month, can mean more than $700,000 a year when a professional
does it right (see D&WC, December 2002, page 64). Once the class
understood this point and bought into it, rushing was no longer a
Building relationships and repeat and referrals seemed a better idea.
Result: higher sales, bigger commission checks with fewer appointments.
What’s not to like?
• Too complicated. Our priority in this class was to simplify.
Having trained hundreds of drapery salespeople, I know that some industry
experts love to show how complicated it is so only a few can join
the club. We like to show how simple it is. We introduced several
techniques to make it easy. When we finished, several attendees decided
soft products are actually more “forgiving” than hard.
• Fear of decorating. This may be the biggest obstacle of
all. But Valerie has helped design training systems that guided more
than 1,000 novices to be quickly successful in decorating product
sales. I credit Valerie for most of this with her ideas of “detective
work.” That is, to use your powers of observation, common sense
and to ask questions.
Her techniques take the mystery out of decorating. Result: any blinds
sales person can guide a customer to sound decorating solutions and
close a substantial drapery sale on the first call.
THE BIG THREE
There are three big reasons for blinds and shadings business owners
and salespeople to learn drapery sales.
1. Competitive edge. No competitor can consistently make a
window beautiful until they learn to add soft fabrics to hard blinds.
2. Repeat and referral sales. Blinds salespeople abandon the
most lucrative part of the business: repeat and referral sales. As
the homeowners move from function to beauty after moving into a home
they want something better at their windows. And when their friends
come to call, what window do they notice, the one with bare blinds
or the one with draperies?
Referrals are born when guests love the look and want the service
of the person who helped achieve it. Then the salesperson and the
customer are both winners.
3. Gross margin. Sold correctly, draperies are custom created.
No two are alike. You can never accurately compare pricing because
of variables in product and design. It is widely acknowledged that
drapery retailers achieve seven percent to more than 10 percent added
gross margin on sales.
CAN BLINDS RETAILERS SELL DRAPERIES?
Can you sell draperies? Should you? If you are competing head-to-head
with commodity merchants and Box Stores who sell mainly hard window
products, it may be time to think about your long term strategy.
Could there be draperies in your future? Until now, I would have said,
“No.” But, last week was an eye-opener for me. I hope this
story will be one for you. If you want to consider it, send an e-mail
for my new report, “Blinds to Draperies. Yes or No?”
article is based on Steven C. Bursten’s actual experience with
sales and financial information working with hundreds of window coverings
businesses. Whether you are a sole manager who aspires to higher sales
or you manage 50 window fashion decorators in a multi-million dollar
business, this series will help you manage sales better and increase
your profitability. Bursten is the retired founder of Decorating Den
Interiors and author of a how-to book on new business start up, “Bootstrap
Entrepreneur,” and is a leading expert in window coverings marketing,
sales systems and sales management through his company, custEmers.com.
Questions and comments welcome: email@example.com or (888) 333-8981.
For a report, “Why your customers love shop-at-home, and so should
you,”send a request with your business name and address to sah@custEmers.com