It all started with an ad in the paper for a window coverings sales rep. At 17, Marc Thompson was young and ambitious. He answered the ad and was selling about a week later. “It just came naturally to me—mixing colors and dealing with customers and helping them design their homes,” he recalls.
Thompson also had an entrepreneurial spirit, influenced by his father and uncle. “I always had a desire to be independent, have control of my income and run a business the way I wanted to run it,” he says. So about a year later, little things started to bother him. Things like writing up a sale and watching it sit on his boss’ desk for four or five days before it was even ordered. “It didn’t make sense for my customers to suffer and wait extra time for his inadequacies,” says Thompson. So at 18, he decided to take a run at it and opened his own business, Affordable Window Coverings, Murrieta, CA.
Within the first two years Thompson got his wife, Lisa, involved in the company and every year business grew. “The best way for me to phrase it,” he says, “is that I put my head down and worked my tail off the last 11 years and stayed consistent, and 11 years later I looked up and said, Wow! All my hard efforts have brought us to this point.”
The point the Thompsons are at is this: Affordable Window Coverings is a full-service custom window coverings business with a diverse product line: blinds, draperies, shades, shutters, interior design. The products are showcased in a 6,000-square-foot design center in a building the company purchased about a year ago. Along with the design center came Elegant Upgrades, a second company that offers cabinetry, flooring, countertops, crown molding, stonework and fireplace mantels. And within the last six months, Affordable Window Coverings has opened a corporate–run office in Boise, ID, with a design center focusing on residential homebuilders. Wow, indeed.
VISIONARIES FOR THEIR DECOR
All this is possible because of Thompson’s passion for and focus on window coverings—a 13-year career he has found rewarding. “It’s something I really enjoy. I like watching the transformation of somebody’s standard tract home. Once we’re done with it, it looks more like a model home,” he says.
Affordable Window Coverings has a sales staff of seven: five, including Thompson, on the blinds and shutters and two designers handling the drapery treatments. All installations are handled in-house, Thompson says, to guard quality control and to protect the company’s referral base. Soft treatment fabrication is out-sourced to a local workroom about 30 miles away that Thompson has been working with for about 10 years. With all products being custom ordered, there is no need to stock or warehouse ready-made treatments.
The showroom has large windows with blinds and draperies in each and plenty of product samples and vignettes inside. The space includes a custom window box 18 feet wide by 12 feet tall that houses blinds and shades displays. In a commercial building in a retail area, the design center attracts walk-in customers—averaging about six visitors a day—but most sales are done in the clients’ homes.
Because Murrieta has been a high-growth market, the majority of Affordable Window Coverings’ customer base has been new construction. Thompson estimates about 65 percent of the business is new homes and 25 percent is remodels. Although, that is changing. “The industry is changing a little bit, so we’ve restructured our marketing to target a lot of re-do’s because there is starting to be more and more standing inventory in the new constructions,” Thompson says. “It’s becoming cheaper to stay in a house and re-do things and buy bigger and better.”
Home prices in the area run, on average, from $500,000 to $800,000, Thompson says. His customers are looking for nicer, custom treatments, and it’s a good market for shutters. “Shutters have really taken over the market,” he says. “We’d say about 60 percent of our business is shutters, now. It’s like putting a piece of cabinetry on your window.” Nearly all of the shutters he sells are those made of wood reinforced with aluminum cores. Thompson keeps his two in-house shutter installers busy selling 10,000-square-feet a month.
But as the market is changing generally, so too are trends in the area’s window coverings. Thompson sees more interest in Roman shades and bamboo woven woods, and he has kept Affordable Window Coverings in a position to meet all of a customer’s wants. “Customers are a little more flexible with their budgets now,” he says. “What we do when we go into their homes—unlike most companies that are blinds salesmen—we’re more visionaries for their décor. We come in there with a photo portfolio that shows real lifestyle pictures with a vision beyond just the hard window covering. It shows a room with a nice drapery treatment, it shows color on the walls, some crown moldings–we’re able to take it through the baby steps and initially take care of the their need for privacy and then we can take them a step further and give them vision for adding color and texture to their walls and changes in the environment from one room to the next.”
STABILITY AND LONGEVITY
Affordable Window Coverings’ biggest asset is its customer base—fully half of which is referrals. “We’ve built up such a good name over the years. We do about 150 homes a month, blinds or draperies,” Thompson says. The company attracts the other half of its customer base through ads in the yellow pages, home improvement magazines and some direct door knocking, canvassing neighborhoods out in the new home developments.
Thompson has worked with a couple of builders on model homes in the past, but none exclusively. The idea behind opening the design center is to go after that business. “We sell the stability of the company, the longevity of the company and we have the beautiful design center so that when a customer comes in it confirms that we’re a company that’s here to stay,” Thompson explains.
Opening the design center and Elegant Upgrades was a natural progression for Thompson. As he sees it, once the salesperson is in the home—and likely talking about shutters—the next logical step would be to move on to the rest of the room or the rest of the house. “We’ve modeled it after a one-stop shop. It’s like coming into a candy store for home improvements because we can handle pretty much any upgrade interior-wise that a customer would want.”
But window coverings is still the bulk of the business and that has made all the difference. “What we’ve found is that with the window coverings end of it, we’re the first contractor into the home—of course, naturally everyone wants privacy before they get to the countertops, the molding and some of the more decorative upgrades,” says Thompson. “The salespeople are able to build the value of the company in that we don’t want to sell you just window coverings, we want to grow with you in the future and these are some of the other products that we have to offer.”
Longevity and the trusting relationship he builds with customers is a good part of Thompson’s success with Affordable Window Coverings. Another part is the “husband-and-wife tag team” Marc and Lisa Thompson have put together. “In the beginning, when I first started the company, I was selling, installing, scheduling . . . pretty much wearing three different hats. Within a year and a half, I encouraged my wife to help me out. She’s very intelligent, very organized. She computerized the business and helped me out, and we developed this partnership in the business. She’s still involved with the company to this day,” Thompson says.
“Our passion has always been in the window coverings and drapery end of it, and we’ve built up such a good name and our referral base is so strong,” he continues. “With window coverings we have more control because we have our in-house installers, our office staff is trained . . . We want to have the quality control and the service supplied to the customer. The keys have really been the consistency and the passion to succeed in this industry.”