D&WC asked industry leaders what dealers can expect over the next 12 months and how to overcome possible trouble. Their answers have one thing in common: You don’t have to go it alone.
LOOK FOR A TRUE ALLY, NOT MERELY ANOTHER VENDOR
Danmer Custom Shutters
Custom shutter fabrication is in the midst of explosive growth with no end in site. At Danmer we’ve spent 30 years designing, building and installing custom shutters. We’ve seen a dramatic upward trend in shutter sales in the last five years. For other window covering fabricators who want to take advantage of predicted double-digit growth in this segment for 2006, there are tremendous opportunities for profit, but also pitfalls to watch out for.
If you already operate a successful window coverings business, you know how hard it can be to get your suppliers to help you market their products so that you can maximize your overall revenues and profits.
The real trick in building your fabrication business in 2006 and beyond is in selecting a supplier who’s invested the time and money developing products, tools and technologies you need to grow your business operations. Otherwise, you end up with suppliers who will be glad to merely sell you components, invoice you and hope that you’ll continue buying from them with the least amount of effort on their part.
Here’s what you should look for: A component supplier with proven success in growing its own local fabrication and retail operations first, so it can pass that experience on to you. That kind of supplier can provide you the appropriate training in sales and marketing, materials handling, fabrication, installation and then, finally, shutter shop management techniques to help you grow your business. Look for a fabricator partner, not merely another vendor.
Danmer’s BEST program is an innovative application of this kind of support for window coverings fabricators. The Business Expansion Support Team (BEST) is provided by the largest retailer of custom shutters in the competitive California market, where we perform over 500 installation appointments per month throughout the state. We share this experience and true partnership with all of our Thermalite Fabricators Association partners.
HELP IS AVAILABLE
Executive Vice President
Comfortex Window Fashions
With the Federal Reserve increasing interest rates, housing starts and existing home sales will slump. In addition to this slump in housing sales, rising energy prices will immediately affect consumer spending in the first quarter. Dealers will have to boost their marketing and advertising to maintain sales at their current levels. In order to stand out among their competitors, differentiation and consumer education will be important.
Over the course of 2006, Comfortex dealers can expect to see new performance sheers and advancements in the wood alloy product arena, which are unique to our dealers. Since window treatments can be a postpone-able purchase, a new consumer financing program will help increase order size or upgrade their purchases while offering flexible financing options to the homeowner. Programs like this will help to offset the sales slump.
Window coverings are effective in lowering energy expenses and improving the comfort of the home. Additional educational marketing materials for dealers to use to illustrate the energy savings capabilities of window coverings will become available. Comfortex BlindCrafters will be able to look forward to a new marketing strategy that will include BlindCrafter University Training programs.
HT Window Fashion
We at HT Window Fashions support dealer’s businesses by following key steps: We offer competitive pricing, good quality products, short lead-time on delivery and broad product offering.
We provide training material to our dealers on production features and benefits, installation and selling points. For special needs, we will provide technical support to satisfy their needs. We treat our dealers as partners instead of buyers and sellers. We aim at long-term relationships built on a foundation of mutual trust.
Eileen A. Meitzner
Evan Marsh Designs, Inc.
Successful designers, fabricators and retailers will be those who adopt a strategy of differentiation based on the application of technology.
The greatest challenge for window treatment professionals has always been to enable customers to visualize what proposed treatments will look like and to get them genuinely excited about a new look. Without such visualization and excitement, the customer is often reluctant to proceed for fear of making a large and expensive mistake.
Conversely, with effective visualization, the job will usually sell itself.
How can one overcome this problem? Fortunately, computer-based designing, as with the DreamDraper® system, has advanced dramatically during the past few years. It is now possible to portray very realistic renderings of any proposed treatment, complete with finished room settings, accessories and the customer’s exact choices of colors and fabric patterns. One can even design on a digital photo of the customer’s window. With such visualizations, changes are easily made and the fear factor is removed. As a result, the customer is much more likely to proceed (with a check!).
While computer designing of window treatments was virtually unknown several years ago, it is rapidly becoming the norm. The ability of designers, fabricators and retailers to offer dramatic renderings will greatly enhance their professionalism and differentiate them in the marketplace—leading to higher-value treatments, more sales, faster closings and greater financial rewards in the coming year.
A BRIGHT OUTLOOK
Director of Marketing
To be successful in the next 12 months, specialty retailers and interior fashion professionals should focus on their SWOTs: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Knowledge is the key not only to staying competitive, but to thriving in this ever-changing market.
Building strengths is key. Most independent interior fashion professionals already have far more experience and expertise than a clerk at a “big box” store. That’s a big advantage. Capitalize on it! Paying attention to individual clients is also important. These days people want that personalized service. Last, it is important not to be limited and tied to one big supplier.
Minimizing your weaknesses is also critically important. Do you have limited resources or limited time for marketing? What can you do to work around that? Excellent retailers and interior fashion professionals are creatives, salespeople and financial accountants all rolled into one.
Maximizing opportunities is the third element of success, and networking is key. Teaming with others with complementary skills can save time and resources. Finding and using unique sources like B&W Mfg. is especially important. It allows you to have the products nobody else has.
Last, managing threats is necessary. With the consolidation of the industry and everyone buying from “big box” stores, putting all your eggs in one basket will only cause more price collapse. Don’t underestimate the impact of world events, either—9/11, the hurricanes and now potentially the avian flu have definitely impacted our market.
To survive, you’ve got to offer more choices. Every product has a life cycle. Vertical blinds were hot in the ’80s but are now over saturated in the marketplace. Woven woods were all but forgotten in the ’90s and now they are the hottest, fastest growing product in the market. Keep your eyes and ears open, find new and unique products to offer, and listen to your customers.
AUTOMATION DRIVES BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
BTX Window Automation, Inc.
Last year was a banner year for motorization at BTX, and all signs and expectations are that 2006 will be even stronger. The trend toward home automation continues to drive this development. Consumers are waking up to the idea that automated window coverings enrich their home environments and significantly increase the day-to-day comfort level. Windows for media rooms, living rooms and master bedrooms are the first candidates for automation. Usually these windows are bigger and the need for privacy and light control is the greatest. The convenience of automation of draperies, shades and blinds at these wider and taller openings is a very convincing argument.
At the same time consumers are becoming aware that automation of window coverings does not necessarily require an extremely costly full-house automation system, but that it can be done selectively for those areas that need it most. BTX systems and controls are ideally suited for both situations, a factor that contributes to the growth and development of motorization in the residential markets. The commercial markets continue to be strong, especially in rollers shades. BTX had 25 percent growth in motorization with this product line. This is a little bit lower than our growth in motorized drapery systems. We will be introducing important new hardware and quiet motors for roller shades as well as a new, more powerful drapery system early in 2006. We expect motorization for both the drapery as well as the roller shade segment to continue its strong expansion in 2006 and beyond.