Fred Garrott, 62, is a classic gentle speaking Southerner who discovered the blinds business a few years ago. Living in prosperous Jackson, MS, he saw the opportunity to serve a thriving market and the flexibility to own his own business with a low investment. With little industry experience, Garrott joined a blinds network. Its members helped him get a good start on his new career and taught him to leverage his way into the new home market with low pricing and low overhead by working from home. It’s a valid marketing plan for a struggling new person with limited experience to start a new business in a new industry. But, after five years, Garrott was ready to move up. His trip to Tampa, FL, in late March iced it when he saw so many people making money in draperies. As he tells it, “It was like a light switched on to show me a real opportunity.”
A $6,000 LESSON
Of course, Garrott was ready. He had been nibbling at soft treatments
for over a year after receiving a wake-up call he couldn’t
forget. One of his early customers spent close to $3,000 to get
privacy and light control throughout her home. About two years later
this customer called for service; Fred was right there to take care
of her. But, as he walked in the home he remembered so well, he
received a shock he still talks about today: “The living room
looked totally different. She had bought beautiful soft colored
draperies and upholstered cornices. It looked great, and I could
tell she spent a lot of money . . . with someone else!”
Garrott asked her about the draperies and why she didn’t call
him. She replied, “Fred, I knew you sold blinds, but I didn’t
think you carried draperies.” Later, Garrott learned she had
spent over $6,000 in just one room when he had charged half as much
for the whole house! That got him thinking . . . especially because
he had just finished a selling course at Window Coverings University
(WCU) that showed him how easy drapery sales can be if you strip
away the confusion that so many “experts” want you to
think is essential.
TAMPA WAS A BREAKTHROUGH
In Tampa, Garrott found good suppliers that would make his draperies
and met some WCAA members who referred him to a local workroom that
would help out. He made contacts with fabric companies and found
he could get set for a small sample investment. He knew from his
WCU training that he could use charts so he would not have to calculate
yardage or fullness, or pattern repeats, or pleat spacing, and all
the other things that drive the blinds seller crazy with details.
He also remembered his learning that draperies are more forgiving
than blinds. When you measure blinds for an inside mount, even a
fraction of an inch off can cause problems.
When Garrott told me this story, I asked him if he thought he could
make the transition, and he answered, “I have to . . . There’s
a lot of dollars I’m leaving on the table. I don’t want
to ever have that happen again where I get the small job and somebody
else gets the big one with draperies—and at a helluva lot
more gross profit.” I asked him how he would market the business.
He had some good ideas.
MARKETING DRAPERIES TO BLINDS CUSTOMERS
“First of all,” Garrott continued, “I learned
that a lot of folks who move into new homes just don’t have
the money right away to do the nice things they want. They see blinds
and shadings as necessary now for privacy and light control. But,
if they like their home, they want it to look good inside, especially
if they have friends over sometimes. Those customers will be ready
in six months to a year-and-a-half. So, I have got to plant the
seed with them when I sell them today . . . and then follow up with
e-mail and postcards to remind them I care and that I do have draperies.
“Next thing, I have got to get an announcement out to my old
customers so they will know what I’m doing. In fact, I’d
better call them to be sure they got the card and to remind them
to let me know when they are ready . . . or if one of their friends
need window coverings. Would you believe that some of my customers
think they are imposing on my time to refer someone to call me?
I have to let them know I welcome referrals. Sounds nuts, but I
actually, have to tell them to refer me!”
OLDER HOMES ARE GREAT, AND LESS COMPETITIVE
“And, there is one more thing,” Garrott continued. “People
who have lived in homes for 10 years or so get tired of their window
treatments. Or sometimes the carpet wears out and when they get
the new color, the windows look lousy. So, I plan to market to customers
who are replacing flooring and furniture and remodeling and refurbishing.
That market is harder to find than new homes, but I don’t
find four flyers on the doors from competitors like I do in the
new home areas. Actually, one competitor takes my flyer off and
puts his on, that bum. But older homes are a great market, and attending
that class in Baltimore taught me how to go after it.”
PROFIT IS THE BEST PART
I asked Garrott how he prices his drapery sales. He replied, “Well,
everybody knows what a wood blind or a Silhouette® is, but there
are so many drapery fabrics, no one knows if it should be $30 a
yard or $60, and every treatment is different. So I plan to get
a 60 percent margin at least. (Sixty percent equals cost times 2.5)
And when I sell blinds with the drapery I quote full margin on both.
If they want something beautiful . . . something the family gets
really excited about, heck, another $300 doesn’t make any
difference. I am selling bigger jobs and at higher profit than I
ever did with blinds alone. Look, not everybody knows what I am
doing. Draperies are still a smaller part of my business. But with
what I have learned already, it is going to be a bigger part every
“And, I will tell you what I have noticed already: people
who buy draperies refer you more. When someone comes in the house
the window treatment is noticeable. They comment about how beautiful
the window is when it has a cornice or swag. And it makes the whole
room look better. I love that referral business . . . and when a
good customer calls me back because her friends recognize her good
SHOULD YOU TURN ON THE LIGHT SWITCH?
Every window coverings retailer needs to lead with his or her strength.
Men are great at selling blinds because they are functional. There
are fewer aesthetic or color decisions to be made. Most men are
not comfortable in the role of a decorator. For some blinds sellers,
keeping it simple, clean and fast is much more important. There
is a lot to be said for that. Maybe for you it is the right way
to go. But, as frequent readers know, I like to forecast trends.
I believe that our industry will see more blinds people selling
draperies in the future.
Competition is fierce. Margins are being driven lower every day.
Even though it continues strong, the froth is off the boom in home
building and new home sales. I predict that savvy leaders will find
a way to increase sales, upgrade profit margins and gradually learn
to add beauty to a home in addition to privacy and light control.
What are your plans for the future? Please e-mail me your thoughts.
This 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 co-founder of Window Coverings
University and Exciting Windows! service. He also is the founder of
Decorating Den Interiors and author of a how-to book on new business
start up, “Bootstrap Entrepreneur.” Questions and comments
are welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org
or call (888) 333-8981.