Public RecognitionWhen 3 Blind Mice Window Coverings, Inc. was selected one of San Diego’s Top 100 Fastest Growing Privately Held Companies, it was the second high honor the company had received in as many years. In December 2005, it received the Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of San Diego (see D&WC, February 2006, page 16).
The Torch Award recognizes businesses and charities that have demonstrated exemplary ethical business practices in their relationships with employees, vendors and customers. The entry process for the award is extensive, and winners are selected by a panel of independent judges. More than 500 business professionals and community leaders attended the luncheon at the San Diego Convention Center when the awards were presented.
“It is a prestigious honor to be recognized by an organization such as the BBB,” said Scot Dietz, owner, 3 Blind Mice. “I believe 100 percent in the work they do for consumers.” He added, “I have a great group of people who work for the company and believe as I do in the Golden Rule. We realize that consumers work hard for their money, and it’s important they receive the quality and treatment they deserve when they place their trust in us.”
The San Diego Business Journal (SDBJ) sponsored the reception, and its purpose was to recognize the city’s Top 100 Fastest Growing Privately Held Companies. Dietz knew that his company, 3 Blind Mice Window Coverings, Inc., was among those on a list heavily dominated by technology and finance firms, but did not know where he might place.
In speaking about the companies selected for recognition, Armon Mills, SDBJ president and publisher, said, “Some . . . might say these businesses are lucky to be so honored. But we say that these businesses and their founders make their own luck because they have the focus to move forward . . . they represent the best of show in our fast moving and always challenging economy.”
The qualifying companies were ranked by percent of verified revenue growth from 2003 to 2005. And with 1,400 percent growth, 3 Blind Mice placed second out of 100.
Scot Dietz founded 3 Blind Mice in 2003 after leaving a job as manager of an office supply store—which, by the way, was one the chain’s highest-volume stores in Southern California. Always outspoken and trying to pioneer new things, Dietz found he was tired of working for someone else. He had begun researching the window coverings industry when he and his wife moved into a new house and needed 42 window treatments. He started in business with what he calls an in-and-out philosophy: Go with the basics and sell to new homeowners as home construction in the area boomed. But all that changed. 3 Blind Mice grew quickly—at that remarkable 1,400 percent rate.
“We grew from zero dollars [in 2003] and we’re probably going to do $6 million this year,” Dietz says.
Dietz credits his success to core values based on ethical business practices—“Doing things the right way all the time,” as he puts it—and on his earlier experiences in business. “I came from a network marketing background,” Dietz explains. “So, not only was I a manager with a large corporation, but I was in network marketing, which teaches you how to recruit people and how to self-promote. That was very helpful for me to develop the mind-set that I did not want to be a sole proprietor and basically be a slave to myself. I wanted to build a business.”
He got started knocking on doors right in his own neighborhood. “My spiel was, ‘Hey, I’m a new company. I live right down the street from you. You don’t have anything in you windows and I can help you out with that,” Dietz recalls. He admits that at the beginning, he was selling solely on price.
But soon neighbors started asking for more products: shutters, woven woods, etc. “When someone asked me for it, I would never tell them the wrong answer. I would tell them I didn’t know, and then get the answer. It was total integrity from Day One,” Dietz says.
A self-described quick study, Dietz absorbed the information quickly, but did not make any rash or hasty decisions on suppliers. He was choosy. Dietz continued to research and study the industry. He came to know the innovative products that were available, who the players were, and all the new offerings that were coming out. “We just tried to stay on top of it all,” he says.
The results of his efforts are obvious. 3 Blind Mice Window Coverings is headquartered in a little over 5,000-square-feet that includes a showroom in a design area of San Diego. Business has expanded into Orange County, CA, a little bit of Los Angeles, mostly Riverside. Dietz recently opened a 1,500-square-foot showroom in Las Vegas, NV (a very productive area for the company).
“Obviously, when you grow from zero to six million there are tons of challenges along the way. All of the systems that we have pretty much have been developed from the inside. You look at what other people do, but most everything has been thought up from scratch.” In his words, 3 Blind Mice “went from being behind the eight ball to being ahead of the curve.”
Much of the groundwork is done by marketing teams going door to door. 3 Blind Mice does no newspapers, radio or television advertising. “We’ve just found that when you do the marketing, and get out there in front of the people where it’s most effective, you get the best rate of return,” Dietz says. “Had our marketing team not done such a great job—our people who pound the pavement, knock on doors and pass out flyers—we wouldn’t be half as successful as we are today.”
When Dietz opened the 3 Blind Mice showroom he had a stated purpose: “We want to give our customers and interior designers a beautiful location where they can physically see all of our product offerings.”
The showroom features a comprehensive selection of blinds, shutters, draperies, solar screens and window tint, as well as the ability to demonstrate the use of motorization for window treatments. “We have a lot of motorized treatments on the inside. We have an automation system tied into it. Motorized treatments are becoming one the fastest growing categories,” Dietz says, “but it’s one of those areas that can have a high cost because there are a lot of mistakes to be made. If you don’t know what you’re doing you can get into trouble quickly,” he adds, speaking as if he’s been there, done that. Now, however, 3 Blind Mice motorizes Roman shades, woven woods and cellular shades among other window treatments.
Dietz finds the showroom also has a marketing advantage. “The more that I see what the showroom produces, the more I see that it’s viable,” he says. The underlying truth is, “in most cases, customers buy what they can see.”
Since starting in business three years ago, Dietz and 3 Blind Mice have been riding the wave of “the biggest population shift in American history.” He says, “You’ve got the Baby Boomers who are right now coming into wealth through inheritance, plus you’ve got people who have retired correctly and living a good quality life.” Many move to warm-climate areas, spurring on the new home market. “We’re seeing more people moving into Southern California. They’ve done it right. We go in now assuming that people can afford the best, then sell them into what they can afford.”
Realistically, Dietz knows this boom won’t last and has been planning for the current slowdown for the last year-and-a-half or so. One thing he is doing is concentrating on existing customers. “We can all brainstorm and find out awesome ideas on how to find new customers, but what about the ones we already have and the ones we bid and didn’t get? If we focus a little bit of time, energy and money on that part of the business that’s what is going to make difference. We’re pursuing it very aggressively right now,” he says.
Dietz also is positioning the company in the remodeling market and in the commercial market. “It’s a very challenging part of our industry. Right now, our commercial work is small to medium size jobs—where maybe we have 300 to 400 blinds in a building. We have a condo complex we’re doing with over 2,000 windows,” Dietz says. “Yes, you have to sacrifice your margins for the volume, and if you don’t do your labor model right and don’t estimate correctly you can lose your butt on it.
“That’s why we’re proceeding with caution. The big contracts look great—here’s a $200,000-job right in our face. Well, a $200,000-job if not done correctly can put a company out of business. You need to bring your vendors in as partners,” he advises.
Whatever market he’s working in, Dietz knows that exceptional service is key. “Very hard work, but very important,” he says. “Sometimes a customer takes three months or four months just to get taken care of just because it happens sometimes. But keeping them in the loop along the way is part of providing exceptional service—to me, exceptional service is: If we screw up, we’re at your house that day. We take it back to our shop, fix it and bring it back the next day.”
Dietz says his network marketing background helps him be a great recruiter, and he always keeps his eyes open for people who are outgoing and service-oriented. His success in finding people is why 3 Blind Mice is so dedicated to exemplary customer service—and it has had a snowball effect. “We have a law of attraction,” Dietz says. “When you hire good people who do things right and do things morally and ethically, you are going to attract good people.”
“We have right about 60 people working for our company,” he continues, “and everybody plays a vital role in what we do.” He likes to say it’s the whole office that hires new employees.
New hires go through a rigorous training period that never really ends. “Typically we work with them with all of our vendors and do field training one-on-one with the district manager. They work in the office for a time, they actually go out on a couple of installations to see how that’s done, they work with our marketing team. Once they are out getting appointments, they go out with a district manager, who becomes sort of a fly on the wall, until they are comfortable doing the customer presentations,” Dietz says.
Beyond that, the company holds weekly conferences every Tuesday, which could cover new products coming out, measuring tips, new marketing that’s been done, selling tips. “Every week someone leads off with a tidbit of how they can make their presentations better or how they can better serve their customers,” Dietz explains. These conferences also look at different parts of the sales presentation, such as how to ask for referrals. “Anything that keeps everybody plugged in,” Dietz says.
In return, 3 Blind Mice takes care of its staff. For example, the office team gets a travel bonus based on the gross amount of sales that comes through the office every year—a percent of total sales—and they have to use it for travel.
It’s a self-sustaining process: It begins with “finding the best people who have integrity and morality in what they do. It’s taking industry-leading, world-class service to every one of our customers—quality service before, during and after the sale,” Dietz says, “and basically having fun—enjoy what you do.”