“People are valuing much more what they put on their windows, and they’re willing to spend the money for really nice stuff.”
That’s Si Pollack’s evaluation after 32 years in business—a stretch that has seen him start with wall coverings in Maryland, move into carpeting, then window coverings and later re-start his business focused solely on window treatments as The Blind Man, Albuquerque, NM.
Although successful in all his business endeavors, it seems things really took off for Pollack when he and his wife moved to New Mexico in the mid-1990s. He might never have guessed it at the time, but within a few years Albuquerque turned out to be one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. His move also coincided with a change in customers’ attitudes about their homes. From granite countertops to high-end window coverings customers are looking to make their home environments special even if it costs a little more. “They see value in doing that, and they don’t mind,” Pollack says. “I’ve always said that a home is a great place to spend your money—you’re enjoying it, you’re living with it and you’re increasing the value of your home.
“I’ve been through, many years ago, trying to sell on the low end—and not necessarily being the cheapest guy in town, but looking to get people a really low price—but now in the last number of years it has all changed quite a bit.”
As arguably the largest window coverings retailer in the entire state, The Blind Man offers a large showroom, believes in a healthy investment for advertising, has fun promoting the business and sponsors the highest flying billboard you can imagine.
SHOW AND TELL
In 1996 Si Pollack and his wife moved to Albuquerque permanently. It was an area they knew and liked, having invested in land there nearly 20 years earlier. Pollack’s plan was to get into the building business, but he opened a blind shop in the meantime. It was a business he learned and knew well from his days in Maryland after Crown Shades, Baltimore, set him up in 1975.
Pollack wanted to build the blind business for one of his children. That happened in 1999 when his daughter Joy joined in. Together, father and daughter, decided to build the business together. The next year, they opened a 1,500-square-foot showroom and brought in Michael Tomlinson, then Joy’s fiancé, now her husband.
Back in Maryland, Pollack worked from his home and even fabricated vertical blinds in his garage. The Blind Man, however, places a lot of emphasis on its showroom.
“We have a great display in our showroom where people can really see, and feel and touch, and operate [samples] and see all the different options that are available,” Pollack says. “We do everything we can to help get customers into the showroom. Even when they call in for an [in-home] appointment, our salespeople encourage the customers to come on. We can’t show them the products in the home like we can in the showroom or how they can operate it or how they can see it so it is backlit and they can see how it will look with light coming through it. We can’t show those kinds of things in the home.
“Now, it’s important to go to the home because, certainly, we have to measure the windows, and the colors—we can’t do that in the showroom because the lighting conditions are different. You’ve got to take the samples to the home.
“But to see the overall spectrum of all the different products and all we really encourage them to come into the showroom. We know that we’re probably going to have a better chance of making the sale, and we know that we’re probably going to get a bigger sale if they come in the showroom.”
One scenario Pollack wants to avoid is a customer making a selection based on samples shown from books in the home, and although they may be very happy with their choice find out later from a neighbor or friend that there was something else out there they might have liked better.
“We believe in educating the consumer and helping them to make the best possible decisions for their widow coverings and that is best done in the showroom,” Pollack says.
Some of The Blind Man’s customers obviously have done some research before they arrive, Pollack notes, but others haven’t. “They often don’t keep up. If they haven’t been looking for window coverings in a number of years, they probably don’t know some of the new products that are out on the market,” he says.
Getting customers into the showroom is so important The Blind Man even offers an incentive to inside salespeople—a percentage of the final sale for every customer they draw in who then makes a purchase. So there’s something in it for them, too. For customers, Pollack has weekly drawings for those who come into the showroom and leave their names and contact information—$100 off a window coverings puchase.
LET THEM KNOW
In addition to being a Hunter Douglas Gallery dealer, The Blind Man has been expanding sales in draperies and other soft treatments—soft shades, blinds or shutters with top treatments or side panels. Customers are starting to realize their windows look naked without them.
“It’s something we continue to try to increase, and it has. We’ve seen it increase over the last several years,” Pollack says. He credits his daughter with being best at it. After college, Joy went to the art center in Albuquerque and earned a degree in interior design. “She has a natural flair for patterns and colors. That’s been a tremendous asset to the business and will continue to grow through the years,” Pollack says.
The Blind Man gears its business to customers who value spending money for window coverings and to reach them Pollack is a strong believer in advertising. “We are definitely the biggest advertiser in New Mexico in the window coverings business,” he says. “I believe if you’ve got something great you’ve got to let people know about it.”
The Blind Man makes use of all media, and at least one non-traditional one. “We really let people know what we are, who we are, the products that we sell. We’re a family business and we portray that. In our print ads you always see a picture of all the employees. Lots of times when we go to a house, they say, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re that one right there.’”
Pollack budgets around 10 percent of sales for advertising and has seen that money come back in sales with increases of 40 to 50 percent over the last four or five years. “We did that from the advertising. We would be a much smaller company if we hadn’t invested in the advertising.”
Pollack really enjoys the advertising and promotion part of the business and has fun with it. His 18-month-old granddaughter has even been the star of well-received television commercials based on the theme that training starts early at The Blind Man.
In addition to print and TV ads every month, The Blind Man uses radio to promote special events and holds in-store promotions every month. This month, for example, is Customer Appreciation Sale. Upcoming promotions include We Pay Your Sales Tax (in April), Buy Now Before Prices Go Up, an Anniversary Sale in May and then, in October, there’s The Balloon Fiesta.
Pollack understands that these promotions are investments in the business, but they are no good if you don’t take care of the customers. To The Blind Man that means taking care of customers, backing up what you advertise, resolving problems right away and even fixing old blinds without a charge. “It takes so much more to get a new customer than to take care of current customers,” Pollack notes. “Take care of them,” he advises, “and when someone asks them who to call, they’ll say, The Blind Man.”
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in early October is the largest hot air balloon event in the world with about 800 balloons taking part and attracting about a million people over nine days. It’s a spectacle like no other, and for The Blind Man is has become a signature promotion.
Si Pollack has been involved in the Balloon Fiesta for about 14 years—even before he moved to Albuquerque and opened The Blind Man. But last summer, Pollack got to thinking about sponsoring a balloon and learned the cost was reasonable. He asked Hunter Douglas if it would want to take part in flying a banner on the balloon. He and Bill Gaul, Gulf Coast Window Covering, his fabricator, talked about it. Everyone thought it was a good idea and they put it together.
That October The Blind Man geared all of its promotions around the event including live radio reports, entertainment and food at the company’s showroom. Pollack even held a drawing for customers to win rides in the balloon. “You can’t image how exciting it is,” he says, “taking off from a field with 800 balloons . . . and when you get up off the field and look down you see masses and masses of people all out there on the field.”
The media coverage and exposure can’t be beat—even unexpected events can turn positive. Last year, on the last day of the event, the weather was “challenging,” as Pollack puts it. As the balloon lifted off the ground, the top of the banner came off and flopped over. Fortunately, it didn’t obscure the pilot’s view. “For the next two hours I was feeling bad about the banner falling down,” Pollack says. Later that evening, he learned that the incident garnered the most media coverage and generated the most talk of anything else that had happened that day. “Something bad turned out to be something good.”