For the past several months, I have been presenting at road shows as the invited guest of Source Window Coverings and Wisconsin Drapery Supply. As I started preparing my presentations, I reflected back to the “Go Digital!” article written by Steve Walton for this magazine (see D&WC, December 2006, page 46) in which he discussed the use of technology for our industry. (In the interest of full disclosure, Walton was not working for nor representing Solatech in writing the article and Solatech had no knowledge of the article prior to its publication.) The point is, there is no disputing that technology has found its way into our industry and has had a positive financial impact on the progressive decorator/retailer.
This technology would include cell phones, PDAs, Internet ordering, digital cameras, laptops, tablet PCs and industry specific software among others. During these road shows, we discussed and agreed that the vast majority of retailers make most of their money while in their clients’ homes. This is where the rubber meets the road. What I find interesting is that as we explored the ways technology is used to increase efficiency, eliminate mistakes and impress clients while elevating you above your competition, when it really mattered, which is in front of your client, the typical window coverings professional pulls out a $10 hardware store tape measure to get the job done.
Every retailer/decorator is selling image, but how often do they stop to view the image they are presenting to their clients? Presentation is critical for any business and appearing more professional then your competition is important. What if you were able to do your job with more precision, in less time and not require an assistant (or the client) for help? Now you are saving time, increasing accuracy and reducing labor costs. Now you have something that sets you apart from your competition and also positively affects your bottom line. These are the benefits possible with laser measuring.
Recently there has been a lot of chatter regarding laser measuring throughout the industry. I experienced it at the International Window Coverings Expo in Washington, DC, and through the various online chat forums I am involved with. Like many new technologies, there has been some misrepresentation on the subject and, in this article, I plan to clear the air and explain what is available to you and how it will help your business.
DID YOU HEAR WHAT I SAW?
If you are not familiar with laser measuring, let me first share with you the two primary technologies that are currently available. They are sonic and true laser measuring.
Both typically shoot a laser light, but the sonic device simply uses the laser for pointing. It sends sound waves to determine distance. The illustration shows why this is a problem. These devices typically are much less expensive, and you get what you pay for in accuracy.
The other solution, true laser measuring, is a tool that utilizes an optical reader to interpret the light coming back and validates the results as many as 50 times before a measurement is displayed. These tools are typically more expensive, but also more accurate. The devices we use range in accuracy from 1/8 to 1/16 of an inch. For example, the A6 Bluetooth model I use displays measurements in 1/32 of an inch and delivers an accuracy of 1/16 inch. But only up to a distance of 650 feet.
IB BUT NOT OB?
There are several manufacturers of laser measuring tools available to our industry. Two primary providers are Hilti and Leica. (Full disclosure: Solatech is a partner and distributor of the Leica Disto products.)
In recent discussions with Leica, Solatech has helped create a new product offering, A3-16, not previously available through U.S. distributors. This product has all the functionality of the A3, but delivers 1/16-inch accuracy. This product is being made available only to the window coverings industry and only through a few distributors. There are no markings on the unit to confirm the 1/16-inch accuracy, so be sure you purchase these units from one of the few authorized A3-16 distributors.
The first question I almost always hear after we discuss accuracy, is “Yeah, but you can’t do outside mounts.” Well, this was something that needed to be addressed early on. Initially I tried to solve this problem by having our company software allow the laser user to add an offset to measurements to calculate the OB measurement. This solution was too cumbersome and time consuming.
After studying the problem, we came up an idea that, at first, seemed so simple it was almost embarrassing to verbalize. We use sticky notes! They are cheap and adhere to most surfaces without leaving a mark. You can fold them in an “L” to attach to a flat surface. The laser simply needs a point to bounce off of. A sticky note works great, and this solution has been quickly adopted by much of industry.
Sure, a laser measure can measure a width and height, but is that all? Absolutely not. Additional functionality depends upon the unit you select. A few of the features I think are important for window coverings professional are:
• Four-line Display—Shows the last four measurements at one time. Great for taking and reviewing multiple widths before selecting the one you want to use.
• Flip-out End—This allows you to measure diagonal corners and recessed areas. You can measure one window’s diagonal, press the “-” key then measure the other diagonal and press the “=” key. The device will tell you if the window is out of square and by how much.
• Built-in Level—For accurate long width measurements (not found on a tape measure).
• Timer—Like a camera, you can set a timer to shoot the measurement. With the Disto measure on an extension pole, you can raise it to a high window and take your measurement without a ladder.
• Pythagorean Function (A2+B2=C2)—You don’t have to remember high school geometry to use this feature. With a tripod, you can measure a window’s width and its height even if that window is 30 feet up the wall from the ground. This measurement probably would be close enough for an estimate, but not for production.
• Bluetooth—Drops measurements into your compatible computer.
‘BUT WE’VE ALWAYS DONE IT THIS WAY’
Like any advancement in an industry, the early adopters will ultimately drive the industry to improve and advance. Laser measuring will become much more common in our industry and eventually it probably will become the norm. This does not mean every established business will adopt this or any other technology.
A year ago at a trade show, we were talking with an established retailer who first questioned the accuracy of the devices and after addressing each of his issues one by one, he finally stated, “Well I like taking an extra person with me on every measure job anyway, so I’ll continue to use my tape measure.”
That mindset will always exist. Hopefully this is the mindset of your competitors.
Ray Soltis is founder and CEO of Solatech, Inc., developers and distributors of the Solatech suite of retail and fabrication software systems as well as the SalesPRO Shop@Home selling system designed exclusively for the window fashions industry. Questions and comments can be sent to rsoltis@Solatech.com, or call (336) 889-2455.