When times get tough the tough get going, and going means finding the edge. Having the edge on your competition can mean many things. Better customer service, better reputation, better quality, and certainly better product offerings to name a few. Today, in this market, a significant edge is motorization.
One doesn’t have to look very far to see why. In recent issues of D&WC magazine, articles by Steve Bursten, have told us that the hard window coverings industry is under intense pressure. Granted, trends are drifting towards soft coverings because of fashion cycles. And there is pressure from Big Box stores and imports. But, the leveling off and decline of hard coverings tells me that the bottom layer of potential custom window coverings customers is shrinking. People who previously could afford only hard coverings are affected by the current economic climate.
In the April issue of D&WC, the results of an online survey told us that the majority of custom products sold are now soft coverings (see “Take Note,” April 2008, page 12). Shutters are still healthy, but soft coverings rule. That means the market that is thriving is further up the economic scale.
Times might be challenging, but a study of history and of human nature tells us that somebody in any society always has resources. There is always an upper crust. The crust might change—it might become different people—but as long as mankind has breath and ambition there will be people striving for success. Successful people always want the same thing: to revel in their success. They buy cars, land, clothes and houses. And they decorate those houses.
Successful people don’t strive to be like everyone else, they strive to be out ahead of the crowd. They want to be the best, have the best, and the best doesn’t belong hidden under a bushel. Being best has to be noticed or else, what is the point? So when every Tom, Dick and Harry has blinds, how does the overachiever top that? Enter motorization.
Even within motorization there is a hierarchy of achievement. Top a battery operated system with a hardwired wall switch. Top that with a backup remote control. Top it all by plugging into a smart home automation system. And what would a home automation system be without a home theatre room complete with dimming lights and motorized drapery revealing the movie screen? The high life of achievement and success needs these things.
Bigger houses are custom-made for motorization. In my small town, a casual drive in the new neighborhoods tell you that Texas-size houses have Texas-size windows, and Texas-size opportunity for motorization knocks.
In my town we now have not one but three providers of home automation systems. The local home theater company recently built a new building, a definite indication that home theater is good business. Home theater motorization opportunity knocks.
With opportunity around every corner the question is, Why doesn’t motorization command a larger segment of the market, especially knowing that the upper end customer has the funds, the need and a built-in desire for motorization? I believe the answer can be found by looking into the mirror at the collective window coverings industry. We have not carried the message of motorization to the consumer in an adequate way. Consumers that buy motorization are requesting it, not having it suggested to them as an option. As providers, we have to be proactive in bringing motorization to the customer. Here’s what I mean.
Call me guilty, but I have not built relationships with home automation businesses in my area. Shame on me. When I do run into these guys, we talk about automated window treatments. But we have never connected the dots in a meaningful way. When home automation people are on the construction site, I should be there too—every time.
Motorization done properly requires planning. The best planning is done during the construction of the house. In my local area, there are builders, and then there are builders. The best builders aren’t affected by downturns. They don’t have to advertise, they are in high demand year in and year out regardless of the economy. The majority of motorization jobs that my company does come from builders, architects and designers who recommend it to their clients. Shame on me for not knocking on the doors of other top-flight builders/architects and designers who need the edge of motorization to recommend to their customers.
I know that in my market I could personally increase motorization by being diligent and going after that market by building relationships with people who can get my foot in the door at the right time. As the economy squeezes opportunity toward higher end customers, retailers who want to stay in the game and have an edge have to take the initiative to differentiate themselves from the competition and that means motorization.
Mary Ann Plumlee is the owner of a retail and wholesale workroom. Starting with only $50 and a home sewing machine in 1985, her business has expanded to include a showroom, 12 employees and two locations. She firmly believes that in this business only the tough survive. Finding the humor in the everyday life of a “curtainlady” is how she not only has survived, but thrived in this industry. Plumlee is often seen traveling around the country teaching classes and seminars. She is the author of The Adventures of Curtain Lady and has launched a workroom related blog: www.workroomintelligence.com.