Window coverings professionals need to take the LEED. Yes, that’s the correct spelling. It’s L-E-E-D, as in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a program of the U.S. Green Building Council. Bob Hipps, president, Hipps & Co., Inc., Fort Lauderdale, FL, wants to make LEED certification workshops an important part of his two-year term as president of the Window Coverings Association of America (WCAA).
Hipps’ term began July 1, but his involvement in LEED programs began six years ago, and he believes the time is right for the industry to pick up on it.
“When I went to a LEED workshop in San Francisco, there was such a big push out there and I realized that this is going to take off. That was about six years ago,” Hipps says. “It made a lot of sense to me and I was glad to get involved in that early on,” he adds.
As a third-party certification program and nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings, the LEED program encourages and aims to accelerate the adoption of sustainable green building globally. The program involves architects, real estate professionals, facility managers, interior designers and decorators, landscape architects, construction managers and others.
“I felt that the window coverings profession was lacking in that because it’s new out there and they are kind of skittish about taking on new stuff,” says Hipps. “It takes a while for the window coverings industry to really grasp it and say, ‘I feel comfortable doing this now,’ or even offering it.”
Actually, Hipps notes that going green is not really a new idea. “My grandparents were into green even before it was a color,” Hipps says. “Early America recycled everything, and sometimes twice. Today . . . we’ve lost sight of a few green things. Green makes ‘cents’ with sustainable fabrics, child safety cords—or the elimination of cords—energy efficient, time-controlled shading and light controls will integrate and manage light.”
Going forward, Hipps sees taking the environmental initiative as an all-encompassing process for dealers. Specifically for the window treatments industry, it begins with sun shading products and motorization, but goes beyond that.
“It’s using products that aren’t going to be harmful for the environment or, for example, products that we were able to take out of one construction project and reuse the metal. We took vertical blinds out of one project that we did and rather than filling up a dumpster with all this vertical material we were able to recycle the plastic and we took the actual metal extrusion from the headrails to an art welder. He made an elaborate artwork that is now in [the client’s] lobby as an art piece.”
With energy conservation a top priority these days, Hipps foresees a future in which home energy use could be controlled the same way automobile gasoline mileage and emissions are regulated. He recalls a recent issue of USA Today that polled 8,000 adults and found 40 percent of the respondents said the government should enforce environmentally sound practices. “California is leading this charge with every new government building needing to be LEED-certified. Probably in our lifetime, every new home will be challenged to be energy efficient smart homes,” Hipps says.
Bob Hipps represents the third-generation of his family in the window coverings business. His grandfather, William Gerald Hipps, started a venetian blind factory in 1946 after World War II. His father, Jerry Hipps, was president and CEO of Atlantic Venetian Blind and Drapery Co. for more than 40 years. Bob started Hipps & Co. in 1991 as a home-based installation service working with a few designers in the southern Florida market. He has a son in college who works installation several days a week who could, one day, become the family’s fourth generation business owner.
Hipps’ beginning home-based business included his wife Judi who answered the phones while home schooling their three children. Now, 17 years later, Hipps & Co. has seven employees including four installers and two “cracker-jack” designers. There is a satellite sales and service office in Orlando, FL, but the company operates out of its Fort Lauderdale Cypress quarters.
Today’s business is split 40 percent commercial and 50 percent residential, but Hipps notes that the residential business tends to be very high-end, so he’s comfortable working with both designers and homeowners. “Usually what will happen is we get an architect that will call us looking for spec information and then there’s a call looking for fabrics. We have our designers team up with them as sort of a liaison. After that project is done the homeowners go to their other trophy home and we get the call direct to come do that house.”
Without naming names, Hipps confides that his clients include professional sports figures, entertainers and what he calls “several Wall Street movers and shakers.” “We’re seeing an increase in our mega motor yacht builders and designers looking to integrate shading and lighting controls on their vessels,” Hipps adds.
Hipps & Co.’s specialties are customer service and motorization. Hipps found his niche in motorization a good 10 years ago and he says the designers have really appreciated that. He says about 70 percent of business today is in motorization. “It’s still in an infancy stage and a lot of people that either aren’t involved in it or very scared of it are going to miss the train when it pulls out of the station,” Hipps warns. He thinks sooner or later the government is going to mandate that new construction maintain a certain level of energy efficiency and for many projects motorization will be the way to bridge that.
Because of the opportunities motorization offers, Hipps believes dealers one day may find they will need to have a licensed electrician on staff. In fact, Hipps partners with several and has one part-time employee who does all of the necessary permitting or anything that’s required for new projects involving motorization. “He’s on retainer and does a great job. He knows the system and he knows the products and that helps.”
“We have a small retail space so people can come in and get a feel for what’s out there and see, and hear, different motorization,” Hipps continues. “People like that; they don’t want to hear a motor. That’s part of the ‘Wow Factor’ also. Because [in the Fort Lauderdale market] we have all these big, huge windows overlooking oceans, lakes and golf courses and nobody wants to pull a cord to raise them, but when they hit a button and this huge fabric panel raises up, or a drapery opens or closes it’s, ‘Wow, look at that!’”
Customer service is Hipps’ other specialization and it’s something he learned from Walt Disney. Twenty-six years ago, before starting his own business, Hipps worked at Disney World in Orlando—in fact that’s where he met his wife-to-be. Disney, Hipps will tell you, knows a thing or two about customer service. “That they do. I would have to say I broke my teeth on that aspect of it. They went full-tilt on guest expectations. That interaction with getting involved with people was a big aspect for me. Judi and I both felt that, bottom line, a lot of our business knowledge we carry today we got from Disney.”
KEEPING A HAND IN
Bob Hipps is a single-engine private pilot and that, quite literally, opens markets to him that would be difficult for competitors. His clientele stretch from North Carolina throughout the southeast to the Bahamas and Caribbean islands. He says he was in the Bahamas recently working on one project and while there was asked to take on two more.
That’s the way it goes for many successful window coverings dealers, although Hipps appreciates how tight things can be right now. “This economic cycle definitely has teeth; it’s kind of taken the wind out of a lot of people’s sails,” he says. “We may have to paddle for a while, but if you stay on the lake long enough the winds will pick up and it will be back to smooth sailing again.”
With residential business softening somewhat Hipps & Co. is seeing greater business growth in the corporate world by doing more boardrooms and conference rooms. Energy-efficient shades and lighting controls set on timers to maximize heating and cooling costs are drawing a lot of interest, Hipps says. And for good reason: some systems can actually pay for themselves in energy costs in three to five years.
But if there is any slowdown in business, it’s hard to tell from Bob Hipps’ schedule. He likes to stay busy, and he keeps a hand in the day-to-day business. The day before our interview he was out on an install.
“It is a good industry and everybody that I talk to believes you’re not going to get filthy rich in this industry, but you will make a good living,” Hipps says. “I do enjoy getting up every day, I still enjoy installing, I enjoy meeting and talking with people, networking, hearing other people’s thoughts.”