Someone once said, “He who lives by the crystal ball will learn to eat ground glass.” Nevertheless, Bursten peers into the future and here’s what he sees:
• Draperies: For many reasons, you can expect a boom in custom draperies that actually began almost two years ago. I predict it will be two years before the market really gets it, and it will be another eight years before reaching a peak.
• Alternative Products: Alternative products (blinds, shadings and now shutters) have experienced unbelievable growth the past 20 years. Hunter Douglas has changed the industry, and through advertising has broadened the market for custom products. However, we are reaching the peak of product introductions and innovation will be slower paced. There are so many products in this category now that dealers and consumers cannot assimilate more for a while.
• Media Advertising: Newspaper and yellow pages have peaked for most window coverings retailers. Many are spending the same money to get fewer appointments. This is not a temporary aberration, it is a long-term trend affected by age groups and Internet technology.
• Marketing: Marketing is more than advertising. It is focusing on the right customer profile and the ways to communicate to them. The big change is the “Neiman Marcus Effect” as I call it: more and more million-dollar homes and a huge wave of $500,000-plus home values behind them. Learning how to target these customers will be the key to affordable lead development. Leaders are already moving toward concentrating on past customers, marketing to them with postal mail and e-mail. Results have been outstanding for most.
Another emerging trend: pay-per-click and local searches on Internet search engines such as Google, Yahoo, etc. Any player who wants more appointments is going to move in this direction. These are all “stealth marketing” options—your competitor can be stealing your leads and you don’t even see the ads. All you know is your appointments are going down.
• Personal Promotion: This is where franchising is starting to create real problems for conventional retailers. A new franchise has plenty of time to pass out flyers, knock on doors and call homeowners in target neighborhoods. This method of marketing is more powerful and costs less than any other form of client development in our industry. It has been for the last 50 years, and I predict it will be for the next 50.
• Computers: Computer programs are emerging for marketing and management, for design and presentation, price quotation, ordering and operating systems. The industry is still figuring out how to use these programs to sell more or to cut expenses. We are not there yet.
Five years ago people said it would take three to five more years. It didn’t. The industry is not even five percent computerized. It will be five to eight years before 50 percent of the industry is on computers . . . but leaders will be making more profits using them in the next two to three years.
• Training: Our industry has been thirsty for training since its birth in the 1960s. Training is the reason I started Decorating Den—people wanted to be in this business, but they couldn’t find a way. Today, there are many wonderful options to learn about products, about window treatment design and how to order products; but there is still no training on how to advertise, how to promote for appointments, how to close sales, how to follow up, how to manage a business and (the “final frontier”) how to recruit and manage sales consultants.
• Finding sales consultants and decorators: You cannot find experienced sales consultants. They aren’t looking for work. No one, except franchises, have mastered training new people, and they have to charge $25,000 to more than $50,000 to recruit inexperienced sellers.
This is the only remaining unknown in this industry. Every other problem has been solved by somebody, somewhere. But no experienced window fashions retailer has a solution for hiring large numbers of inexperienced consultants each year. It is the single question Steve Wishnow and I are devoting the most energy on today.
• Competition: It will get worse . . . and worse . . . and worse. With franchising growing as a force in our industry—and I love franchising as a system—there will be an estimated 500 well-trained competitors with great marketing and advertising programs and a national name entering the window coverings industry every year. If you haven’t felt it yet, your business is so small that it is not the way you make your family’s income. That is why we developed the Exciting Windows! brand of service—to allow existing business owners to keep their established name and compete with the same tools and knowledge as a franchise.