Recently my company undertook the daunting task of developing a database of window coverings providers, small and large. We were particularly looking for workrooms all across the United States. We canvassed every nook and cranny of every state in the nation. It was a large undertaking and took a lot of work, to say the least. We didn’t find them all, as workrooms work under the radar, but from the numbers we have accumulated, I think we found the lion’s share.
As we were searching, we noticed a curious thing: Some places simply do not have anyone serving the area. Other places have retailers but no workrooms at all. Some towns have a local Hancock’s Fabric store and nothing else. Some towns have one hard coverings retailer and zero drapery providers. Of course, there are large geographical areas that are so sparsely populated that there probably is not a substantial enough market there to support a business. I remember the day I found a county in Kansas that had only one tiny town. It is located so close to the border that it appears to be trying to leave the county as well. But we found big towns on the map, where one would expect to find several providers, that simply do not have adequate coverage.
We could see that these towns were being served by out-of-towners, so to speak. All advertising for window coverings was by a mail order type of company. So, obviously, customers in these areas still need to cover their windows. They’re just mostly left to their own devices to do so.
Some areas were growing by leaps and bounds. We could tell because high-end out-of-towners were advertising in the local yellow pages. If multiple high-end companies were willing to drive to these areas, there definitely was the potential for a local company to set up shop.
I was surprised that we could determine all of this with maps and other information that we gleaned from afar. I have always been aware of it in my own surrounding areas. I can name several good size towns within a 100-mile radius of my small city that are not being adequately served. I know because I receive calls to go to these places.
I also know because sales reps have told me so over the years. Sales reps are on the ground. They know the scoop where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. Sales reps drive through all of these places and don’t stop. They don’t stop, not because there is no market there, but because there is no one there to serve the market.
I talked with a sales rep recently who mentioned a company that owns nine carpet stores in an area of a state that has few, if any, window coverings retailers. The owners want to sell window coverings, the rep told me. What is stopping them? They have no idea who they would get to make them.
There’s a market there. Nine carpet stores tells us that. The owners are good business people with the business savvy and the financial savvy to succeed in the window coverings industry—again, nine carpet stores tells us that. But, how to sell window coverings and who will help them do it? Those unanswered questions mean there is a large untapped market in that area.
What to do about it? First of all, the national database that my company has built is a good start. Identifying these locations in a concerted effort that includes sales reps and other available data would be greatly beneficial. Second of all, as an industry, we have to be able to develop a way to train people who are already in these areas and willing to branch into window coverings. We have to be able to develop a database that cross connects workrooms to potential retailers in these areas. When we connect them, there needs to be a standardized way for them to communicate with each other. Everybody needs to be working from the same page when working from afar.
Lastly, that information needs to be made available to people who are willing to move and set up shop. It may be tempting to think these markets aren’t viable or someone would already be there. With the right demographics, the potential is always there to develop a market. People often don’t know what they want until it is presented to them as an option. If mail order products are mostly what is available, then that is mostly what will be sold. But, if neighbors start seeing custom products, then the desire to keep up with the Jones’ kicks in and a market is born.
Anything that is adequate and not juxtaposed with something wonderful is quite simply…adequate. But when shown something unique and wonderfully custom, people want custom. In sales we see this all the time. The customer likes the adequate until we pull out the good stuff. The customer is happy with the plain version until we pull out the trim. So, really all that is necessary to determine market potential is the absence of competition and the demographics on people living there.
POTENTIAL TO BE FOUND
Things change as well. I live in an area that contains two counties that have been among the least populated and poorest in the state. For many years Bosque County, TX, boasted that there was but one traffic light in the whole county. That all changed when people from the big city started to “discover” the beauty of our area. Not too many years ago I visited with a real estate agent in Hill County. He told me that the median income in that county was $21,000 per year at that time. Those demographics don’t sound very promising for a window coverings provider. However, things change, and the vast ranches and second homes that are being developed in that area provide a wonderful market for window coverings people.
I found an area near a large city in Texas that holds close to a million people, yet I did not find a window coverings company there. I found out about companies advertising there, but I could detect no one there locally. That is not to say that there might not be someone who is working that area that I missed. I can only surmise that if I can’t find them by looking for them, then local people can’t find them either.
Without being on the ground and seeing for myself, I don’t know why the window coverings lights seem to be off in that location. But, my guess is that the area grew so rapidly that someone has failed to see the potential that is right there on the map.
I personally know of a densely populated area that used to have one window coverings provider. The last time I talked with the proprietor she was closing up shop. Her reason for closing was too much business, too much stress to try to single-handedly work the market, and not enough qualified people to hire to help her run her business. There was not a qualified workroom in that area to use for the quantity of sales that she could generate, and she had trouble finding a reliable installer. When I checked the yellow pages in that town, I saw that no one has stepped in to fill her shoes.
Not long ago when I went out of state to give one of my seminars, an attendee came over to me. She explained that she was new in business, but she had checked out the market and discovered that she would be the only one there. There was another window coverings company that had been there for years, but they were closing up shop because of retirement. This was a large town. I would call it a city. In fact, it was large enough that as a little schoolgirl down in Texas I was very aware of the name of this city. But yet, the field was basically wide open for this attendee to succeed in this market with her startup company.
These cases are representative of what we are finding all over the country. We didn’t start out to discover this, it just became evident as we developed our database.
Window coverings retailers and workrooms finding it hard to make their way in an overcrowded area need to know it’s not all covered. It’s not all crowded, and there’s plenty of potential out there to be found. You just have to know where to look and be willing to go there.
Mary Ann Plumlee is the CEO and founder of Workroom Association of America LLC , a trade association dedicated specifically to the betterment of the workroom industry. Visit www.workroomassociation.com to learn more