Few window coverings dealers can credit so much of their success to networking and other guerrilla marketing tactics than Greg and Renea Dale, Picture Perfect Window Coverings, Inc., a full-service, home-based retail business in Carrollton, TX. "We never pass up an opportunity to meet people and let them know what we do," Greg Dale says. "In our neighborhood we've had a gourmet group that we've been involved in, game nights, a social committee, and we've been politically active—in the past I've even run for the school board."
But Picture Perfect's biggest successes are linked to the business networking groups both Renea and Greg belong to. Sales to leads generated from these groups often are made to residential and commercial clients who take no other bids from any other window coverings retailer.
The networking groups Renea and Greg Dale belong to are serious affairs. These are not informal coffee-and-cake get-togethers, but earnest, weekly lead-sharing sessions that accept only one business from any profession. These groups may include floor covering professionals, insurance sales people, mortgage brokers, real estate agents, title reps and home alarm, pest control and home improvement businesses among others.
In Renea's group, members are allowed to miss only one meeting a month. "The group demands people who perform at a very, very high level," Greg explains. "It's not a matter of trying to get members, it's a matter of trying to find someone who can become a member." As head of the group's residential services area, Greg acts as gatekeeper. Potential members request one-on-one meetings with him to discuss their businesses and how they can help the others.
The Dales' Tuesday networking group has between 40 and 50 members. At each meeting members stand up, give a 30-second talk on who they are and what they do and give the group their best leads for the week. Thank-yous also are granted for leads generated over the past seven days.
The value of belonging to such active networking groups cannot be understated. Greg sites two examples of leads that turned into sales:
"A woman who sells office furniture gave us a lead on a place she installed office furniture called GroceryWorks.com, it's a 90,000-square-foot warehouse that is an on-line grocery store," Greg says. "They had so much confidence in her—and the group of people that she worked with knew how to get the job done—that they called us up, wanted a price and we did it. They didn't even take another bid from anybody. It was as simple as that."
Another lead came from the real estate agent for a 6,000-square-foot house recently purchased by one of the newest players on the Dallas Cowboys football team. The agent had told the player about Picture Perfect's Quick Shade program, which offers temporary paper window coverings for clients who need immediate privacy while custom coverings are being made. The player's representative called to ask for some free Quick Shades, Greg recalls. "We don't normally give them out to people unless they purchase from us, but I wanted to meet the player, so I said OK!"
Greg went over to the house and put up all the shades. "A couple of weeks later they ended up ordering about $10,000 worth of blinds," he adds.
"To get into a good networking group, you really have to shop around, and you've got to find one that will perform at a really high level," Greg advises. Next March in Orlando, FL, he will present a seminar on effective networking and how to find quality customers through networking at the annual convention of the All American Buyers Group.
Greg and Renea Dale's networking is supported by their marketing skills. They especially like guerrilla marketing: achieving conventional goals through unconventional methods such as investing energy instead of money. "I'm a huge, huge fan of guerrilla marketing—anything from Jay Conrad Levinson [author of Guerrilla Marketing for the Home Based Business and other books (D&WC Bookstore at www.DWCdesigNet.com, or gmarketing.com)]. Anything guerrilla marketing-related we do," Greg says.
In addition to joining neighborhood groups to meet potential customers, investing energy in marketing has also meant doing a lot of footwork. "I've spent a lot time over the last five or six years going out to the houses we want to do and putting our information on the house. That has brought us a ton of business," Greg says.
But Greg and Renea don't leave behind your typical door-hangers. Their information packet includes a two- by two-inch sample of a real wood and a faux wood slat so the home owners can see the quality of the products they offer. Not only does it help set Picture Perfect Window Coverings apart from others, it is more fitting with their clientele.
Typically, Picture Perfect's customers are working professionals who prefer the shop-at-home advantage. "They don't have the time to go out and shop, first of all," Renea says. "Second of all, they like knowing that we will come to them and bring everything to them in the comfort of their own homes so they're not rushed to get in and out of a store."
Greg handles most of the sales appointments. "I do full sit-down presentations from start to finish because I have to justify our price to them one way or another and that's what the full presentation does. It justifies why I am going to ask them for good dollars to do their house."
The Dallas/Ft. Worth area currently is a strong market for new home construction. Greg admits it sometimes amazes him how many homes he and Renea have done for young couples who are first-time home buyers purchasing houses in the $250,000 to $400,000 range.
Greg encourges all clients to start a Dream Folder of what they eventually would like in their homes. "When we go through the portfolio, we talk to them about hard treatments and then we go into soft treatments, then we give them some recommendations," he says. He encourages customers to start ripping out pages of magazines whenever they see something they like. "I try to minimize the amount of time Renea has to spend working up quotes. So when she does get to their house, whether it's three months later or a year and a half later, they have this folder ready to go," he adds.
Greg tells of one woman who took a photo of a dining room in a royal castle while she was travelling in England. "She wanted us to duplicate a window treatment from the queen's dining room. That's what was in her Dream Folder," he says.
Despite varying tastes, most customers will ask, Well, what does everybody else do? "We find that a lot of those customers who just put the norm in their houses come back six months to a year later and they're ready to do soft treatments, and that's where I jump in," Renea says. "That's my forte, that's what I love to do and I get the ball rolling from there."
For those new home owners who don't have a clue where to begin, Renea reminds them they also have to furnish the rooms, so she makes herself available to go shopping with a client for furnishings and then tackle the window treatments. "I'm not a real hard sales person," Renea says. "I don't push people to do something. They like that because I'm not pushing something they're going to be unhappy with later or a window treatment in an empty room when six months later their tastes may change for that room," she says.
Greg and Renea's combined skills and efforts have been so successful they can boast never losing a job to one of the Big Box stores or national warehouse chains despite having two of the newest high-end decorating outlets in their market. "If I lose a job for someone to one of these outlets, I've got to seriously ask myself a question: Why was I in their house in the first place, did I do that bad a job of qualifying that lead over the phone?" Greg says.
"Our qualifying basically is real simple: How did you hear about us? What product are you looking for? Who have you talked to already? And I can pretty much know right away if they are a do-it-yourselfer and if they are shopping for price and price only and could care less about quality," Renea says.
GOING THE DISTANCE
In a reverse of the typical scenario, Picture Perfect Window Coverings has made the move from a storefront location back into the Dale's home. "We once had a showroom. We didn't like it," Greg says. "With our customers we still ended up going to their homes and bringing everything with us."
Yet, for those clients who want to come in and see what Greg and Renea can do, they've set up their house like a showroom and converted their formal living room into an office. But even that was done with a design flair. None of the business equipment is sitting out, Renea explains. Some of it is in an antique armoire behind closed doors, and the filing cabinet is actually a decades-old travel truck with leather straps. "Those are the kinds of things I like to do. I don't like the typical. I like going out on a limb. Even though home-based, Picture Perfect Window Coverings remains a full-service operation. "We tell people we do anything for the window as long as it's not replacing the glass," Renea says. "We also do solar-screen for the outside of windows, which is a much needed product here in Dallas. We do anything from mini-blinds to wood blinds, plantation shutters, custom draperies, bedding, pillows, floral arranging, you name it.
"I do consultations. If clients want to rearrange a room with existing furnishings, I can do that—maybe suggest adding color on the walls and accessorizing. Basically I'll do just about anything to spruce up a house," Renea says.
What the Dales won't do, however, is take advantage of customers. "We don't gouge people. We're not in business to do that. We'll be out of business if we do that. But we're not the cheapest. We tell them they are going to get quality, service and everything they need by purchasing from us," Renea says.
That goes for repairs, too. The two stock all the components and parts needed so they can go out to a client's home and repair or replace a damaged product on-site. If that's not possible, they'll take it back to the manufacturer and rehang it.
With all of Greg and Renea Dale's successes, it might come as a surprise to learn that not too long ago their business hit a serious low point. They survived it partly because Greg is a long-distance runner. "Long distance running really makes a person tough in the long run," Greg says. "There were times when business got so bad for us about two years ago—during the El Nino there was so much rain it shut-down the construction industry—we had a 75 percent drop in business for six months straight," he says. "We really thought we were going to have to go out of business. Long distance running, believe it or not, gave me the fortitude to stick it out to every last second, to give it everything we had. It turned around for us. The more running I do, the better our business does."