Most floor covering retailers who are intent on staying in business over the long haul have soberly considered the exhortations of today's management consultants and marketing gurus. They've heard repeatedly that the consumer demands a one-stop shopping experience. The key to long-term survival, they've been told, is repeat business. They've been warned that the best way to compete successfully against the big-box stores is to offer superior service and specialty products that the mass merchandisers won't provide.
For many, this litany of advice has been recounted so often in recent years that the words have become little more than business-building bromides, long on theory but short on real-world specifics. But others know from experience that such concepts are not mere platitudes, but rather the basis for a beefed-up bottom line.
Just ask the specialty flooring retailers who've successfully added window treatments to their product mix.
In making their case as to why flooring retailers might do well to consider adding shutters, blinds, shades, and/or valances to their product slates, manufacturers point to statistics indicating that 70% of all consumers who purchase flooring will within a year also buy window treatments. "There is a definite trigger effect there," says Joe Jankoski, corporate vice president of merchandising for Hunter Douglas.
For this reason, manufacturers of window treatments have aggressively begun courting flooring retailers. Many suppliers, including Hunter Douglas and Kirsch, have already established formal supply and merchandising programs with established flooring operations such as Mohawk, Carpet One, Abbey Carpet, and others.
"Flooring stores represent the fastest-growing retail channel for window treatments," Jankoski notes. "We share the same customer profile, so it's a complementary fit."
In addition, offering window treatments affords the flooring retailer the opportunity to serve as that consumer-coveted one-stop design source. And if their clients are among the 70% who opt to temporarily delay the purchase of coordinating window treatments, the flooring retailer is particularly well positioned to follow up in the months after the flooring sale and capture that repeat business.
"Window treatments can be such an easy value-added sale for flooring retailers," says Mike Linn, vice president of retail sales for the Levolor and Kirsch brands. "They've already established a relationship with the consumer and it's not difficult, during the course of their usual follow up after the flooring installation, to contact the client and revisit the subject of the windows."
"By offering window treatments," Jankoski adds, "the retailer strengthens his position with his customers. He makes himself more meaningful as a design resource."
Although Hunter Douglas and Levolor market some "value priced" window treatment lines through big box stores, the product is primarily sold as a custom-fabricated item. Certain brands - such as Kirsch and Skandia - eschew the mass merchandiser channel altogether, which means the specialty retailer never has to compete head-to-head with a big box.
Because it is a custom-ordered item, the dealer bears no inventory costs. Decorators, designers and specialty retailers who handle the product typically guide their customers through a broad range of product samples and take individualized measurements of the client's windows.
At that point, an order is placed with the manufacturer or an authorized fabricator. The finished product is shipped (usually in four weeks or less, depending on the supplier) to the retailer who, in turn, installs the window treatment in the customer's home. The average job, Jankoski says, costs the consumer approximately $1,200 to $1,500. The retailer typically reaps 35% to 40% of that figure as profit.
Flooring retailers who take on widow treatments can get started at relatively low cost. For as little as $1,000, the dealer can obtain basic sample books. And the retailer need not devote an inordinate amount of showroom space to the product category. Free-standing modular displays, some with a footprint as small as 4-by-4 feet, are available for anywhere from several hundred to more than $1,000 each. And depending on the supplier's policy, many of these merchandising costs are rebatable once the retailer begins submitting orders.
"The retailer should plan on spending $3,500 to $4,000 on merchandising materials to do it right," says Hilmar Skagfield, president and CEO of Skandia.
The dealer's cost structure for the product varies according to sales volume and supplier. For example, The Blind Maker, a wholesale fabricator of Kirsch custom products, offers three-tier pricing based on the dealer's annual volume - the more he sells, the lower his per-unit cost.
Most suppliers offer their vendors some level of training. Skandia hosts a one-week course at its headquarters. Kirsch maintains a corps of representatives who visit dealers and present several hours of instruction that, according to Linn, "covers everything from soup to nuts." The Hunter Douglas Insight Program is a full-day sales and installation training course that the company hosts in 30 major cities annually.
Measuring windows and installing the finished product is not terribly complicated, particularly for someone who is already well versed in specifying floor covering installations. "If you can measure and read a ruler, you can do this," says Jankoski.
Though the barriers to entry are minimal, no flooring retailer should operate under the illusion that selling window coverings is a complete slam dunk. To truly succeed with window treatments, a dealer must be willing to invest in more than just a set of sample books.
"Window treatments represent a low-risk opportunity, but you can't just put out a shingle and expect them to sell themselves. The dealer still needs to commit mentally to the product," says Linn. This commitment, he continues, requires a consistent advertising plan and the designation of at least one employee as a window coverings specialist.
"Not necessarily everyone should go into window coverings - it's not for the weak of heart," adds Skagfield. "But if a dealer makes the decision to actively market the product, and commit to training and personnel development, there is a very handsome reward in this industry."
For those that require a bit more hand holding, franchisers like Today's Window Fashions may represent a better way to plunge into the window covering business. The company handles various product lines from the likes of Hunter Douglas, TechStyles, Century, Levolor, TriStar, and more.
"We buy at volume and can usually do better on pricing for our franchisees," notes company President Mark Barone. "And you get an exclusive territory, a full package of merchandising aids, signage and business cards, as well as on-site training for three or four days."
In addition, Today's Window Fashions owns dozens of window covering-related Internet domains. All Internet consumer inquiries and orders are funneled on the basis of territorial proximity to franchisees.
But all these bells and whistles come at a cost. The company charges existing floor covering stores a special-rate franchise fee of $14,900 plus a 4% royalty. However, dealers who maintain showrooms are eligible for a 1% quarterly rebate.
Regardless of how one decides to approach the window covering market, the fact remains that flooring retailers can establish a potentially lucrative profit center if they'll only look up from the floor and gaze at the windows.
"You're already in the customer's home measuring for the flooring installation," says Kristine King, marketing manager for The Blind Maker. "Why not measure the windows too?"
For more information…
The Blind Maker
(800) 874-3168 ext. 108
Today’s Window Fashions