But turning a profit isn't as easy as ordering a few scattered SKUs and selling cheap vinyl blinds. It involves time, resources and -- above all -- money. But for those that can make it work, the profits more than make up for the investment.
National Floor Trends spoke with retailers who run the gamut from small stores that have dedicated themselves to making window coverings a viable part of their business, to larger retail showrooms that are just embarking on their programs. Herein, is an account of their experiences and their advice to retailers who are thinking about adding blinds and curtains to their current stock.
Kathy Barnett, general manager and owner of the 6,000-square-foot Barnett Carpets, located in Ruidoso, N.M., has been involved in selling window treatments for the past 10 years. "There's a real need for it," she explains. "We live in a very small, resort-type area, and there's a lot of seasonal people who come in. They have a need for customized window coverings that nobody else is offering."
Barnett says that making the investment to purchase a full range of products is instrumental to success. Since becoming a Hunter Douglas Window Fashions Gallery dealer, which denotes that she sells the full line of Hunter Douglas products, more and more customers have come to the store for advice and consultation.
Barnett says that devoting an area of the store solely for window treatments is also key -- not just placing a few SKUs here and there, but actually setting aside an attractive space to draw customers in.
"Where we used to have window fashions, customers could overlook them," Barnett says. "That's not possible now. The Gallery is in an elevated area, enclosed by banisters. We put a natural maple on the floor to complement the Gallery display. And a lot of natural light comes in through a 30-foot ceiling. It's a real focal point as you walk in."
Barnett adds that it's important to offer installation free of charge, at least for hard window coverings. "Some people don't want to do their own installations, so we make sure that hard-covering installs come free with purchase," Barnett says. "For soft window coverings -- draperies and the like -- some labor is added."
John Kiyak, owner of Port Chester Rug & Linoleum Co., in Port Chester, N.Y., is a Mohawk ColorCenter dealer. As part of the Mohawk program, he has recently become involved with selling Mohawk Custom Window Fashions (a program made possible through partnership with Comfortex). His business, which has been around for 54 years, is primarily known for its flooring, but the company is quickly making its presence felt in window treatments, Kiyak says, through word of mouth and grassroots promotion.
"We do about 500 apartments in one complex," he says," and every time we have to redo a kitchen or complete a carpet job, we leave our name and a brochure about window coverings."
He says that when his business first went into window treatments, it was advertised "with just a sign in the store and a display in the back, but customers weren't gravitating toward the treatments.
"So we moved the display to the front and it's been paying off," Kiyak says. "Some people already know what they want, and we try not to change their minds. We try to offer them some guidance, to make sure the product is right for their living situation."
Port Chester Rug & Linoleum has an in-house installer who puts the treatments in for the customer, and Kiyak feels this is important. "We don't farm out the installation," he asserts. "We stand behind our products, and the installation is included in the purchase."
Eric Baarda, sales manager for Iowa Carpet One in Urbandale, Iowa, sells window treatments primarily by Hunter Douglas, with some sales also coming from Levolor/Kirsch treatments.
Of his 10,000-square-foot showroom, about 2,000-square feet are dedicated expressly for window treatments, he says. Iowa Carpet One has been selling blinds for about five years, with a two-year hiatus before getting serious again two years ago. Though the majority of customers are coming into the store looking for floor coverings, he is able to sell window treatments as an add-on.
He says that window treatments offer a few different challenges from floor covering sales through the sheer diversity of products available. It's important to be trained, and have a lifeline with the manufacturer.
"If someone comes in looking for a carpet, we just have to know what type of square footage it needs to be in, and we can go from there," Baarda says. "But with blinds, you have many different products that can go in the window. There's different types of shades. Some people might want wood blinds, or sheer blinds, or honeycomb. Or they want to know the difference in cost between a honeycomb blind and a cellular shade."
He cautions strongly to make a serious investment in window treatments if you want to sell them and not just dabble.
"My advice is go ahead and spend," he says. "Make the initial investment for lit displays, because they show off the product a ton better. Get yourself a good offering of products, from the 1-inch metals to the really nice, high-end fabric shades. Be serious about it. Don't just have a couple of decks you can pull out of a drawer. Get working blinds up, so the customers can see how they operate."
Paul Stecklair, owner of La Mesa, Calif.-based Family Carpets & Draperies, sells -- as the name implies -- carpets and custom draperies. He also carries a range of hard-window treatments, predominately from Skandia Window Fashions.
He says that 2-inch wood blinds are extremely popular right now. People are sticking to olives, golds and rust colors. His theory is that the younger generation is tired of "the pinks, grays and peaches" of their parents' blinds.
Where he really cracks into the market is with draperies -- an expertise which he says is "the hardest thing in the business." Because of different designs, arch windows and corner windows, with various options for material, you need to have a really good installer, Stecklair says.
"I think window treatments are real competitive," he continues. "Draperies aren't so bad because there's not as many people doing them, but the hard window coverings -- the shutters and blinds -- are very competitive. The quality is the key there. You have to try to sell a little better product than your competition."
With the current new-home building boom, window treatments are enjoying an increased popularity along with floor coverings.
"The visibility and demand for window treatments seems to be going up," Baarda says, "just like with floor coverings. People are changing homes more often. Seven years in one place is the national average. Blinds and window treatments are following that trend."
Barnett says that with the current boom, retailers can really turn a profit by adding window coverings to their stock.
"We're small, but we have a lot of second homeowners who are building really nice high-end homes who come in," she says. "Even for the more moderate homes, people are recognizing not just the beauty but the value added to attractive window coverings in the home. The aesthetics, visual appeal, insulation properties -- all of those nice things."