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May, 2004

How to Sell Windows & Doors

An Open-and-Shut Case for Profitability.

By Mary Shafer

American consumers are a demanding lot. We want what we want when we want it, and we're used to finding it pretty quickly and easily. It's this strong set of expectations that has driven manufacturer innovation, which has kept construction and remodeling a powerful factor in maintaining and then energizing a sluggish economy. It's also a reality that astute dealers will use to their advantage in moving high-margin door and window products this season.

With the remodeling market up nearly 55 percent and new construction up almost ten percent since last year (NAHB), it's clear that unsettled times are driving more and more Americans to seek the comfort of the "Fortress Home." But they're not settling for just any old place.

Significant Trends

New and existing homeowners are concerned about security. Surging oil prices have created a new interest in and commitment to energy efficiency. Increasing productivity demands keep folks at the office longer, so when they're home, they want to enjoy their time, making ease of maintenance a real issue. Safety and code compliance have moved to the forefront in some areas prone to natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes. Homeowners in a "nesting" mode are looking for a variety of ways to imbue their homes with their own style and personality. And of course, they want it all at an affordable level.

Dealers wishing to cash in on these trends have their work cut out for them. Of course, it's more of the same advice as usual when trying to appeal to any market segment:

  • Use consultative selling techniques to learn specific buyer objectives.
  • Provide enough necessary information without overwhelming.
  • Create interesting floor displays for that all-important hands-on shopping experience.
  • Actively listen for and be prepared to respond positively to the cross-sell or upsell opportunities.
  • Provide a high level of service before and during the sale, and sound follow-up after.

The difference in your door and window selling approach is the intensity with which you engage in these tactics. To the uninitiated buyer, doors and windows may be considered commodity items. Part of your job is to make sure your DIY customers and the consumers who are driving contractor choices are thoroughly educated about important product considerations and the vast array of options they have to choose from. These are your Tier Two sales targets. The other part is to make sure you're ready with sound answers and solid advice to those DIY and pro customers who've taken it upon themselves to do their homework ahead of time. These are your Tier One prospects, because they've already qualified themselves as serious, involved buyers. Allocate your resources accordingly.

Consultative Selling

The first thing you'll need to do is generate an on-the-fly Customer Analysis Profile of each prospect. Create a brief survey that will give you a sound place to start. The journalists' "Five Ws" are always a good basis.

  • Who are these particular customers: family or working professional? Perhaps both?
  • What does this status say about their needs? Don't guess; ask.
  • Why are they searching now? This could help you gauge their economic status and what their real price range may be.
  • Where is their new or existing home or commercial building located? This will shed light on the architectural styles of their own building and those around them, a crucial factor in detail elements like doors and windows.
  • When are they looking to buy? This tells you whether custom work will or won't be an option for them.
  • How will the new elements be installed? They may be shopping based on style and features alone, using a contractor to put it in, or they might need DIY advice. Installed sales may be an option for you to extend the purchase.

If you're an intuitive kind of salesperson, you may only need to scan this list before initiating your interaction with the prospect. If not, keep the list with you on a clipboard, perhaps made into a digital document you can print off as needed to start your customer file.

Dust off your active listening skills to exercise in really hearing what your customers are telling you they want and need. Determine, through interpreting the context of their inquiries or with a simple, direct question, what their top three priorities are, and which of the features they seek are negotiable. The needs of a homeowner remodeling for increased personal enjoyment are very different from those sprucing up for a quick sale, so get out in front of those concerns. That way, you can deliver an efficient sales experience that shows you respect your customer's valuable time.

Inform Without Overwhelming

Your best bet to provide only needed information is to ask your customer how much homework she's done on her own. Listen carefully and note where her voice indicates deep interest or enthusiasm, and latch onto those features and benefits as your openers and closers.

"Know the product, and take advantage of every bit of manufacturer training you can absorb," counsels Sales Manager Larry Bournias of Milford, New Jersey's Opdyke Lumber. "Pay attention to the trade shows. You can often learn more about your competition by listening to the questions they ask (or neglect to ask) than about the products." At the shows, pick your manufacturers' brains to glean bits of wisdom. "It could be something as simple as learning how they bring their products to market, especially at a builders' show" that will help most, he adds.

Hands-On Showroom Displays

Bournais is a huge proponent of comprehensive floor displays. "To be a successful door and window dealer, you've got to have product for people to touch and feel. Even if they start with a catalog or magazine, there still comes a time when they're going to have to see it in person. And you have to have the right mix on the floor." He recommends providing information that speaks to customers' aesthetic goals and warranty concerns and clearly posting price points.

Building Cross-sell and Upsell Opportunities

When closing the sale on a beautiful new entry door, mention the specialty or custom hardware options that just make sense to complete the look. Knobs, handles and hinges are a no-brainer. One dealer in Covington, Louisiana finds that "Egg knobs like those from Baldwin M-Tech are very popular. We sell lots of rubbed oil finish bronze or brushed nickel models." But what about matching or historical design locksets? Custom decorative glass with several caming options for the in-panel window or sidelights? Storm doors?

How about windows: Are you merchandising window treatments and lock systems nearby? Accessories such as screens, grilles and simulated pane grid inserts? What about decorative wind chimes and hanging plants, or a window shelf for the cat to enjoy the new purchase too? Think beyond the window to what can be seen through it, with yard ornaments, bird feeders and large outdoor thermometers.

"The mere fact of making the customer aware something's available is probably the best way to upsell," says Bournias. When explaining the advantages of energy-efficient doors and windows, plant the seed about the need for good ventilation in a building with a tight envelope. The prospect might not be ready yet, but down the line you might mention the wisdom of installing a retrofit ventilation system for older homes to cut down on the potential for mold and mildew damage.

Impeccable Service throughout the Process

Service is still what positions independent dealers positively against their big-box competition. Now's the time to roll out the whole barrel of what you do best. Of course, the best approach is to make sure your sales and service staff is kept up to date on product features. But you have additional possibilities for proactive service. Post links on your Website to manufacturer online press rooms, where customers can find current product releases and data sheets to do their own research. Big John's Building & Home Center in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, posts new product information that includes application tips and tricks on its site. You've got that pre-sale survey, as previously discussed, and there's nothing more impressive than a follow-up call to make sure the new entryway system or patio door is making your customer as happy as you both thought it would.

Security

Three-point door-locking systems and any number of window-entry barriers are currently offered for security-conscious homeowners. Whole-house electronic systems might be an option, and partnering with a professional security installation and response vendor might prove a worthwhile venture for your both.

Energy Efficiency

Skyrocketing oil prices that show no sign of slowing are causing pain for everyone, and that level increases with the size of the unit to be heated. With many developers putting up estate-size homes, new awareness of energy-efficient options has arisen. Capitalize on that higher level of motivation by making sure you provide literature on or near your gas-filled window and insulated door displays. Use manufacturer-provided diagrams and 3D cutaways (or fabricate your own, if necessary) to show how these elements work. Emphasize the new, longer guarantees against leakage or failure.

Make It Easy for Them to Take It Easy

Maintenance ease is a benefit best conferred through your showroom display. As with any sensory experience, a hands-on, walk-around, "please touch" exhibit is a powerful sales tool, so don't skimp on its quality or space allotment. Seeing the quality of paint-free, impressive shadow-line fiberglass doors and feeling their sturdy but lighter-weight construction is a deal-closer you just can't get from any print or online collateral.

Standing in front of a tilt-to-clean window or seeing the self-cleaning glass during a floor demo literally puts the buyer in the imagined activity. Being able to see and feel the fresh look of improved vinyl or aluminum cladding can remove skepticism and sell the prospect of long, paint-free years like nothing else. A particularly effective display might be the juxtaposition of an old wood door, ruined by rot, mildew or splitting, next to a new fiberglass model. The striking difference will impart a far more compelling message than any sales pitch.

Safety and Code Compliance

The state and local governments in many geographic areas on storm-prone seacoasts, fire-vulnerable prairies and mountainsides, and earthquake fault lines have responded to recent disasters with building code upgrades. That means impact-resistant glass and door materials, high fire ratings and serious structural rigors. If any of these threats are in your service area, make sure you get up-to-speed on new regs and stock compliant products.

Keep your ear to the ground concerning new products becoming available, and be proactive with your vendors to stay on top of what's in their R&D streams. This is one area where both your pro and DIY customers will depend heavily on your industry expertise and knowledge. Recognize the opportunity, and position your staff and store as the "go-to" place for such information, by holding staff development seminars on this topic. Don't know how to go about such a thing? Ask your manufacturer reps: They're likely to be happy to provide someone to help, thus becoming the same kind of resource for you.

And where safety is concerned, don't overlook the small things. A mother with young children who's sitting on the fence about that new fiberglass replacement door might be nudged to the buying side when she learns that a lighter, foam-core door is a lot less likely to damage little fingers that can-and frequently do- inadvertently get slammed in it, than her old steel model. And windows with anti-break-in features are a good source for peace of mind.

Personal Style

Homeowners wishing to express their personal style through their home building and decorating choices are a rich lode to be mined, because they're making their choices based primarily on emotion. If you remember Sales 101, you'll recall emotion as one of the strongest buying triggers there are, so make it work for you. If there's one area where you should show the high-end products before discussing budget, this is it. Once Ms. Remodeler falls in love with the richly detailed panel entry door with twin art glass sidelites, she may just talk herself into her ability to afford that model, although she may originally have planned to settle for a less expensive one.

Affordability

Most door and window manufacturers offer product lines to fit most price points. Let your customer know your options for helping them stay within their budget, but be honest about the trade-offs in price vs. quality and performance. In the long run, they'll appreciate that you did.

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