What Replacement Dealers Want from a Window

Focus group suggests quality, reliability and simplicity are highest priorities

Quality, reliability, “nothing that will lead to callbacks.” That’s what replacement dealers want from a window supplier, according to a recent focus group sponsored by Window & Door and Mikron Industries. While energy efficiency is important, “it’s sort of a given,” noted one participant. “If it doesn’t have an Energy Star label, nobody’s going to even look at it.”

Organized by Market Resource Associates, the focus group gathered seven Denver-area replacement window specialists. Conducted by MRA’s John Cashmore, the session made it clear that these dealers want also to keep things simple. Asked about product features that appealed directly to them, “easy to install” was the immediate response.Two of the Denver-area replacement window dealers that participated in the focus group.

As far as features and options, those decisions are increasingly driven by the customer, participants agreed. “When they come in, they’re saying ‘I saw this ad,’” one noted. The group confirmed that consumers are using the internet extensively before they talk to someone about buying. “There’s information overload,” noted another dealer, and the role dealers play now is to “act as a window consultant” and “narrow down their choices” to enable consumers to make a decision.

Cashmore kicked off the session asking participants to name specifically some of their key priorities in choosing a replacement window manufacturer. The answers they provided included cost, quality, lead time, features, options, after and pre-sales support, warranty, ease of installation and brand. Each answer was written on a board and the dealers were then asked to rank the importance of each. Table 1 details their rankings, with the overriding answer being quality.

NO PROBLEMS OR CALLBACKS
Quality was said by participants to be important because of future customer referrals. The replacement contractors adamantly stated they did not want “callbacks” from customers in a few years due to problems with their windows. If problems occur, one noted, “customers would share their negative experience with other people and future customers would buy from someone else.”

To get a better understanding of what dealers meant by “quality,” Cashmore probed further on its meaning with the participants. When asked what factors contributed to a “quality” window, the dealers listed, with no particular priority established, durability, frame thickness, frame construction, flange construction, glass thickness (physical thickness of the actual glass), hardware, sash thickness, and styles and features.

The dealers found it difficult to explain which quality attributes really affected their purchase decision. In fact, most contractors physically carried at least three different “quality” products (sometimes from the same manufacturer) with them to show to customers. When asked to articulate the product differences, it generally came down to the glass options. The replacement contractors indicated a number of features that are important to their customers, but they did make it clear that “simplicity” and “easy to install” are critical when it comes to their personal preferences for windows.

All in all, as the conversation progressed it seemed that consistent, predictable quality is more important to the replacement contractors than high quality. Participants indicated that they are aware of changes manufacturers make in their units, sometimes taking what they consider a quality component or feature out of a product. When discovered in the field, this can make them hesitant to continue using the product because they are afraid they may experience future problems with consumers.

The Denver-area dealers agreed that additional service calls increased their expenses and lessened profits, and could potentially damage their company’s reputation. Each replacement contractor present also said he or she could cite a window brand that they would not carry because of its poor reputation.

Following up on the other highly ranked priorities in selecting a window manufacturer, the moderator explored what reliability and consistency meant to the participants. Here, the message was that the manufacturer must ensure every window arrives exactly as ordered.
Lead time was another determining factor in the differences between one manufacturer and another. Participants noted that in addition to a manufacturer’s ability to deliver a product within a reasonable period, another important element was the manufacturer’s ability to supply repair parts quickly.

Warranty was also cited as a determining factor, with lifetime warranties seen as most appealing to the consumer. “Offering such a promise showed a trust in the product by the company that made it,” said one dealer.

THE HOMEOWNER’S PERSPECTIVE
Following up on the warranty discussion, the replacement contractors emphasized that they need to take their customers’ viewpoints in order to help service their needs with the window purchasing decision. When asked if the group felt they were sales agents for the manufacturer or buyers for the customer, the group agreed with the latter. Most said they were the customers’ consultant and had their best interests at heart. Several also suggested that the salesperson’s role is very important because a customer is not necessarily looking for a brand of window as much as for a company he or she can trust.

Cashmore asked the group what their customer’s biggest challenge was, with the consensus being that it is very difficult for the homeowner to “sift through all of the options available,” as one stated. Several of the dealers noted that customers at first want every option available, but do not appreciate the increase each “extra” can add to the cost.

“Customers want a company they can trust not to sell them things they don’t need,” noted one participant. The replacement contractors indicated they are willing to suggest upgrades and point out differences in window lines to create more profit for themselves if there is little customer push-back, but most participants found the link to higher consumer satisfaction levels elusive. It was also noted, however, that they are willing to cut features to cut price.

Participants also expressed doubts about the needs of their customers for such features as argon gas, brass or copper hardware, etched glass and various trim options. Yet, all present agreed that new products were an important tool in selling. They also agreed they would be very interested in new products that provided easier installation—a direct benefit to them.

The discussion touched on a number of other subjects. When asked how their replacement window business was fairing in the Denver area overall, the majority of participants indicated it was positive. One person, however, commented that his business profits had been in decline recently, although he was not sure of the reason.

The group was asked the age of homes in the Denver area, when replacement windows started to be used. Surprisingly, the group agreed builder units were in need of replacement as soon as five years from the original house-build date.

Participants agreed exterior and interior colors were gaining in popularity.

Smaller, local vinyl window manufacturers were noted to be on the decline, to be replaced by national and regional brands. Larger manufacturers were offering products at lower cost, delivering with greater consistency and offering better lead times, the contractors suggested.

The focus group was conducted last September in conjunction with GlassBuild America, where it was broadcast live in a presentation sponsored by Window & Door and Mikron Industries. A DVD of the 90-minute session, combined with analysis from Market Resource Associates, is available here.