Window Geeks or Mere Mortals?

Christina Lewellen
March 1, 2007
COLUMN : Talking to Dealers | Sales & Marketing

Settling into a relaxing evening at home with my family recently, I heard the unmistakable sound of breaking glass from another room. I rushed to the den to find the oldest of my three children (also known as my husband), standing next to a window, with a sheepish grin on his face. He had tossed a ball, it hit my favorite cast-iron candlesticks sitting on the sill, and you can finish the rest of the replay in your head.

As we cleaned up the mess and cardboarded up the hole, it struck me that I’ve lived in this house since the first of the year and never even noticed the windows. I research, take phone calls, trade emails, write about and spend all of my working (and at times, waking) hours thinking about windows, but in the chaos of moving to a new home, I never once looked at the windows I inherited. Such behavior would be par for the course for “mere mortals,” but a knighted “window geek” like me has no excuses.

As I lectured my husband for inappropriate indoor play and chastised myself for ignoring my fenestration, I started thinking about some of these mere mortals I’ve met in the last few months. On more than one occasion, I’ve been impressed with the level of knowledge about windows and doors that perfect strangers share with me upon learning the nature of my profession.

A bellman in Marco Island, FL, told me of his recent journey to purchase impact windows for his nearby waterfront condo. He explained that he and his wife, along with their neighbors, did “a lot of research” before settling on a Northeast manufacturer’s line. Nodding politely, I figured “a lot of research” meant an hour on the Web, until he started spouting off DP ratings and his desire for stainless steel hardware. The manufacturer they wanted doesn’t serve Southwest Florida yet, so they opted for choice number two, for which he was equally well versed.


Hmmm. Two points for the mortals.

Then there was the cab driver in Washington, DC. He manages a bunch of rental properties and, unlike most of his counterparts, feels that it’s important to provide his tenants with a “highly functioning” unit. This includes safe and energy efficient windows—and he was starting to look at replacing them, along with the front doors. He rattled off the names of the two or three manufacturers most consumers can call to mind, but he wanted to get beyond the “name brands” and see what local manufacturers could offer. So he skipped the big boxes, skipped the dealers and sought out a manufacturer directly. “I don’t want a sales pitch,” he told me, “I want a good window.” I looked up into the rearview mirror and asked him what made a good window. His response—tough vinyl, sturdy hardware and third-party labels.
Also not bad for a mortal.

Dealers in this business use a variety of approaches to sell windows to the public. Methods even vary from salesperson to salesperson within an organization. Plenty of dealers want their sales force to aim for the one-shot close, offering incentives to sign on the dotted line and employing, in some cases, some mental and emotional manipulation to finish the deal. The owner of a replacement business in California role-played his spiel with me once, saying to me, as a pretend mortal, “I understand you’d like to receive quotes from those other two companies. But I have in this binder all of the information they’re going to give you. I can tell you about what windows they’re going to offer you and the ballpark price you’re going to pay. Since you already know what I’m offering and I’m not going to charge anything extra for installation and I’m offering a discount for signing today and you won’t have to spend another few evenings to get this information I’m going to give you about the other companies, why wouldn’t you just finish the process today?”

That dealer’s one-visit close rate is pretty decent, so the approach obviously works with some mortals.

There’s another dealer on the West Coast—and plenty more across the country—that prefers the “lead a horse to water” approach. He encourages his sales folks to nudge when possible, but give potential buyers enough time to research. He figures a comfortable buyer will make for a happy customer. The owner’s contention is that the days of the high-pressure, finish-the-deal-before-dinner sales pitch are nearly extinct. Mortals, he says, are getting wiser and the younger generation of homeowners isn’t interested in pressured sales.

Window retailers with goals of long-term survival are evolving with their customers. These are the success stories I love to hear (and share) so reach out and let me know how your typical sales pitch is changing as homeowners do. Would your presentation book fly if you walked into the living room of my kindly bellman in Florida or the office of my DC cab driver? Anytime you ring the doorbell, the homeowner might know more than you think she does.

Are you prepared to respond to her knowledge with more knowledge? I’d be willing to bet that the line between industry window geeks and mere mortals is getting blurrier all the time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go figure out how I’m going to fix my broken window.

 

Contact Christina Lewellen, senior editor, at clewellen@glass.org.