Window Dealer Puts Safety First

By Christina Lewellen
March 15, 2008
COLUMN : Talking to Dealers | Close-Ups

Maybe it’s the writer in me, but I love a dealer with an angle. It’s tough to develop a focus, a niche, a personality for a business—so when I run across a really good angle, I’m definitely doing a little happy-column-dance.

This month I’d like to introduce Windows Plus, a replacement retailer based in Northern Virginia. The dealer’s is a story like many others—two former contractors who know a thing or two about solid construction practices decide to open a window and siding shop and build its customer base one successful project at a time. Reg Wayland Jr. and Tom Camarca’s dealership is like so many I’ve visited before—they have a clean showroom in a small building in Annandale, Va., a polite staff to greet you at the door, a stack of impressive company newsletters resting among the product displays and even a few issues of Window & Door on the coffee table. I felt right at home the minute I walked in for my visit.

It didn’t take me long, however, to start picking up on Window Plus’s angle. There are plaques hanging on the wall citing recognition for participation in safety coalitions and neighborhood watch programs, and the most prominent display in the showroom highlights Gorell’s Armor Glass Plus security glass.

The dealer sells safety and security. It’s a simple message that resonates with the homeowners of suburban Washington D.C. and it’s an angle that sets Window Plus apart from its competition in the market. The company sells traditional replacement windows and doors too, but has developed a growing reputation as a home security solution provider. In addition to carrying Gorell’s security line, Windows Plus is also a ProVia (formerly Precision Entry) dealer that offers the manufacturer’s Protector Series glass in doors. “When people break into your home now, they don’t want your TV and electronics,” says Wayland, co-owner. “They want your identity and your jewelry.”

The safety angle evolved over time, Wayland explains. Several years ago, he was attending a local chamber of commerce meeting during which police officers were delivering a presentation on how to make a home more secure. The conversation focused on big box retailer-supplied, after-market solutions like deadbolt locks. Wayland was inspired to invite the crime prevention officers into the company’s showroom to teach them about security glass solutions—another important piece of the home security puzzle. “We showed them how easy it is to break into a regular window compared to one with security glass,” he says.

From there, the dealer joined the Virginia Crime Prevention Association and the National Crime Prevention Council and began training police officers, fire officials and consumers about security options in windows and doors. The owners and other staff members regularly attend neighborhood watch meetings in many local communities and conduct large “breaking demonstrations” (a.k.a. baseball bats through
perfectly beautiful, in-tact windows!) during safety and awareness functions. Windows Plus has donated safety glass windows to law enforcement shooting ranges for training purposes and to controlled practice burns for local firefighters’ training.
The owners’ “in” with local safety officials goes a long way with consumers otherwise wary of home improvement companies. “When dealing with customers, it’s important to bring up the question of security and find out what concerns they have,” says Camarca, co-owner. “At the very least, you want to present it and see what they say. We try to show them what this can do. We like to show them the benefits and how durable this stuff is.”

Windows Plus is able to focus on security and safety because it works with a regional distributor that handles most of its installations. “We came from the field so if there’s nothing else we know, we know how to deliver the job,” explains Camarca. “But [having contracted installation crews] does allow us to put our time and efforts into spreading our message.”

The dealer also recently took its safety angle to a new level with the addition of a product line outside the realm of windows and doors. It recently became a distributor of the Pearl Permanent Escape and Rescue Ladder. The product is an escape ladder housed in an attractive unit that gets installed directly into the wall under an upper-story window. During a fire, users can swing open the cupboard door and pitch the ladder out the window to escape. Perhaps an unusual add-on in terms of product diversification, but one that makes perfect sense for safety-focused Windows Plus. “Anything that’s safety and security related, we’re focused on,” Wayland says.

“It seemed like a good fit with our business and the type of business we are,” Camarca adds.

Pearl CEO David Duley says he was happy to have his product—traditionally a new construction product—cross over in the retrofit market, especially with a dealer after his own company’s heart. “What makes the ‘right’ dealer for us is someone that generally cares about the safety of their customers and has a sales team that’s passionate about doing the right thing with the customers,” he says.

And with the economy giving home improvement retailers a run for their money, Duley points out that unique additions to the product line-up gives dealers like Window Plus a way to stand apart among discriminating customers. “A market like this, it separates the men from the boys,” he says. “Window dealers need to differentiate themselves. In times like these, dealers need to be creative.”

I’d venture to guess that the home security angle only works in certain markets—after all, consumers have to be inspired by their surroundings and dismal local news reports to pay the premium for crime prevention measures. But it’s certainly an angle that’s working for Windows Plus. The owners figure about 30 percent or so of their sales include the security upgrades (many of their customers opt for Armor Glass Plus for the ground-floor windows and go with traditional glass offerings for the upper levels). The percentage of security sales is climbing each year, as is the referral network Windows Plus is building through its community safety involvement and from satisfied customers spreading the word.

With a wobbly economy making consumers increasingly trigger-shy when it comes to sinking money into home improvement projects, can you count on 30 percent of your sales to be premium-level orders? Maybe your company would find some safety in the security angle (read more on page 59, in our contributed feature on selling security).
Wayland and Camarca say that they don’t really sell windows as much as they do peace of mind. “When your home is broken into, it doesn’t really matter how much the windows cost,” Wayland says. “I have Armor [glass] in my whole house and my kids feel so safe. They know no one’s getting in.”

Feeling safe is a pretty compelling argument. And a great angle.

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