FAS Kicks It into High Gear

The market changed, and FAS changed with it
Christina Lewellen
October 20, 2010
SPECIAL FEATURES | Operations, Channels, Close-Ups

LEADERSHIP IN THE HOMEOWNER MARKET

 

FAS Windows & Doors

Winter Park, Fla.

At first glance, one might wonder if someone forgot to inform the leadership at FAS Windows & Doors that there is, indeed, an economic downturn happening. Based in Winter Park, Fla., the company operates showrooms in the Orlando and Tampa markets, and just stretched this summer up to Jacksonville, where it opened another retail location. In the last year, the company has overhauled its business model, its branding and its approach to marketing.
 
FAS Windows & Doors powers through the economic conditions in Florida, revamping its business model and its marketing strategy to cater to homeowners.
The company wasn’t letting the badly-hit Florida economy get it down last year when it earned Window & Door’s Dealers of the Year award for excellence in its showroom/retail strategy, and this year, the company is back, having kicked it into hyper-drive to earn the 2010 Overall Excellence category for its service to consumers.
Founded in 2005 by father and son team Ernie and John Wilding, the dealer made a drastic shift in the last two years from serving primarily contractors and builders to catering mostly to homeowners. The change was easy on the back end since the company had already been serving homeowners, just to a lesser degree. The sales and marketing approach, however, required a top-to-bottom makeover.
With the support of the leadership and a top-notch team of marketing professionals, FAS Windows & Doors went about reinventing itself and ignoring the fatalistic energy produced by the Florida economy. The resulting machine is impressive. The team stepped way outside the box to produce engaging advertising campaigns and make charitable contribution one of the company’s core values, and they figured out how to make social media support and enhance the dealer’s business strategy.
“We’ve changed our entire model,” says Mandie Benson, FAS’s marketing manager. “We have to spend more to get the same results but we’ve really shaped what we’re looking for and how we’re going to get our message to those audiences.”
Economy or not, the company is just shy of doing $1 million in sales per month in Central Florida representing Andersen and Eagle, Simonton, Gorell, Custom Window Systems and PGT product lines. With solid sales and service teams and a well-established reputation for customer service, the FAS executives have no plans to divert from the growth path the company is currently on and aims to establish its brand in the marketplace among Central Florida consumers.
ENGAGE…
When FAS was recognized for its showroom strategy last year, it had already transitioned to serving homeowners. “New construction has fallen to the wayside,” Benson explains. “So we aren’t focusing our efforts there. We are still serving [professionals], of course, but nobody’s really building much in Florida right now.”
The company not only expanded its retrofit business, but it also opened a materials division to sell products directly to local contractors. “If you’re comfortable working with your handy guy and he needs windows to install, we can still serve that segment and take advantage of the opportunities there,” she notes.
Benson estimates that about 80 percent of the company’s sales are now on the replacement/retrofit side of the line. “We’ve always done a retrofit business, but we’re just marketing it now,” she explains. “We had the people in play, though now we’ve had to hire more sellers and we’ve got additional crews. We’ve really adapted—not so much changed—and employees’ positions have broadened. Former new construction sales reps are now into our materials division or our retrofit business.”
To create brand awareness among consumers for a company that had previously served builders—a more relationship-based style of selling—the FAS marketing team launched an advertising campaign that reached into television and radio. The ads are generally light and fun, and feature well-known community members as endorsers.
“Anytime our TV ads drop or we do a community event, we see the flux in traffic coming to our showroom,” Benson says. “This stuff is working and people are coming in. We’re going to continue to spend money [on advertising], though we do watch the percentage of gross sales. But our mindset is retro, retro, retro.”
And the company isn’t going hot and cold with its advertising campaigns—it’s committed to its plan with the goal of creating a consistent feed to consumers. “We put into play a lot of new advertising this year,” says Benson. “We put a plan into place and we’re sticking with it. We’re not trying different things and pulling out really quickly if we don’t see immediate results.”
FAS Windows & Doors has also created a co-op of other home improvement and related companies in the region, forming a group called the Preferred Home Experts. The referral and marketing program features 10 different companies offering everything from kitchen cabinets to landscaping. “It’s a one-stop-shop of family-operated, Central Florida businesses,” Benson says. “It’s a referral program that includes companies that are all top of our class in each home improvement category.”
IMPRESS…
With the traditional advertising plans in place, the FAS team started looking for ways to highlight some of the company’s core values that stretched back to its early days of building relationships with local builders and contractors. The leadership wanted to engage the local community and identify ways to create that face-to-face time that the company was founded on.
 
With a goal to meet more potential customers face-to-face, FAS undertook an aggressive community event schedule. The leadership contends this will facilitate trust between the company and local buyers.
“When people come into our showrooms, there’s more of a tendency for them to purchase from you if they trust you and you’ve created that face-to-face relationship,” says Benson.
So FAS set a big goal for its community events calendar. The team wanted to participate in at least 50 home shows or community events to push out in the public and engage in local activities. As of June, the company had already participated in 60 events in its two primary Central Florida market and remains on pace to drive that number up beyond 100 events by the end of the year. “We had wanted to do something every weekend, and it turned into three or four events every weekend,” Benson says. “We had to create an event marketing division. These aren’t just home improvement shows—it’s wine shows, craft shows, car shows, community founders’ day events. People just keep seeing us and it’s creating top-of-mind awareness.”
FAS staffs the event with employees, making sure they have samples and swag to pass out to event attendees, and offering plenty of incentives for future engagement. “We have different specials every month,” Benson says. “It’s something to motivate the buyer to make a move, and it’s not window and door related. It’s something tangible like an iPad—buy seven windows and get a free iPad. For people who were already interested, this is a great opportunity to get something valuable out of it.”
The FAS marketing team also constantly looks for fresh ways to encourage customers to engage with the company on social media sites. The staff posts pictures and updates for every event in which the company participates and welcomes customers to offer feedback on their projects and interactions with FAS. The dealer also gives away a $150 grocery card every month—but the winner is announced on Facebook only. “You won’t get a call, so you’ve got to check Facebook to see if you’ve won,” Benson says. “People are staying tuned in. It’s becoming a place for people to engage with FAS and say, ‘You’ve done a good job.’”
The company attempts to blog about something every day—ranging from window and door products, to home improvement tips, to the company’s participation in community events—and has begun adding basic videos to its YouTube channel. “They’re just simple videos with some animation,” she says. “Things like how to clean a window, or what’s the difference between an Andersen window and a PGT window. It’s just more information we provide to the Web, and then can virally go anywhere.”
Some might argue that social media won’t drive sales at a window and door company, but FAS is encouraged by the community it’s creating around its brand. “If you don’t stay with the times, you just get lost in the clutter,” Benson says. “We are changing as the times change.”
GIVE BACK…
Perhaps the best example of how this company has jumped into its new business model with abandon—even more so than new advertising campaigns and expanding with additional showrooms in a down market—is its “cause marketing” initiative. Plenty of companies in many industries support a charity or a cause for marketing purposes, but FAS was not interested in a one-sided, temporary or non-transparent relationship. “We wanted to make a bigger impact with one charity rather than spreading out our efforts among 11 different ones,” Benson says.
FAS incorporates the local Ronald McDonald House into all of its advertising, including this one. Owners Ernie and John Wilding believe in a company's responsibility to be involved with charitable efforts.
The FAS team undertook an extensive challenge to identify charities in the area with which they might team up and evaluate which cause might closely align with FAS’s corporate goals and values. They sought a charity that translated well to different models—the company is, after all, in expansion mode—and they wanted it to be a long-term relationship that FAS employees and even suppliers could rally around. “It took us a good long while to figure out what charity we wanted to support,” Benson recalls. “We wanted to be able to help an organization as we continued to grow—not just do one fund-raising walk per year. We wanted everyone at our company to be able to get involved and we want to make a significant impact on the charity itself.”
In the end, FAS’s team decided to support the Ronald McDonald House of Central Florida. “There are so many families that can’t afford to stay in hotels while their kids are being treated at the hospital,” Benson says. “The economy has hit families so hard down here and to be able to do something for them is really awesome.”
Given FAS’s modus operandi, this charitable relationship was not simply an occasional donation or an evening preparing meals at the Ronald McDonald House. The team had a much more comprehensive plan in place for the organization. First, the company has sectioned off a big area in each of its showrooms that Ronald McDonald House organizers can use to highlight the cause. “They hang stuff on the walls to let the community see what great work they’re doing,” Benson says.
FAS also attaches Ronald McDonald House clings to all of the window and door samples in the showrooms, and includes the charity’s logo and information on every single piece of promotional collateral it produces—every advertisement, every brochure, every community event. “We’re going to advertise regardless, but if we can help the Ronald McDonald House along the way, we’re all for it,” Benson says. “Ronald McDonald House is in everything we do—every print ad, every home show, they have a presence there. People walk up to us at community events and give us $20 or $30 as a donation to Ronald McDonald House because they want to help.”
FAS employees have embraced the efforts as well. Volunteers from the staff visit local Ronald McDonald House sites at least once per month to cook and serve food. “It brings us together as a company, helping one cause,” Benson says. “I’ve had so many conversations with different employees and they all think it’s great that we’re doing this.”
The company does, of course, make monetary donations as well. The financial support is a monthly donation based on installed volume, and FAS has organized several community events specifically to raise additional funds for the Ronald McDonald House cause. “We want to give back to the people who give to us as a business,” Benson says. “They do need help in today’s economy and it’s just such a great organization.”
“Owners Ernie and John Wilding and their staff have truly embraced our mission to improve the health and well-being of children and families in our community through our Ronald McDonald House program,” says Laura Heidrich of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Florida. “As a family-owned business, FAS Windows & Doors is a great ‘mission match’ for [us]. We are both focused on providing a service related to ‘home’—FAS through their residential business and RMHCCF through the comfort and care offered to families with children in medical crisis in our community.”
People in the community are certainly noticing. “No one in this market in the home improvement category is doing what they are doing by reaching out and donating their time, and we feel this makes them stand out,” says Michelle Stevens, community relations manager of local TV station WFTV-Channel 9, based in Orlando. “They do it because it’s important to them as individuals, not because it’s self serving. They truly care about their community… [and] research does show that consumers like to do business with companies that give back to their communities.”
NEXT STEPS

FAS will aim to stretch traditional marketing methods in order to better communicate its value proposition to consumers and professionals. “FAS Windows & Doors will continue to recreate itself, build brand awareness and positively impact the community through all of its marketing efforts,” says Benson. “Every employee believes not only in the company but in everything it does for the community.” 

Click here to see our other 2010 Dealers of the Year.

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