The Next Generation Showroom

Windows & Doors by Brownell offers virtual companion to retail showroom
Christina Lewellen
October 1, 2011
SPECIAL FEATURES | Operations, Channels, Close-Ups
 
A Showroom that Sells

EXCELLENCE IN RETAIL


Windows & Doors by Brownell

Williston, Vt.

 

Windows & Doors by Brownell loves homeowners. This isn’t too unusual a concept for window and door companies, but founder and owner Les Brownell has built a retail and showroom strategy around his consumer-centric approach to business.

The company has built three thriving showroom locations to highlight the flexibility and creative options consumers can find in the Marvin and Therma-Tru products it carries. The displays are true-to-life, with window and door products built into simulated walls, and the company frequently updates its displays to reflect its manufacturers’ most recent offerings.
  
 The flagship showroom of Windows & Doors by Brownell in Williston, Vt., has a consumer-centric focus designed to inspire ideas.
“From day one, I’ve had the philosophy that a piece of literature is only a piece of literature,” Brownell says. “With people making this kind of investment, they need to touch it, feel it, see it.”
After spending considerable time and effort developing the concept, Windows & Doors by Brownell also recently took its retail strategy to the web, adding to its consumer-friendly home improvement experience a virtual companion to each of its three physical showrooms.
“For a consumer who may live 50 miles away [from one of our showrooms] and may be curious about what we have here on display, we can now point them to our website,” notes April Bolin who handles marketing for the Williston, Vt.-based company. “The feedback is very positive.”
SIMPLY SHOWROOM
Brownell had already had a long history serving homeowners and professionals in their home improvement endeavors when he decided to go into business for himself. He grew up in the home improvement industry and spent most of his career in the retail lumberyard segment, observing first-hand various aspects of a successful retail strategy.
He then went to work for a wholesale distributor of Marvin Windows & Doors, where he learned the impact that product expertise and specialty service could have.
When he formed Windows & Doors by Brownell more than 20 years ago, Brownell married his past experiences and set a goal to build a window and door specialty business with a strong retail presence. While 90 percent or so of the company’s business is selling Marvin windows for residential and commercial jobs, the retailer also offers other product lines to complete an exterior wall package, including Therma-Tru doors and Larson storm doors.
Because the New England market it serves—which includes sections of Vermont, New Hampshire and New York—is characterized by a strong do-it-yourself market, Windows & Doors by Brownell has focused its efforts on an evolving showroom strategy to make increasingly-complex fenestration products more accessible and engaging to homeowners.
“I love the challenge of the product,” explains Brownell. “If you go back 20 years, we were just pulling a bunch of the same windows out of a box. Today, I love that we have the ability to customize the product.”
To spark creative thinking and customization concepts in the minds of buyers, Brownell designed a retail game plan that celebrates the vast potential of window and door products. “People who visit the showroom are intrigued by what they can do,” he says. “Being creative is fun. You can help people look outside the box. With our displays, we don’t have just the average stuff.”
In the beginning, Windows & Doors by Brownell featured a small showroom, but Brownell quickly realized additional space would be necessary to make the facility an integral component of the business model. The company’s flagship showroom, located in Williston, Vt., was built in 1998 with an innovative approach to displays, and expanded in 2006 to include even more products and displays. Today, the dealer displays various product lines as they would appear built into a wall—showing size, shape, and color combinations as they would look in actual home settings. “If you’re going to build something like this,” Brownell says, referring to his showrooms, “why build it if you’re not going to use it? It’s a huge investment, and we’re pleased that our showrooms get used heavily.”
The facilities feature children’s play areas to occupy young ones while parents browse, and a private conference area/media room that architects can use to meet with clients.
Brownell also made sure his showrooms were well stocked with sales associates who were subject-matter experts on the company’s product lines. “The sales people who are here have years of Marvin experience,” explains Bolin. “The first sales person Les hired in 1991 is still here. When you come in, you’re talking to someone who has a lot of knowledge and can understand what’s going to work best for your project.”
With a successful recipe of real-life displays, a flexible product line and well-trained sales associates, Windows & Doors by Brownell expanded its retail strategy to other nearby markets. In 2007, the company opened a Plattsburgh, N.Y., showroom, and in 2010 added a third retail location in West Lebanon, N.H. “When customers come into a showroom, half the time they don’t even realize when they walk in what they’ll end up buying,” he says. “They might see a window with simulated divided lites, which they didn’t even realize they wanted, and they’ll pick that.”
Brownell believes his company’s welcoming and inspiring showrooms have become an important resource for area home improvement shoppers. “We’re well known here in this marketplace,” he says. “A husband and wife might wake up on a Saturday and decide they want to put a new patio door in. Most will then say, ‘Let’s go to Brownell’s.’”
  
To facilitate a more user-friendly shopping experience, the dealer developed a virtual companion to its physical showrooms on its website, giving buyers a way to tour the showrooms from home. 
 
 
SHOW ON THE GO
While Windows & Doors by Brownell staffers often find that homeowners and professionals will travel more than an hour to visit the dealer’s showrooms, there were a few issues that nagged officials about the customer experience. One was that many visitors would ask permission to take pictures of the displays so they could remember what design concepts they liked. Another kink in an otherwise smooth experience is that sometimes shoppers have to make multiple trips to the facilities to make a decision or to bring other decision makers, such as a spouse, along with them.
Brownell and Bolin began strategizing a way to take the company’s showroom displays to a virtual platform. “Les and I have talked about it for a couple of years,” Bolin explains. “It took us some time to figure out the best way to make it work for the consumer, in terms of being user friendly.”
The team worked with a web developer who would be able to deliver the vision they had for a virtual showroom. Local designer Steve McIntyre at the Champlain Marketing firm designed a map-like concept for the site, www.wdbrownell.com, positioning each of the showroom’s products on display as a point on the map. When users click on a particular dot on the map, a photo of the actual display from the showroom quickly swoops into view.
“For the customers who used to say, ‘Can I take a picture?’ we can now explain this feature to them and point them to our site,” Brownell says.
Each of the displays is numbered on the virtual showroom maps, and the company keeps printouts on the showroom floors so shoppers can keep track of what they like as they see it, Bolin adds. “When they come in and know that number 19 on the map is what they like, our sales people can circle it and make notes so they can go home and show other decision makers on the virtual tour,” she says.
While almost all of the dealer’s marketing efforts points consumers to actually visit the showrooms, the leadership believes the online complement makes for a more productive and user-friendly experience.
“There are a lot of companies that say they like homeowners, but do they really?” Brownell says. “We really do. A homeowner might not be building for a year, but they come see what we have and that’s why we’re here. If you present yourself and your product properly, the project will continue to move down the path toward you.”
STAYING FRESH
A commitment to a good showroom doesn’t end once it’s built and the grand-opening ribbon has been cut, Brownell points out. With manufacturers constantly striving to upgrade their product lines and add new features to the mix, a dealer’s showroom must also make frequent upgrades to keep pace. “We’ve had complete sections of our showroom remodeled, and we change about a half-dozen displays every winter,” he notes.
  
 Les Brownell, who founded the company more than 20 years ago, is a big believer in keeping the showroom fresh with the latest products and options.
As new hardware options are introduced, styles are upgraded or new products are added to the mix, Windows & Doors by Brownell makes changes in its displays to keep offerings fresh and diversified for buyers. “What good is an old display?” Brownell says.
This is particularly important for a retail-focused business, as many of the company’s jobs are made up of homeowners replacing one or two windows at a time or purchasing just a handful of products for an addition. “Our orders are maybe only $1,000 or $1,500 most times, but these customers are repeat business and they are talking to their neighbors about their experience,” Brownell says.
Similarly, the virtual showrooms are built on an easy-to-use content management system, allowing the team to quickly make changes and updates to the site as product displays change and evolve.
“Our showrooms do not collect dust—they get used,” Brownell says. “We get high levels of traffic. Some days we feel like a grocery store, and we wouldn’t have it any other way."

 

Click here to see the other 2011 Dealers of the Year.

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