Taking a Time Out

Christina Lewellen
October 20, 2008
COLUMN : Talking to Dealers

So it's ugly out there, no doubt, but I'm sort of sick of talking about it. That's not to say I won't continue talking about this wretched economy, but I've decided to give myself a Time Out.

I'm done talking about how terrible the economy is. For a minute anyway. Maybe two.

It's hard to remember what's so terrible with the state of the Union when I just spent more than a month getting to know the eight companies you're going to read about this issue. The 2008 Dealers of the Year aren't complaining. They're just working—and working hard.

These companies are convinced that windows and doors can spark economic vitality for a former Rust Belt region. They believe that Big Box retailers are not a cause for concern, but a cause for a better business model. They treat customer service like that of a five-star hotel and installation as something that should be as precise as a well-oiled machine. These companies aren't immune to the economy, nor am I saying they're not affected. They are, however, working in spite of the economic conditions to improve their businesses and position themselves for future growth.

I recently read an article about a consulting company in New Zealand that specializes in helping mid-sized, privately-held businesses grow in tough economic times. "What many business owners don't realize is that in a recessionary environment, there is as much opportunity as ever," Ben Ridler, managing director of The Results Group, is quoted as saying. "You might not grow, but when others are dying off even treading water is progress. There is a big opportunity right now for businesses to get lean and mean - what we do is help get their strategy right to grow their market share and client base, to put themselves in a leadership position in their industry once the economy picks up."

I would imagine some of the business coaching this consulting company provides includes common sense reminders of business fundamentals that often make companies successful in the first place-trim the fat from your operations, look for new ways to compete, keep your radar sharp for opportunities to invest in your company's future.

Most window and door retailers know perfectly well that this is the formula for survival in a down market. But it doesn't hurt to have a little nudge to snap us back into focus when stocks are tumbling, banks are crumbling and news reports on actions of the federal government include phrases like, "...not since the Great Depression."

Our intentions for the Dealers of the Year program have always been two-fold. Firstly, we want to recognize the efforts and accomplishments of a select class of dealers who have executed interesting and successful business models. We never claim to have scoured the industry to find the dealers with the highest revenues, the most employees and locations or the brightest halos around their heads.

When the nominations roll in each summer, we look for companies that excel in certain key areas of running a window and door business and-to my second reason for the program-have a good story to share with other dealers.

While this issue of Window & Door is not your silver bullet to escaping this downturn unscathed, I do hope you find some consultative nuggets-some reminders, if you will-that you can apply to your business. The 2008 class of Dealers of the Year have some good stories to share and I promise you that I'll do a happy little editor dance if you find yourself raising an eyebrow, tagging a page or two and sharing an article with some of the key managers in your business. [Side note: While we have proudly launched our new Web site, www.windowanddoor.com, it does not include, at this point, a video library so you will not be subjected to observing my happy little editor dance. Didn't want you to get nervous.]

As this program has evolved through the years, I hear more and more often from the nominees that the reason they got involved is that they read the Dealers of the Year articles from last year and said, "Hey, we are really great at customer service too. We should apply next year." And to this sentiment, I respond once again with the happy little editor dance. There is a certain set of "must haves" to successfully run a window and door retail business-you've got to treat your customers well, you've got to have a good value proposition, you've got to put the windows in the holes in an appropriate way, you've got to donate a window or two to a worthy community cause. But if your company jumps even higher than this bar and really goes the extra mile, you should throw your hat in the ring for the 2009 Dealers of the Year program. Perhaps you'll find your company on these pages next year.

So for a minute, maybe two, put aside your depressing business headlines and enjoy our Dealers of the Year profiles. And as always, send me an email to let me know what you think. Have you got a good story as well? Bring it on.

I really don't see what my kids fuss about—having a Time Out is kind of nice.


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