Custom Exteriors Installs Installation into the Sales Process

Dealer finds customer satisfaction stems from setting homeowners' expectations
Christina Lewellen
October 1, 2009
SPECIAL FEATURES | Operations, Close-Ups

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Custom Exteriors

Pleasantville, Calif.

Custom Exteriors has always used the best processes and materials for its installation, but the dealer has found that setting homeowners' expectations is an important part of the sale.

A good installation comes with good products, a well-trained team of installers and a management team that rewards quality over quantity. Custom Exteriors, a Pleasanton, Calif., dealership, has perfected this recipe with one additional ingredient in its secret sauce—taking the time to set its customers’ expectations.

Far from an afterthought, Custom Exteriors winds installation into its entire sales process—from relatively simple things like a slide show on its Web site depicting the installation steps homeowners can expect to more complex initiatives like the centerpiece of its showroom—the company proclaimed “Wall of Install.” The company does this because the management believes that just as important as the installation itself is eliminating any anxiety homeowners may have about the process.

“We want to show people the meticulous effort that goes into our installations,” explains Rod Mills, general manager for the replacement specialty dealer. “People want to know what we’re going to do to the interior and exterior of their house. Preparing them eases their worries and takes that anxiety out of the equation immediately.”

For years, Custom Exteriors has had on its Web site a relatively simple slide show outlining the steps of installation with big pictures, simple captions and some peppy background music. It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, technologically speaking, but it gives potential customers a sense of what happens during the measuring and installation process. “Anybody can sell windows, but we’re selling the whole customer service program,” Mills says. “And the install program is 50 percent of the sale.”

A 2006 Window & Door Dealer of the Year for overall excellence in serving homeowners, Custom Exteriors sells windows made by Anlin, Marvin, Andersen and Milgard, and doors by ThermaTru, T.M. Cobb, Andersen and Marvin. In the 13 years since it was founded by owners Kevin Gundry and Jeff Kendall, the San Francisco Bay area dealer has placed a priority on getting installations right, using the best materials, training its crews to InstallationMaster guidelines and fostering a sense of ownership and pride among its in-house installers. The company has a comprehensive incentive program for its installation crews based on the principle that the crews with the best feedback ratings from homeowners are assigned the most work, and thus earn the most money.

Treating its installers with respect and providing appropriate incentives means that many of the same crew members that started with the company years ago are still executing Custom Exterior’s installations; the workers that potential customers see in the online slide show are the ones who actually show up to do their installs. “We get thanked for that slide show all the time,” Mills says. “People tell us they chose our company because of referrals and because of our install guarantee.”

Because of the lifetime guarantee it offers on its products, Custom Exteriors is additionally committed to making sure its installations are done correctly the first time, every time. “We don’t want to have to go back,” Mills explains. “We want to show our customers that we buy the top-of-the-line low expansion foam and the top-of-the-line caulking. This isn’t the stuff you can buy off the shelf at a big box store.”

The fact that homeowner expectations are set so early in the sales process also serves to guide installation crews day-to-day, Mills explains. “Everyone’s entitled to a bad day, but the crews are fully aware of the homeowners’ expectations,” he says. This includes making sure all steps of the process are executed as rehearsed, from the initial knock on the door to the final, thorough cleanup.

While Custom Exteriors has always made installation a priority in the business, the leadership recognized an opportunity to take it to the next level when they recently embarked on a showroom re-design. The Web site slide show and a couple of additional videos about the company in general appealed to potential customers surfing the Internet and conducting initial research. The in-home presentation and sales process wove in some additional clarification about the measuring and installation process, as well as outlined the details of the company’s lifetime guarantee and how that stems from quality, consistent installs. But Mills, Gundry and Kendall sought a way to position the company’s installation process as a “deal closer” for customers that are evaluating other options in a competitive marketplace.

A focal point of its showroom, Custom Exteriors designed a "Wall of Install" to help potential customers visualize what goes into the installation process.

This is why they designed what has since been coined the “Wall of Install” as the focal point in its expanded showroom. The wall features full-sized windows with various glass packages so the sales team can use heat lamps to educate customers, but it also has areas around the windows exposed so homeowners can see what happens behind the trim. Visualizing how windows fit into a wall helps them understand the importance of proper installation and insulation, Mills explains. “Most showrooms are there to show the products in the best possible light, and that natural partner to that is the installation process,” he says. “Sure, people come to the showroom because they want to see what kinds of windows we offer and their choices. But when I see the sales reps going over to the Wall of Install, you can see a lot of nodding and you can see the relief and release of tension.”

The education and expectation setting that comes from the Wall of Install is so important to the company that they offer customers a $100 credit for their orders just for visiting the showroom. “People walk into the showroom expecting to be sold, but the Wall of Install is educational,” he says. “When a sales rep goes into a home with corner samples, people see what the profile is but they don’t really ‘see’ the window. We want them to see the actual window frame, and how we take care of the air, the water and any gap that naturally occurs.”

The result, the dealer has found, is that customers are buying the installation just as much as they are the products. According to one customer testimonial on the company’s Web site, the installation was what primarily contributed to his overall satisfaction. “I can't say enough about how pleased we are with the crew that you sent to do the job,” writes Stuart Rowley of Walnut Creek, Calif. “These guys were courteous, respectful, and incredibly hard working. They clearly took great pride in their work and went the extra mile to get everything to work out. ... I feel that I received an excellent price and am very happy with the quality of the windows and doors. However, what really makes your company's product standout is the quality of your installation crew.”

Custom Exteriors has seen several of its local competitors close their doors in the last couple of years, and the company itself, like many companies in the industry, has had to take a hard look at its costs in order to avoid staffing cuts. But Mills says cutting corners on installation will never be an option for Custom Exteriors—it’s just too much a part of its value proposition. “You can buy your windows from other places, but the installation is the proof in the pudding.”

Click here to see our other 2009 Dealers of the Year.

Contact Christina Lewellen, senior editor, at