FAS Windows Makes Showrooms its Centerpiece

Retail professionalism makes for a lasting impression
Christina Lewellen
October 1, 2009
SPECIAL FEATURES | Sales & Marketing, Close-Ups

A Showroom that Sells

Excellence in Retail

FAS Windows

Winter Park, Fla.

FAS Windows believes less is more when it comes to showroom displays. Too many products in a limited space takes away from a minimalist, upper-end feel.

In an economy where homeowners are skittish and looking for ways to get the most value for their purchases, a showroom does more than allow potential buyers to compare Window A to Window B. It communicates something much more important, as FAS Windows of Winter Park, Fla., has learned first-hand. “A showroom adds credibility,” says John Wilding, president. “When things were getting scary last September and October, we could bring folks in and say, ‘Look, you can trust us. We’re not going anywhere. If you have a problem 10 years from now, we’re going to be here to help you out.’”

FAS has also turned to an expanded showroom business model as it has matured in the current economic environment from a new construction window dealer to one that increasingly serves Tampa and Orlando homeowners. The selling process is much different with homeowners, Wilding says, and a home improvement company has a much shorter timeframe to make a lasting impression. “With the builders, you have a longer time to build a relationship and maintain it,” he says. “With homeowners, you’ve got to sell yourself and the company and give the homeowners years of comfort within an hour or two.”

To set itself apart from the competition—whether the specialty dealer down the road competing for homeowners or the lumberyard across town competing for builders—FAS Windows, run by father and son team Ernie and John Wilding, has developed a retail approach that mirrors a luxury car dealership more closely than a home improvement company. They wanted to create a high-end feel to match what can often be a significant financial investment. “The impression I want to give is if you walk into a Lexus or BMW showroom,” John Wilding says. “We wanted to make it as comfortable and high-end as possible.”

As the dealer looks to its future growth, Wilding says FAS Windows may expand to new territories—always with a showroom presence. The company may even look at adding additional satellite showrooms in its current territories, just to make visiting the sites more convenient for local homeowners. “No matter what, the showroom would definitely be a part of what we’re going to do,” he says. “It just adds so much credibility and represents the company so well.”

FAS Windows was founded by industry veteran Ernie Wilding, who had operated a Renewal by Andersen location in North Carolina. When he semi-retired and moved to Florida, he opened up FAS Windows—which stands for “father and son” windows—and, along with son John, learned quickly that the Florida window and door market is a different beast than other geographic regions in the country. “Business is very different here, and the biggest obstacles to overcome are permitting and codes,” John Wilding explains. “Florida has the strictest code out there, which reduces what we can sell to the consumer, and we’re required to pull permits on every job we do. We’re not the cheapest guy in the market because we can’t do that for free. But it gives the homeowner comfort to know that when the county comes out, everything will be up to code.”

The company aims to do business by the books, taking care to complete projects correctly the first time. This may stem from its early years as a new construction company, as longevity in the professional market depends on fostering trust and long-term relationships with builders and contractors. The company was about 80 percent new construction just a few years ago, Wilding says, but has now flipped over to about to about 80 percent retrofit. “We try to set ourselves apart by doing things the right way the first time,” Wilding says. “Windows aren’t very cheap, so we want to make sure people feel comfortable with the company they’re going with.”

The company offers seven different product lines, giving customers a broad choice. “We don’t pitch one window as being the best window for everyone,” says Amanda Benson, marketing coordinator. “They can get an estimate for more than one window with FAS, so as one company, we give them a choice.”

The dealer also opts for no-pressure sales approaches, offering an educational experience rather than one-call closes. “It’s a big financial decision so we don’t want to pressure someone into something they’re not comfortable with,” Wilding says.

All of this philosophy easily lent itself to the evolution of a full-service showroom. “We had a small area when we first started, but then we tore down a wall and expanded it,” Wilding says. “It just sort of evolved.”

A flat-screen television and a comfortable sitting area allows homeowners to walk away with a professional impression of the dealer.

The walls in which the full-sized windows are mounted measure nine feet tall, and there are eight foot doors for homeowners to demo and visualize in their homes. “They’re very impressive,” he says. “You can’t take entry doors into an in-home presentation. It’s nice to see them in person, along with all the many options.”

The company also makes technology a focal point of its showroom space with a flat-screen television mounted in front of a comfortable sitting area. The laptops with which all sales personnel are equipped allow homeowners to design their windows on the flat-screen TV in a relaxed setting, enjoying a cold beverage. “We try to make the whole process seem as professional as possible,” Wilding says. “When you come here, you can play with the different wood species or compare a wood window versus vinyl versus aluminum versus wood clad. You can walk through the showroom and say, ‘I like this one but not that one.’ And then you can see your windows in front of you on the screen.”

The process leaves a lasting impression, even with customers who don’t follow through on the orders right away. “A lot of our customers will come back a month or two later, saying, ‘Of all the estimates, you guys were the most professional,’” Benson says.

Wilding acknowledges that the trickiest part of a successful showroom program is not what to put into the space, but what to leave out. Maintaining his aim for a luxury car showroom feel, FAS Windows stuck with a minimalist approach to displays. “With carrying as many products as we do, it’s easy to make it feel cluttered,” he says. “You have to be selective so it doesn’t get too overwhelming, to maintain that upper-end feel.”

Full-sized displays play strongly into FAS Windows' educational pitch. The dealer wants homeowners to be well informed as they make a decision about windows, which can be a significant financial investment.

The company’s showroom is a centerpiece of its educational process. The sales process encourages potential customers to take time to visit the showroom and all marketing materials point to the retail locations. The dealer also recently launched a re-designed Web site that serves as an extension of its showroom experience, Benson explains. “Our [former] Web site was very descriptive, but the new one is very product-specific,” she says. “A lot of companies are very broad in their information; many dealers are against putting on their Web sites instructions about how to measure a window because that’s their ‘in’ to the house, but we don’t have a problem with educating our customers. Our Web site is part of our value.”

The end goal for the showroom, the sales process, the Web site and the marketing materials is to leave potential customers thoroughly educated and comfortable with their decision. “I think if a customer has to ask a question, that means they weren’t informed enough,” Wilding says. “We’ve got to be the one initiating every call. If they call us with a question after their showroom visit, we’ve already let them down. We just try our best to be one step ahead of the customer.”

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

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