Adapting to Survive

How dealers can get comfortable with the new tech-focused reality of doing business
Craig Patchin
June 14, 2018
COLUMN : Strategy Session | Operations

 Our company interacts regularly with scores of window and door dealers all over the U.S. and Canada, and we’ve found there are two main “camps” of dealers. The first are those with the motto “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” These are good people who have run an honest business for 20-40 years with paper folders, phone calls and a wealth of knowledge. In the other group—most often, those getting into the business as second generation or coming from outside—are in the “I can’t believe we operate with paper folders and phone calls” camp. As alluded to in this dichotomy, there is a seismic shift starting to happen for window and door companies and it is important to understand what is going on.

First, it is no secret the standard demographic of a window and door dealer is usually an older male baby boomer operating as a self-funded small business. These owners work long hours and sacrifice for the business and the staff. Surviving the economic tsunami of 2007/2008 and coming out the other side isn’t really celebrated—its acknowledged humbly and with lingering pain.

Second, like all companies, the tech revolution is having profound impacts on all aspects of the business. All manufacturers and jobbers have moved to some form of online configurator for pricing and ordering, and some for service. Those who cut their teeth with huge pricing binders are pretty happy with the ability to do a global change and run options with the press of a button versus spending another two hours doing those changes manually. 

However, until now, dealers have been somewhat buffered from having to adopt technology for their operations outside of the manufacturer-provided systems. This is due to the fragmented nature of the industry, the significant burdens and costs of shipping and handling fragile items that are also large and heavy, and the generally slow rate of technological adoption in construction as a whole. 

The other reality that comes into play here is that the customers of our services are living in an Amazon/Google/Apple world of instant gratification. For this customer, working with a retailer that does not offer the kind of customer service, quick answers, ongoing interaction and product tracking they are used to with ecommerce is a problem. 

Add to this the current situation where finding qualified and experienced staff to do the work is not easy. Dealerships needs to get more done with fewer people, some (if not most) of whom aren’t natives to fenestration. The dealer is now being squeezed with higher customer expectations, more competition and fewer experienced staff. So, our new reality is, “If it ain’t broke, it will be very soon.” 

Adaptive behaviors

Dealers looking to adapt for survival and longevity are doing two things. The first it to streamline systems and remove wasted work. Nothing wastes time like having to reinvent the process every time. Effective teams have tools to do each item well and without confusion. 

Just like a factory, every step in a job is planned for efficiency, and duplicate information and processes are removed. Every time an employee has to search for missing information, products, parts or tools, the company’s ability to sell and process jobs decreases while costs increase. Further, increased efficiency means a better customer experience, which creates value for the company.

The other practice adaptive owners are implementing is a comprehensive system that integrates everything in one place. Highly effective software is available for window and door dealers, and these end-to-end enterprise resource planning systems remind, automate and communicate with and for the staff, which allows them to get much more work done. 

Typically, how these programs work is salespeople send a proposal which allows for a low-friction e-signature, and the system knows when to remind them to follow up. The systems collect and save all important documents and communications for each job in one place. Staff from every department can see the information and everything is recorded as the work gets done. In theory, questions/emails are eliminated, correct addresses are obtained, costs are tracked, and accounting and management get reports automatically. 

Not many people like to be forced to change. But dealers who have the courage to adapt are surviving, and are putting themselves in a position to grow and thrive as these inevitable changes continue. 

Craig Patchin is the owner of Window Design Center, in Madison, Wisconsin. A 23-year veteran of the window and door industry, Patchin also serves as a principal of PATH|ERP, a software company devoted specifically to window and door dealers.