Volume 11, Issue 1 - January/February 2010


A Haven for Contractors
ABC Supply Takes Care of Contractor Customers at Expense of Retail Sales

I gave ABC Supply Co. in Fredericksburg, Va., credit for being contractor-oriented—even if, as a retail customer, I was put off by the customer service.

I am in the process of shopping for a new patio door and window for my den, and my contractor had suggested visiting ABC for products. So one Saturday morning I headed down the road to a nearby industrial park. While the way to the building was clearly marked, upon reaching it, I couldn’t figure out where to park. The lot, crowded with heavy equipment, turned out to be the correct side, unfortunately, but there weren’t any parking spots.

Inside I found ABC to have a very orderly showroom with several Atrium and CertainTeed window products on display. A customer was waiting while the man behind the desk spoke on the telephone, so I went to browse the window displays. There were five display windows installed into sample walls of siding products. Each window carried an Energy Star® label and proclaimed in a sticker at the top that it was available in glass packages that qualified for the tax credit. Alongside each sample wall were racks of literature, including a range of brochures from the manufacturers whose products ABC offered and a detailed glossy on the ARRA tax credit, stamped with ABC’s logo. I thought that was a clever touch, and when I headed up to the cash register I found they were scattered throughout the store.

Once the other customer left the store the salesperson at the front desk asked what he could do for me. I explained I was looking for a new door and window and he stared at me for a moment and then went to retrieve a thick yellow binder.

“Steel or fiberglass?” he asked.

“Fiberglass,” I said.

“You going to put something on it, like some lace, or something else like that?” he asked, his face scrunching up at the word lace.

ABC Supply
LOCATION: Fredericksburg, VA

Store was Easy to Find
Parking Lot was Clean
Windows were Clean
Greeted Upon Entering
Store Aisles were Clear of Debris
Neatness of Displays
Employee Politeness
Employee Appearance
Employee Product Knowledge
Store Experience Satisfaction
Overall Grade

A Excellent B Above Average C Average D Below Average F Unsatisfactory


“Yeah, I’ll probably install blinds,” I replied.

“How much sun does it get?” the salesperson asked.

“Just a couple hours of morning sun,” I answered. “Nothing direct for very long.”

“Ok,” the salesperson said, “then you don’t need anything like the low-E or argon-filled if you agree you don’t get much sun over there. I’ve got this problem in my house where the sun’s coming through my front door pretty much all day and burning through the door.”

I didn’t think he believed my answer, but I considered it a good sign that we were edging toward a real conversation.

The salesperson flipped to a page of Therma-Tru patio doors.

“Something like this?” he asked, pointing to an open glass door. I pointed to the one next to it with divided lites.

“You want the grids on the outside, the removable grids or the inside grids?” he asked.

Explaining that I wasn’t thrilled with the removable grilles on the other windows in my house, I suggested attached outside grilles.

“The inside grids are for easy cleaning,” he explained with a motion of wiping the glass. “Oh sure, why not, the interior grilles are nice,” I said.

After deciding on the handing he pointed to the product he would offer. “Do you have any options I can take a look at?” I asked.

The sales guy got on the loudspeaker and called for his assistant to come out. Knowing how long I’d been waiting initially I was a little frustrated to know there was another helper lurking in the back. But when I saw said helper, I understood why he’d been hiding.

Now, I understood that this place was geared toward contractors and the usual customers might have found the inappropriate logo on the guy’s shirt amusing. But if you have a showroom and there’s the least chance you’re going to be doing retail business—I’d advise you to leave the risqué logos at home.

Sighing, I began to explain the size and style of the window I wanted to match the others in my home but when I said the word “wood” the salesperson shook his head and smiled grimly. I pushed him to offer a quote on a comparable vinyl product so that I could get a sense of the price difference.

At that point another customer walked in, obviously a regular as the second salesperson greeted him. Apparently thinking that it would take me ten minutes to quickly scribble down the approximate cost of the window, my helper excused himself to assist the contractor with what he needed. In a place geared toward contractors, I could appreciate putting the regular customer first … but it still ticked me off.

After the other customer disappeared, the salesperson took me back into the warehouse to look at products. It was reasonably clean in the area where we walked, with wide open aisles of wood, siding, doors and windows. He pulled out an example of the door he’d guided me toward and I agreed that’s what I was looking for. Based on the price I figured I’d likely come back to make a purchase—but not before examining my other options first.

Next we walked over to a window display. As he showed me the size options, I couldn’t help but think that the large cardboard boxes scattered in front of it were a slip hazard.

And that was that. No writing down quotes. No business card. The sales guy explained that the following Friday he’d be leaving for a month but that anyone at the front could help me with my order. While I supposed that explained his abrupt demeanor it certainly didn’t bring me any closer to finding all of the products I needed.

Looking Back
Ultimately, especially when times are tough, the price tag speaks. The relative low cost of the patio door was too irresistible to pass up, especially as further shopping around led me to find the product quality to be relatively comparable to other products. Despite ABC’s good advertisement of the available tax credit, I passed that up, although it was nice to have information on that option available.

For that window, I ultimately made my purchase from the local Home Depot—where there were plenty of options on display and the customer service for this retail customer was top-notch.

Megan Headley is a contributing editor for DWM magazine.


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