Volume 12, Issue 5 - June 2011

feature

A Champion Window Maker
by Tara Taffera

Only a handful of window companies have experienced growth in the past few years, and they are harder to find than the ones that are suffering the effects of the housing downturn. But Champion Windows is one of the companies that continues to expand. Its set-up is a little different than your typical window company. The nationwide window manufacturer has showrooms, not dealers, in 35 states, and just opened its 80th showroom in Fredericksburg, Va. It manufactures, sells and installs its own doors, windows and patio rooms.

DWM/Shelter magazine talked to Champion chief executive officer Dennis Manes about why Champion has fared so well and learned more about future growth plans.

DWM: Tell me about Champion’s recent growth, specifically the opening of your 80th showroom.
Manes: Our Fredericksburg showroom is our third opening in 2011, and we are in the process of opening six more locations within the next 60 days. Another four have been scheduled for later in the year, depending on the economic recovery for a total of 13 in 2011.

DWM: How have you been able to expand in a down economy?
Manes: We have been in a growth mode for quite awhile. We slowed down slightly in 2008 and 2009. We took a wait-and-see attitude to gauge what would happen and to get a better feel for when a recovery would happen. We had a decent end to 2009 and a strong 2010 and decided to start expanding again. We opened seven new showrooms in 2010 when the economy was starting to recover.

The tax credit was a big impetus for growth. This is a good time to continue growth so when the economy fully recovers we will be in a good position with these new locations.

DWM: Speaking of the tax credits, did this account for a lot of your growth in 2010 and did business drop off when the $1,500 credit ended?
Manes: It was a pretty good impetus to make purchase decisions. The unfortunate thing is it is hard to quantify the reason for a purchase decision, especially on the window side, but our window business has continued to grow every year and we expect that to continue.

The beginning of 2011 did have a soft beginning but we are pretty confident that everyone experienced that as well. We saw some increases in business starting in March.

In addition to being geographically dispersed, we have a good product mix. Our entry doors and patio rooms have also seen some pretty good growth and those products were not affected by the tax credit.

DWM: Why do customers choose Champion? How does your company stand apart?
Manes: We have a very, very good product. We have a very good warranty and we have a very good story to tell a potential customer. A lot of that is based on single-source accountability. We are the manufacturer, the retailer, the installer and the servicing company. That gives customers a lot of comfort.

DWM: What tools do you offer your division managers to excel? For example, how do you help them navigate through issues such as lead paint requirements?

Manes: The division managers at each location have been provided with a tremendous amount of training.

Being a large organization we can do best practices better than anyone else. We spend a considerable amount of time educating our division managers on lead-safe practice rules. We are way ahead of the curve. We are certified to train as a
company. We also self-audit each of our locations to make sure they are following the requirements.

DWM:
You have opened a few stores, but have any had to close?
Manes: We have only closed two to consolidate with other locations.

DWM: Are there certain areas that are doing better than others? What are the main geographical areas in which you are expanding?

Manes: You really have to look at Manes: You really have to look at that by our product mix. Our replacement products are strong all over the country. Patio rooms are a product that are asked for more in some of the Southern states and on the East Coast.

We opened a store in Findley, Ohio, and Ann Arbor, Mich., this year, in addition to Fredericksburg. We will open stores this
year in Frederick and Annapolis, Md., Richmond, Ind., Charleston, W.Va., Wilmington, Del., and Marlboro, Mass.

DWM:
What are the major challenges facing the door and window industry?
Manes: There are definitely challenges, mainly the housing market and challenges associated with that will exist for quite a while. Housing, foreclosures, unemployment—those are big headwinds for our category.

The lead paint requirements also continue to be a challenge in the length of time it takes to complete a job. Some of the proposed changes are not workable outside of the marketplace. Consumer credit also needs to loosen for us to enjoy the benefits of the marketplace that existed prior to 2008.

DWM:
What are your future growth plans?
Manes: We are already looking at 2012 and would like to open 15 new showrooms. We will wait and see if the economy shows some additional improvement and make the final decision later in the year.

We can grow geographically, and we want to increase our geographic footprint. We currently cover only 30 percent of the U.S. market and we have no presence in states including Florida, Arizona, Nevada and California.

DWM: How do you utilize new technology as sales tools?
Manes: We try to stay on the leading edge of all technology. We have to stay ahead of everything. Social media has become an important aspect of marketing now, and we have to make sure we are ahead of the curve. What some of those things will be down the road none of us knows.

We have systems where we can show what our products will look like on a home. Things like that are very important for us now and in the future.


Visit the Champion Showroom through Video

DWM/Shelter captured a portion of its visit with Copple and its tour of the Champion showroom on video. To take a tour and hear Copple’s thoughts on various industry issues, scan the tag at right.

 


Showing Off
Champion seems to know a thing or two about setting up and opening a showroom. It just opened its 80th in Fredericksburg, Va., an outer suburb of Washington, D.C. This newest location serves as a satellite showroom, so it is slightly smaller than some of its other locations. But, smaller seems to be translating into success, according to Ryan Copple, division manager.

“This store is poised to be one of our best,” he says.

Much of that success is based on the old adage, “location, location, location.”

The store is located on a busy road packed with area shopping, and it has 85,000 vehicles passing by the storefront each day, according to Copple.

“This is unlike any of our other locations,” he says. “We wanted a local presence on a highly visible street.”

Copple does admit however, that much of this is because Champion also has a store in nearby Richmond, Va., so some in the area are familiar with the company name. But it’s more than that, including the fact that a showroom allows homeowners to walk into a location instead of a dealer intruding on them.

“Some people don’t like someone coming to their home to sell them windows,” says Copple.

But walk through the company’s showroom and you will see a variety of its doors, windows and patio rooms on display. Copple takes the time to explain the benefits of its products to each customer, which includes a comprehensive service plan in which the company replaces or repairs its products for free for the lifetime of the product.

“This is the reason we get a lot of business and the reason customers come back,” he says.

Another reason is the fact that Champion is the sole supplier from manufacturing to installation.

“If something goes wrong, there is no one for us to blame,” says Copple. “They don’t get the run-around as we will fix the problem.”
Show Stoppers
No showroom is complete with product displays and industry suppliers offer a range of products to meet the varying needs of
manufacturers.

“The displays we make are kind of a do-it-yourself kit,” says Mark Shields, Emes Marketing. “Our products are made with an eye for a practical and modern design and they are designed to show off the technical capabilities of a product.”

He adds that the displays are maintenance-free and are “so lightweight that they can be taken back and forth from the showroom to a trade show.”

Some companies that sell showroom displays don’t stop after the purchase order is placed. Often, these companies help design a new showroom for a company or redesign an existing location.

For example, Chris Hodges, business development manager for DAC Products, says the company works with customers using a 3D modeling tool that offers layout options so a company can envision a new showroom layout. DAC representatives then work with the company to implement the design.

“Some owners know where they want to go and others give us free reign,” says Hodges.

Ultimately, the two companies work together from the ground up, starting with square footage and ending with the final touches.

“It’s all about the shopping experience and a unified corporate look,” says Hodges.

Shields adds that the company focuses on designing a product that will meet the needs of the customer.

“We let our customer tell us what they are looking for and we build it,” he says. “You tell us the size and we make the display.”

 


DWM

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