Volume 13, Issue 8 - October 2012

Focus on Dealers

One Door Closes, Another One Opens
Misfortune Leads Building Products Dealer to Find New Opportunities
by Samantha Carpenter

Mike Stinnett was laid off in late 2011 from his job as a manufacturer’s representative for Fort-Worth based NT Windows. But he was not idle for long. He quickly told his wife Cindy, “Let’s do this.” He took $3,000 out of his savings account and went down to the Lonoke County Courthouse in Arkansas and applied for a DBA as Windows and More. Not long after, “business started taking off, and I started selling and doing what we said we were going to do.” Windows and More is a building products dealer which provides homeowners within a 35-mile radius of its showroom in Cabot, Ark., with remodeling products, including doors, windows, roofing and other replacement products.

Crazy or Inventive?
While many might consider Stinnett’s decision to open his own company just one month before Christmas to be crazy, it makes more sense when you consider he has been in the building products industry for 37 years. Stinnett has held positions with Diamond International, Payless Cashways, Windows and Doors, Crown Millwork, Andersen Windows and Doors and Peachtree Doors and Windows, to name a few.

“Early on in my career, after leaving Payless Cashways, I had entertained the idea of purchasing an existing hardware/lumber store in small town Kansas,” Stinnett explains. “I knew the ins and outs of operating a successful home center type of operation, but the initial investment of such an operation was a deterrent.”

This time around, Stinnett had more confidence about making an investment. He could have chosen to look for another manufacturer’s representative position with a different building products manufacturer, but he asked himself, “Why travel? I understand the business. I know how to run the business. I know how to do the jobs, and I know how to make people happy.”

And apparently he has done a fine job doing that in his new venture. Currently, Windows and More has grossed $500,000 in nine months, and Stinnett estimates that the company will double its sales in the second year of business. He’s doing it all along with his wife and two salespeople and without having to finance the venture through loans, etc.

Basing Business on Basic Principles
Stinnett says the basic premise behind the success of any building products business is keeping the customers happy—and he had been training guys on how to do that for years. Stinnett also believes that educating his customers is what sets him apart from his competition.

“My sales process is very professional … I’m more of a teacher than a salesperson because when we sit down, I want [customers] to be able to understand why [they] are buying my product and what the process is. And people appreciate that,” he says.

Stinnett says that most people get on the Internet and conduct their own research. He says they know what questions they are supposed to ask, but “they don’t totally understand why they are asking that question. What I do is help them understand and how it is going to benefit them.”

Windows and More is not the only building products company near or around Cabot, but Stinnett says he brings a different expertise to the table.

“The Home Depots, I’ve worked at. The Ridouts (a wholesale lumber company in Arkansas)—that’s where I started in the business. I know the products that they have, and my product, quality-wise, is definitely better than what they have to offer,” Stinnett says. “I truly think the homeowner wants a better, more energy-efficient product that they don’t have to spend an arm and a leg for. It’s very reasonable for them to make that investment.”

Stinnett says people who are solely concerned with price are “going to buy a Home Depot window. They are going to buy a Ridout window.”

He believes when people decide on a dealer from which to buy windows they want to like the person with whom they are conducting business and they want a company they can trust.

“If there is one thing that I teach people [who work for me] right off the bat: they [the homeowners] don’t buy from you because you are good looking. They buy from you because they like you and they trust you. That’s a fault of many sales guys. They walk in the home and they start their sales pitch immediately with “buy, buy, buy, buy, buy.” They get through with their sales pitch and say, ‘Let’s sign right here.’”

Stinnett says most people are not going to make a remodeling decision immediately.

“I go in there and I build a rapport, find out what their wants and needs are. If they want a cheap window, I can sell them a cheap window, if they want an energy-efficient window, I show them the options that they have available, but then give them the most energy-efficient product for the lesser price,” he says.

But he admits that being patient is easier said than done and that is one of the biggest challenges he faces.

“I am a very inpatient guy and always want things right now,” he says. “There is a lot of work out there but many homeowners want to research and want a well-thought out decision and I respect that. But sometimes it’s hard.

“You certainly want the company to be successful quicker,” he adds. “Certainly I would want to be in the million dollar bracket in volume versus half a million … But we have been successful and I am happy where we are at sales and profit wise. It’s been a fun ride.”

When asked how his company stays profitable Stinnett says, “After I build value into it, I should be getting more money for my product. I’m not building a business for myself. I’m building it for the family. Hopefully one of these days after [I’m] gone, my family is going to have the same business philosophy, mission statement and objectives.”

Stinnett has a son, Justin, who is interested in opening a franchise in Kansas City, Mo., and Mike Stinnett says he will entertain the idea in the future. Stinnett also has a stepson, Jason Hill, who is also interested in learning the business, and Stinnett says he is thinking of hiring him as part of the sales staff in the future.

Cleanliness is Key
Stinnett’s customers trust his work. Windows and More recently replaced windows in Sheryl Whited’s home in Conway, Ark. She had windows replaced on her home in Austin, Texas, two years ago, so she had a previous remodeling experience with which to compare Windows and More. She says in Texas, the same-size crew took four or five days to replace 11 windows, and it only took Windows and More a day and a half to replace the same amount with the same-size crew.

“He holds his crews accountable. His crew was the cleanest crew of contractors. They didn’t leave anything on the ground. They were so careful of the property,” she says.

Making sure that his crews keep a clean project area is something in which Stinnett takes pride.

“Where I’m really a stickler, is the clean up of the job. People do not like cigarette butts on the ground,” he says. “When I walk the job with the homeowner to collect final payment, if I see a cigarette butt, [the crew] gets minus $50 on the next job. That’s how strongly I feel about leaving the homeowner’s possession [in just as good as or better condition] than when we got there.”

More Than a Lifetime
Keeping project areas clean is not the only area in which Stinnett takes prides. He also feels strongly about offering lifetime warranties to his customers.

One reason his company sells Harry G. Barr windows and Royal Building Products is because he says a dealer always wants to be able to offer a homeowner a lifetime warranty. Stinnett takes that warranty one step further.

“We actually give a warranty on the product that we sell on the install,” he says.

Stinnett explains that when a product fails, most window manufacturers send the homeowner the replacement part, and many homeowners find themselves wondering how they are going to install that part.

“If they have a problem with that window, I want them to call me—not the manufacturer,” Stinnett says. “Why? Because I’m going to end up taking care of that window product for them—whatever part it is.”

When asked why he knew offering a labor warranty was key in as successful dealership, Stinnett says, “I’ve been to too many houses which have had broken windows. Why was it still broken? Because they think it is difficult to get taken care of. I’d much rather see the window fixed, so that’s why I offer that as a service.”

His suppliers appreciate his approach to business, too.

Rick Coatney is a manufacturer’s representative for Harry G. Barr Co., in Fort Smith, Ark., which makes WeatherBarr Windows. He says, “Mike is a unique person in the replacement window business because of his thoroughness and professionalism. I was [interested] in him [selling our product] because of his knowledge of the product and the industry. I wanted to latch on to Mike because when he does a job, he does his best. He doesn’t cut corners because he has done both sides of the job now.”

Not bad for a company that started with $3,000 during a housing slowdown.

Samantha Carpenter is a contributing writer for DWM magazine.


DWM

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