Volume 13, Issue 7 - September 2012

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The Man Behind the $189 Window
by Ellen Rogers

Mention the $189 window and most consumers and industry-types alike know to whom you are referring: Window World—the replacement window chain that president Dana Deem says installed more than 1 million windows in each of the last three years. That’s a franchise network with 200 stores together generating $395 million in sales in 2011 for the North Wilkesboro, N.C.-based company, and known as America’s top window replacement company.

The company’s guiding principle is to provide “the highest quality vinyl replacement windows at the lowest possible prices.” It’s a successful approach that other window replacement chains have tried to replicate, which is why the company deems itself as “the home of the original $189 window.”

Window World was founded in 1995 by Leon Whitworth who dreamed of revolutionizing the window industry by bringing exceptional value to homeowners. His daughter-in-law Tammy now serves as CEO after taking over for her husband Todd Whitworth who died unexpectedly in 2010. Deem, who joined the company in 2004, was named president in April 2011 after serving in a variety of leadership roles, including director of sales.

While he may sit in an executive office, he’s quick to tell you straight, “I’m a sales guy.” Since he began “pitching newspapers,” at age 12, Deem says he understands where revenue is generated. Much of the growth the company has seen since it began 17 years ago ties in to its unique approach at sales. Prior to joining Window World in 2004, he spent 21 years in sales, purchasing and management for Lowe’s Home Improvement.

So when he says: “I’m a sales guy,” it’s no joke.

“If you don’t sell you have no reason to write a business plan,” says Deem, who recently spoke to DWM about Window World’s growth, future plans, training and, yes, sales. That business plan for the $189 window company includes some impressive growth, both inside and outside the U.S., in the next five years.

DWM: Since sales is in your blood, so to speak, let’s start there. How does your background in this area help you in this top leadership role?
Deem: I like to focus on and recognize the salespeople and keep them motivated because they are the life blood of the company. I also enjoy helping the owners develop a business plan which helps them on the business side. But I am truly motivated by sales. If you don’t sell you have no reason to write a business plan.

DWM: Has it been difficult, the transition of working between sales and operations?
Deem: I don’t feel that’s the case because my background involved not only sales, but it developed into sales management and operations management ... I [previously] was a millwork buyer and got to understand the manufacturing side, too.

DWM: I hear often how hard it is to find good sales reps. How do you find the best reps and train them to sell your windows?
Deem: I hired a national sales trainer, Barry Watson, last year, and he is dynamic. He travels across the country and puts on regional sales meetings. He goes to certain locations and sits with salespeople as they go into homes, and observes their good and bad habits. He discusses them after the fact. He adds support to the field on an individual basis. As far as how we find reps, many are past customers. They want to expand their opportunities. One thing we don’t do is look to hire from the competition. We want to train our people in our format of selling. We’re not hard closers. Our set is an hour to an hour and a half at the most ... we’re not looking for the typical hard-close, window sales tin-man individual. We want someone to be a consultant, an advisor, help people make the decisions they want to make on their own opposed to trying to guide them toward the decision.

DWM: Do you get frustrated when a rep may not perform as well you believe he can?
Deem: Each franchisee has its own salesforce so they have to deal with the challenges of what to do with their salesforce. I am not involved in that other than providing support and assisting with the day-to-day frustrations. I know franchisees deal with the frustrations that come with bringing in a salesforce, and having a strong salesperson who, all of a sudden, wants to open up [his own] window company and leaves for greener grass. Usually he finds it’s not always that green. That’s a normal business climate. You have to continue to develop great salespeople and not worry about the fact that you might lose a small percentage.

DWM: I recently attended a sales presentation for home improvement companies where a noted sales professional talked about how important it is for a sales rep to stick to the script. Are your reps scripted?
Deem: They are not. We want the reps to have 5-10 minutes to get a feel for the customer and let the customer get a feel for them. Then, I always tell the rep to have a process so they don’t forget parts of the story because there is so much to tell. Being a sales guy, I understand that when you go in, you get excited and you tend to rush. When you rush you forget things and you don’t always know what’s important to the customer. The key is to have a process so you know what the start is—whether it’s the outside of the window or the screen—and you know what the finish is … so you don’t leave things out. In the heat of the battle it’s easy to jump ahead and skip something that might be very important to the customer. If you skip something you’re not helping them make a decision. The customer knows what they want; they have trouble relating that in the beginning but as you open the process you see where certain things bring the customer in. Maybe it’s energy efficiency or the look of the product … so then you know what you can focus on and help them in their decision.

DWM: So who does it best? What are the characteristics of a top-performing store?
Deem: The stores I look at as being successful are the ones that have done more than just sell windows. They’ve been involved in their communities. I’ve traveled to many markets where I’ve met with an owner, and I see people coming up and saying [to him for example] ‘I remember you; you’re the guy who stands on the window in the local ad.’ I think it’s phenomenal because they are a part of the local community.

DWM: What’s your lowest performing store and why?
Deem: The ones who are struggling are the folks who have not committed to the marketing dollars needed to develop leads and have not committed to bringing in salespeople by blind faith. I have a term I stole from Leon Whitworth; I remember him saying many times, ‘You want to increase your sales? Hire some salespeople.’ You’ve got hungry people who want to make a living and they will go out and succeed [and that will] help you succeed. It sounds over simplistic, but it’s not. If you make the marketing spend, the phone will ring. [You want to] have enough salespeople, who you’re not overloading … who are fresh and focused and can go out and give a fine, full presentation that’s fresh all the way to the last call.

DWM: Tell me about your franchisees. Do most who open a store have a background in the business?
Deem: We have folks who have signed on who were customers, who used to be bankers, who are retired and looking for new opportunities, a lot are even referrals. It’s amazing how varied folks are, but the common denominator is the passion they all have and you have to be passionate to survive.

DWM: Even with passion, many in the industry have struggled through the past few years. How did you help your stores through the really rough years?
Deem: We’ve expanded marketing and aggressively put on key people in the corporate office to give them stronger support and re-focus. What’s amazing is through all of this, corporate spent more money and re-diverted funds. In the previous two years we were involved with racing in a big way and we diverted a large part of branding funds back into corporate support. Our responsibility in the corporate office is to ensure each franchise succeeds. DWM: Ultimately, though, have some stores had to close due to the challenges associated with the housing market? Deem: We’ve had some closures; some being fewer than five in the last two years. It’s a process in business where strong operators will continue to do business and some who don’t have a good, solid business plan or a lot of money in the bank will fail. It’s like a cleansing effect for the entire industry. The good news is our failure rate is very low.

DWM: How hard is it to make sure your dealers stay on track and fulfill the company’s vision? How do you ensure consistency in all stores?
Deem: That’s why I hired Todd Woods, marketing director, to make sure we stay consistent in our marketing efforts, all the way down to the fine details. Truly, Todd helped us a lot in regaining consistency in the market and that’s important. Our stores get quite a bit from corporate. Todd sends out constant messages. The main thing I hear when talking to owners is it’s hard to communicate and get a message back and forth. So that’s our true focus: to better communicate, better get the message to the field and it’s tough. I think we have to over-communicate to get the job done.

DWM: Now let’s turn to your growth plan. I know you have more than 200 franchises but tell me what you are planning for the coming years in terms of geographic expansion as well as product categories.
Deem: We’re looking at going to Canada; there are 10-15 markets there. We’ve also applied for trademarks in Mexico, so we’re looking to expand outside of the U.S. There is also available growth in the West … I’m always playing with numbers and looking ahead. In five years I see revenue increasing more than 50 percent and that is with limited additional stores. I’m looking at the bulk of our growth to come from additional products … we’re expanding into entry doors, exterior siding, garage doors and several other natural tie-ins (window blinds etc.). There’s a lot we’re looking at to expand revenue going forward. With the early growth of Window World the quick answer was “let’s add new markets,” but we’re saturating east of the Mississippi and we’ve got opportunities west of the Mississippi, but as time goes on, growth will have to come from what I call customers for life … you go in to install windows, make them happy then they feel comfortable enough letting you back in [for other products].

DWM: In these new markets, or even existing ones, why would someone wishing to buy a franchise choose you over Champion or another competitor and vice versa?
Deem: The easy answer is that we’re the largest window replacement company. And they can see the roots of our company. We started in 1995 as a road-side stand in Wilmington, N.C. We have grown to more than 200 locations in 46 states. They see that success and want to jump on. [As far as why some go elsewhere] I’m sure people will do so because there is a protected Window World franchise where they live or want to be.

DWM: Let’s talk about your reputation for the $189 window. I imagine that could be an advantage—as you widely promote it—but even at times a disadvantage. Can you address both?
Deem: That’s our entry-level product and lets people know they can put windows in their home basically for $200. Now, you can add on, just like you can put options on a car, and you can get up to $350 if you desire. In the past the business climate has been [for example] buy 10 and get two free, but you find out the 10 you bought cost $800 each. So we’re overcoming that fear. Most homes’ windows can be replaced for about $3,500 and that’s the perception we need to overcome. The perception is that it actually costs more. When you hear ‘$189’, the consumer is concerned it’s a cheap product, and it’s not. That’s why the mantra that Leon Whitworth came up with back in 1995—simply the best for less—is still true today. We have to overcome that and show future customers that it is a quality product.

DWM: What is the disadvantage then for competitors?
Deem: The main one is that we’ve grown to where we have. People understand our process—we have a simple contract that states everything, there is no smoke and mirrors and no hidden costs. We lay the contract on the table. We’ve changed the business model. Now many competitors are doing the same as we do; people copy success. Even if a consumer doesn’t buy from us, they should credit us for saving them a dollar or two because we’ve changed the way business is done in remodeling.

DWM: That approach to business was based on the vision of Leon Whitworth and now carried through to other family members at the helm. Describe the working relationship between you and Tammy Whitworth, chair and CEO.
Deem: Tammy is the vision. She is in the office most days of the week and we communicate a lot. I take care of day-to-day operations. She is laying out future goals. She has a son Wyatt who eventually I see in my chair. [This company] will stay in the family; this will be her legacy to her children. She is also passionate about Window World Cares, the charity side of the business … she leads those efforts.

DWM: Before I ask you about those philanthropic efforts, I have to ask about the death of Tammy’s husband, Todd. How did that affect the company and morale? What were some challenges around that time?
Deem: Todd’s death in 2010 was unexpected and the biggest challenge was to get through the grief, and pick up and move forward. We all wanted to feel sorry for ourselves, but we have to move forward. The good thing is he instilled our corporate vision so it was easy to do after the grieving. It was tough, though, for all of us, corporate and the franchises.

DWM: So tell me about those philanthropic efforts the company is so heavily involved in and why this is important?
Deem: It’s the right thing to do. We’ve given more than $2.5 million to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital since we started with them in 2008. We’ve also flown 26 Veterans Airlift Command (VAC) missions. Here, we give up use of our corporate aircrafts to fly soldiers and their families to appointments, therapy, things they have planned, etc. The reason we do it is because it feels great and until you’ve done it you don’t understand it. As our franchises do it, they get it, and are passionate about it.

DWM: Let’s turn the focus now to you individually. It’s tough being president of a company and dealing with a myriad of issues. What does a bad day feel like?
Deem: When there’s a store that is struggling and you’re trying to help it through and you don’t succeed. That’s a terrible day. But those are few and far between.

DWM: And a great day?
Deem: When I come in in the morning and open email and see a sales report showing phenomenal sales the previous day or I see an email or posting from a consumer tickled by his or her experience with Window World. A great day is walking the aisles and seeing 18 people in the office with a smile on their face. A great day is a hot cup of coffee—it’s pretty simple. It’s being in a great environment and working with a great bunch of people. DWM: What gets you energized about the future? Deem: Our potential is unlimited. We’re the largest window replacement company in the U.S. Our market share is single-digit, so that means our opportunities are unlimited.

Ellen Rogers is an assistant editor for DWM magazine. Additional reporting was provided by Tara Taffera.


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