September  2002

The Secret Shopper

No Other Options
Jobber Offers One Window, No Value-Added Glass
by Penny Beverage

I recently set out on a mission: to find windows for the log home my parents are planning to build. While most log-home kits come with windows, consumers can choose to opt out of any part of that kit. Naturally being very interested in windows and doing what I do, I suggested they shop around for windows—and I began that first bit of shopping as I secret-shopped a nearby window and door jobber.

DBLHANGWINDOW Before I made my journey, though, I called to make sure someone would be available to speak with me so my drive would not be fruitless. The customer-service representative transferred me to a salesperson, who was not very helpful. He asked what I was looking for, and I told him my family planned to build a log home and I knew they needed to go through a contractor, but that I wanted to get informed about the products out there.

He proceeded to ask me a number of cynical questions, such as, “did they have land yet?,” “where is it?” and “do you have a contractor yet?” When I answered “no” to the last question and said I was ahead of the game, he laughed and said, “Yeah, you’re way ahead of the game.” I pressed on, “Can I come in anyway to see what you have, and will someone be there at 4 p.m. today?,” to which he answered “Sure, you can come in, and someone will be here I guess,” and hung up, without a goodbye. Thus began my interesting journey.

1. Could you easily find a parking space? Was the parking lot clear and litter-free? Were the windows clean?

I easily found a parking space, as several were marked for “customers and vendors only.” The parking lot was clean and litter-free, as were the windows. However, some construction was going on near the entrance, making it confusing to figure out which door I should enter as a consumer. 

2. Were you greeted as you entered the store?

As I entered the facility, a young lady at the front desk asked whom I was there to see and I said, “I called earlier, but I’m not sure who I spoke to,” and immediately the salesperson I spoke with earlier came out and greeted me, saying he’d forgotten about talking to me.

3. On a scale of one to five, five being excellent and one unacceptable, rate the neatness and orderliness of the merchandising displays.

One. First, the showroom was not a showroom at all, but rather a small foyer in which someone had stacked a lot of windows. It appeared almost hazardous, as if I had tried to walk across it, I probably would have tripped.

4. On a scale of one to five, five being excellent and one unacceptable, rate the cleanliness of the store.

This one is a tough decision; the showroom was so small and unorganized that it would receive a definite one. However, the salesperson’s office was very clean and seemingly organized.

5.If you asked an employee a product-knowledge question:

    Did the employee answer your question satisfactorily, or get an answer for you?

    Did he ask if you needed any other assistance?

I began by asking whether they should opt out of the windows that come with a log home and purchase other ones. He told me that several years ago the windows that came with log homes had a lot of problems, but would not explain what that problem was; he only said they should look at them very closely. I asked what was available if they chose not to get them. I asked if wood or vinyl would be preferable, and what glass options I should consider. He suggested one window to me—a wood composite with an Intercept spacer. (However, it must be noted here that I knew it was a wood composite—he did not tell me this. I asked if I should get wood or aluminum and he handed me a piece of cellular PVC and said, “This is what’s popular now, but it’s not wood; it’s some big name I can’t say, but it’s what you want.”

Again, I had to press for more information. “Well, what kind of glass do you recommend? Should I try for some low-E, or should I get window film later? And what about this self-cleaning glass—is it available yet?,” I asked.

“Nope,” he said, “not here.” 

Again I pressed, “So you don’t advocate getting energy-efficient windows?”

He answered, “No, a window’s a window—it’s all a frame with a hole in it that you stick glass in.”

He proceeded to make an analogy to brands of vodka and how one may have a fancy label, but they’re all the same, and said it’s the same with windows. “People throw argon in there just so they can charge more,” he said. “I don’t believe in that.”

Again, I asked for more options on the frame—and he gave me a book on the company and said, “Just take this with you and look at it.”

I said, “Do you have a showroom where I could see some of these products?”

“You pretty much saw it. We don’t advertise, we just concentrate on builders in Northern Virginia,” he answered. “But I can show you what we do have if you want to insist on seeing it.”

“Please,” I responded.

He took me to the foyer and showed me the same window he’d showed me in his office. Again, I said, “That’s it? There aren’t really any other choices?” and he said, “Yep, that’s it. That’s pretty much all you want.”

At this point I was very suspicious and my reporter attitude came out, so I asked where the company got its glass. He said it was a distributor in Maryland so I asked who manufactured it, and he said he had no idea, he was sure it was someone like PPG or something. Finally, I asked, one last time, “So, if I want to get windows here and I really want low-E, can I get it?” 

“I’m not doing it. I did some for a guy awhile back and it was just a big pain. I guess if you really insisted, maybe, but I hate that stuff,” he said. 

6. On a scale of one to five, five being excellent and one unacceptable, how satisfied were you with the service you received from store employees?

One. This was a terrible experience, and in the future I’ll urge anyone I know looking for building products to avoid this company. I felt as though I was treated like a mindless consumer, and had I not known anything about glass and windows, I probably would have fallen for it. It’s scary to think that with all of the value-added products available, companies (or salespeople—I really hope he was not representative of the entire company) like this one are just ignoring their presence.

7. Based on this experience, would you return to this store?

No, certainly not. I have had very few shopping experiences that rate as low as this one. The salesperson not only treated me as if I really shouldn’t even be shopping for windows, but he offered me one window and told me that was it—the only possible one on the entire market—when there are so many window styles available and so many glass options. As this was my first secret-shopping experience for SHELTER, I hope to find a much more prepared and helpful company next time. 


Penny Beverage is managing editor for SHELTER magazine. 

How Would Your Company Rate?
If you would like to see how your company would rate in a secret-shopping experience, please contact Samantha Carpenter at or 540/720-5584, ext. 192.


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