September 2003

Secret Shopper

“Go with Vinyl!”
Dealer Roots for Vinyl Replacement Windows

by Penny Beverage

Recently, I moved into a new house. I take that back—it’s an old house, but it’s new to me, and I’m enjoying it very much. However, when it came time to do Secret Shopper this month, I knew exactly what I’d look for—replacement windows for the wood ones that now stand in my living room. Not that the windows are bad at all—in fact, I love my picture window and its companion smaller window, and even the sheets substituting for curtains I currently have hanging on them, but I needed to “secret shop” for something.
White window
So, I went to a building supply company about 30 minutes from my house. I’d heard of the store often when I was younger, but didn’t know what to expect. As many of you may remember, last summer I visited another building supply company north of here and had a terrible experience, and I expected this one to be similar (see the September 2002 issue of SHELTER, page 16). Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised.

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

I found a parking space easily, but was appalled by the state of the parking lot. There was crumbled concrete everywhere, and I seriously suspected I had missed the “real” entrance. Finally, I rolled down my window to a truck leaving the lot to ask him if I was in the right place. There wasn’t much litter in the area, but it definitely looked like an industrial place—not somewhere I’d go shopping.

There were about four parking spaces open, but I had to maneuver around a couple lumber piles and a large forklift to get into any of them.

2. Were you greeted as you entered the store?

When I first arrived at the store, I stood for a brief moment behind an elderly couple ordering some windows, but soon a friendly face moved to the other end of the counter and said, “Can I help you?” 

Already, things were looking up. I told him I needed replacement windows that were a bit more secure than the old, wood ones I have, and the saga began.

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

A two. Once the associate finished answering my questions, I asked if I could take a look around and there really was no showroom or merchandising displays at all—just stacks and stacks of windows and doors to rummage around. They were orderly, yes, but not viewer-friendly either.
However, one bright note did occur as I glanced around “showroom”—another associate offered me some help, showing the store’s overall attentiveness.

4. On a scale of one to five, five being excellent and one unacceptable, rate theWood window cleanliness of the store.
On a scale of one to five, I’d give the store a three. Much like the parking lot, it felt very industrial and busy, and it was clean, but not spotless either. 

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

•Did the employee answer your question satisfactorily, or get an answer for you?
I asked the employee what kind of windows he suggested, and he said vinyl. My only complaint is that he wouldn’t really give me any details as to why vinyl would be preferable, and he didn’t share any glass options with me.

•Did he ask if you needed any other assistance?

No, I took his brochures and slipped away quietly, without much offer for further information, though he said if I brought my specific window sizes in he’d be glad to provide pricing for them.

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?

A four. The associate was not the friendliest person I’ve ever met, but again, he wasn’t the rudest either. He was helpful and answered all of my questions, just not with a smile, or with any extra details than he felt compelled to provide. However, he did offer me a business card and told me to give him a call when I decided to make my purchase.

My biggest complaint is that while he did answer my questions, he wasn’t very detailed in his answers. I asked if I should go with more wood windows, and he said, “No, I’d go with vinyl,” but didn’t explain why. He also gave me a brochure about some windows I should look into and said, “That [brochure] will tell you all about the windows, even their R-values.” This concerned me—it’s up to the industry to educate consumers on what R-values are and why they’re important, and he wasn’t anxious to provide any education on the details, only the basics.

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

I would probably return to this store if I was actually looking for new windows, and I noticed on my way out they sell some other items I actually recently purchased, such as doorknobs, and I might consider returning here rather than going through the hassle of visiting one of our local big-box stores. However, if I were actually buying windows, I would certainly press for more details than the few this associate offered. 


Penny Beverage is a contributing editor for SHELTER magazine.


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