Industry Change in Three Words
One benefit of being around the window fashion industry since 1992 is gaining a useful perspective on where we’ve been and where we’re going. A lot of opinion makers focus on the short term, which can lead to overreaction. I want to step back a moment and look at the bigger picture, the changes we’ve seen, and what those mean to the future of our industry.
If I can sum up 25 years in three words, they are consolidation, complexity, and consumers. Let’s look at those, one by one.
The window fashion industry’s move toward consolidation is impossible to overlook, and it’s not unique to our world. Big players become even bigger, claim increased market share, and gain greater control over the supply chain. Smaller regional fabricators can find it challenging to compete with larger companies’ economies of scale, or their ability to buy market share by shrinking profit margins through incentives and discounts. Retailers can be affected in several ways. Consolidation can affect access to product lines or shrink margins on sales. And the operational hiccups that come with consolidation can affect product availability and lead times, introducing uncertainty into the sales process.
Meanwhile, products are more complex than ever. The days of just selling simple shades and blinds are long gone. Motorized, remote control roller shades are one of the latest evolutions in product development (though they won’t be the last), which means that the number of variables for every product increases exponentially. Sell more of those and you can increase your gross profit per product. But one mistake in quoting or ordering means profitability for a sale can take a huge, sometimes ruinous, hit.
At the center of all this are consumers. And to bring up that old cliché, the customer isn’t always right but the customer is always the customer. And customers’ habits, preferences and expectations are evolving fastest of all. The short-term point of view will often point to one big reason for changes in consumer behavior, but that misses the many things that are influencing how consumers choose and purchase products. Those forces include the rise of the Internet as the place to find and purchase products, the changing nature and identity of brands, and consumers’ increasingly tenuous relationships with those brands. To put it in blunt terms, the speed of a brand’s website may now be more important than how long the brand has been around. Couple that with consumer expectations that everything–access to answers, ability to place an order, delivery of that order–happen quickly, and brands face a perilous environment.
Here’s One Thing That Hasn’t Changed
Progress marches on, and we’re not going back to simpler days. But the good news is that one thing hasn’t changed over the 25 years I’ve observed this industry: Relationships win. Consumers want to do business with people they like and trust. As I talk with window fashion pros, from franchise owners to small and large independent dealers as well as fabricators, there’s a continual thread in the conversations. They have discovered how to adapt to the big trends that affect all of us, and at the same time keep the customer at the center of every sales call. They honor their commitments, work hard to minimize the things that can adversely affect any one sale, and continue to grow and eke out the best margins from the opportunities they make for themselves.
We can’t control the big trends that affect us. We can control how we respond to them. Knowing more, using the best tools at our disposal, making smart choices. We can do that.