Fast Growing DealersAugust 20th, 2021 by Nathan Hobbs
Growth Began Ahead of COVID-19, but for Some Dealers It was Right Place Right Time
After 2020 proved to be a surprising year for the industry, producing a pandemic-driven sales frenzy, end-of-year reports show that in the era of remote sales it was the “early birds” who came out on top. That’s just one of the common themes emerging from research on this year’s Fast-Growing Dealers.
Among the success stories our editors tracked down, numerous patterns immerged. With COVID-19 driving rural and suburban sprawl, some of the nation’s smallest towns suddenly became big markets for doors and windows. And for those already offering remote sales, it was off to the races.
New Beginnings Window and Door
Wappingers Falls, N.Y
Installations: Subs only
2019: $2.5 M
2020: $2.9 M
2021: $5 M (projected)
Michael Haines says he is a “shaking hands and kissing babies type” of guy, so COVID-19 was a major disruption to his personal philosophy. His passion also lies with new construction, as he is, “a jobsites and work boots kind of guy,” he adds. “That’s my bread and butter.”
But clearly, he’s also one who knows when to pivot and never look back.
Just ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, Haines opened up to the possibility of adding direct-to-consumer sales for replacement windows. Over the past
two years, that side of his business has grown from nonexistent to $1.7 million in revenue. He also moved his company away from in-home sales to remote selling, despite the fact that it goes against his natural tendencies.
“To me, that feels really impersonal,” he says. But, “People decided they want to spend their money that way,” he adds, so there was no delay in making the transition.
“A lot of companies get stuck where they think they have to shake hands and use the same sales process, and that both decision makers have to be home at the same time … we say bologna,” he now says. “We communicate with people the way they want to communicate with us. And we don’t overcomplicate the process.”
The Hudson Valley region, where Haines operates, is about an hour and a half’s drive from New York City. Haines says he noticed an influx of homeowners landing in and around the area, as they migrated to urban and suburban areas. “Since New York city shut down, I can’t even begin to explain the amount of money that came just a train ride up and into the area,” he says. “Just the last 12 months alone have been unimaginable.”
After graduating from $2.5 million in 2019 to $2.9 million in 2020, his original goal called for $3.3 million in revenues in 2021. Now he’s headed for $5 million.
“When I tell you we can’t see straight … I mean we can’t see straight,” Haines says of his small, 10-person operation. “Last week we took 37 new orders and there’s just 10 of us, so do the math. We’re going crazy! But in a good way.” Another key to his company’s recent success, he says, includes the fact that he managed to keep everyone employed amid statewide shutdowns.
“We didn’t lay anyone off,” he says. “We said, ‘We know you can’t come to work, but we’re family and we can afford to keep you for several months without work, so we’re just going to pay you … When construction opened back up, I had my entire staff chomping at the bit, ready to go back to work.”
Window World of Winchester
Employees: Around 25
Installations: In house
2019: Just over $3 M
2020: Approximately $6 M
2021: $8 M (projected)
Winchester, Va., is most famous as the birthplace of country singer Patsy Cline. Few would think of a town of around 30,000 residents as the leading mecca for home improvements, admits Deathridge. “Winchester really surprised us,” he says, adding, “This store is the jewel of our markets.” It’s also the jewel of Window World locations nationwide, netting the franchise’s National Store of the Year award in 2020.
When it opened in 2011, to service a handful of important customers, Deathridge admits that he was skeptical of the location. But then the market began to accelerate—in 2020 reaching critical mass, says Rhonda Woolfenden, the location’s manager. The company then decided to convert one small showroom into a full-service operation. Siding and roofing have since been added to the mix, but it remains a door and window retailer first and foremost, Deathridge says.
With numerous solid employers in the region, few competing window dealers (aside from big box retailers, he says) and just an hour and a half from Washington, D.C., amid COVID-19 the town began to benefit from suburban flight. In the past, sales were conducted in person, but Deathridge says they immediately began offering virtual appointments when COVID-19 struck. Utilizing software platforms and tools to gather measurements by satellite and homeowner-supplied images, the company now offers video conferencing for delivering estimates.
“I thought this might be something temporary,” he says, “but my goodness, I’m telling you, a huge portion of the business we’re doing now remains
virtual.” Since the pandemic began, some salespeople are producing as much as $3 million in revenues—something he says would be practically impossible without the time-saving measures of virtual sales.
“It forced us to get to this point—to sell home improvements in this way,” he says. “And I don’t think we’re going back. We aren’t going back … this
makes the customer feel a little more in control and they’re more educated these days. It’s a different buying experience.”
Now Deathridge finds himself in a difficult position, he says. Will the location’s success continue? As the pandemic subsides, he believes early indicators suggest it will.
“In the beginning, I thought that once the country goes back to work and the pandemic winds down, and people return to things like vacations and all of
the things they couldn’t do for a year, then our phones may stop ringing as much,” he says. But so far sales haven’t slowed a bit.
“This is where I’m at in this moment and what’s stressing me,” Deathridge admits. “I try to watch all of the economic indicators daily … literally daily.” In the meantime, “Obviously we’re going to have to add more people, or there will be a mutiny,” he says, laughing. “But we’re trying to be really cautious and really smart.”
Bridgetown Window and Door Inc.
Installations: In house
2019: Just over $3 M
2020: Approximately $6 M
2021: $8 M (projected)
In their first year, Keven Betker and his co-founder, Jeremy Powers, managed to do $380,000 in sales— all on their own (Betker selling, Powers heading up installations). “We went in neighborhood by neighborhood, building a reputation,” Betker says. And about three years into their business, they found a perfect catalyst: Yelp.
After discovering that Yelp applied to more than just restaurants and finding that no other door and window dealers had stepped in to utilize the platform in his area (at the time, everyone was on Angie’s List, he says), Betker asked every customer who expressed interest in providing a review to do so on Yelp.
“We were brand new and all of these established companies had been around 10, 15 and 25 years,” he says. “The one thing about Yelp is, when people found us there, no one ever asked how long we’d been in business. No one asked us where we were located either.”
The first year, Betker says he worked from his dining room table, while Powers drove the company’s box truck home every evening. “Nobody asked about those things, because they found us on Yelp and we had good reviews,” he says.
Within three years, the company was number one on the platform—all without spending a dollar. From there out, social media and word of mouth would be the vehicle to drive Bridgetown’s growth. “We were also number one on Google for a while and that blew up our phones,” he says. Meanwhile, in an unexpected turn, “In the past two to three years, our door growth has just blossomed,” he says. “I think right now we have 80 some doors on order—exterior doors.”
In 2019, the company’s revenues registered at $2.5 million. In 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they grew to $3.2 million. After founding the company at the age of 51 and with no family members in the business interested in taking over, the timing couldn’t have been better for Betker and his partner. Due in part to their astonishing growth, Bridgetown caught the eye of Building Material Distributors Inc., an employee-owned company in Galt, Calif., with a reputation for purchasing and maintaining proprietary brands. It was a match made in heaven, Betker says. Bridgetown was acquired.
“I knew I wasn’t going to have a 40-year run,” Betker says. “BMD was never in the cards. It just happened, but it’s so great for our employees. And it
also allows Bridgetown to live on. That’s exactly what they’re going to do.”
With an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), BMD will not only allow Bridgetown to continue operating, but the arrangement also gives workers ownership interests in the company.
Zen Windows of Nashville
2019: Approx. $700,000
2020: Just over $1 M
2021: $1.5 M (projected)
When it comes to the revelation brought on by COVID-19 for remote work and virtual, internet-based sales, Alexander saw that trend coming far ahead of the pandemic. In 2012, he was working for a traditional remodeling company in Atlanta, where, “I was trying to push them to become more internet savvy,” he says, adding, “Advertising in the newspaper wasn’t cutting for us. That’s not the way you advertise for leads anymore.” But it was hard sell, he says. Then, “Zen Windows just came out of nowhere and I thought, ‘Man, I need to find out more about these guys.’”
Soon thereafter Alexander found himself sitting down with Scott Groves, the owner of Zen Windows Atlanta, and, “That was it,” he says. “I’ll never forget the day I walked into my boss’s office and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to be leaving,’” he says. “He asked what I was going to do, and I said I bought a franchise for selling windows over the internet. He said, ‘You think that’s actually going to work?’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s working in other markets. I’m going to make it work.’” And that he did. Alexander has managed to double his company’s revenues over the past two years.
Starting out by working remotely from Atlanta, with a warehouse and subcontractor in Nashville for installations, “Honestly, the first couple of years were slow,” he says. In recent years, under an arrangement provided through the franchise, Alexander says he began working with a business advisor, which he credits for helping to formalize and bring much needed structure to his business. “You have to standardize your business,” he says. “Instead of having it all in your head, you’ve got to get into a system—one that you can teach. When you’re small, you aren’t really thinking about that. But doing things in your head isn’t repeatable to an infinite level.” The exercise, he says, has also made him operate his business more proactively.
Combined with Zen’s model for remote selling, the two couldn’t have been in better timing amid the pandemic. While everyone else was learning how to
sell remotely, Alexander was busy letting folks know that he was already set up to do business.
“I actually added money to my advertising budget and started doing display ads emphasizing that we’re open for business and we can get you a quote without entering your house,” he says. “We got busier.”
The format calls for gathering information remotely, to fi nd out what people are looking for. From there, there are no in-person presentations. In fact,
there are no presentations at all, he says. After providing a quote over email, “From there, we just apply soft touches but more or less leave them alone and let them make their own decisions,” he says.
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