Staying in Business in a Competitive Market

After my stint as a Decorator Consultant at the Custom Decorating Department of Montgomery Ward in Daly City, California in 1989, when the management decided to phase out our department, it didn't take long for me to decide that these were the career and business I wanted to embark in for the rest of my life.

My previous job was a good training ground for running a business. My duties and responsibilities as the Executive Secretary/Administrative Assistant of Borden International, Inc. , a multinational, regional office in the Far East, which handled the distribution of the dairy milk products in Singapore, Malaysia, Hongkong, Bangladesh, Taiwan, South Korea, Philippines, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Thailand, was practically running the business when my boss, the Regional Manager, was out of the country.

I love arts and interior decorating/design, so I enrolled myself in a correspondence course in interior design, after which Window Coverings By Chris was born in June 1993.

Like any small, independent business-owner, the business faced numerous challenges in the beginning. Evolving from a home-based business to a storefront in San Mateo Avenue in San Bruno, California from 1993 to 1996, we had to make a major decision to move our business back to our home and do business the "Shop at Home" way, in order to cut down on our overhead expenses.

Doing business in the San Francisco Bay Area was a great challenge. Home Depot and other big department stores like J C Penney and Macys were capturing our market share, with their weekly sales and big discounts. Our storefront exposure was not enough and we definitely could not afford to give more discounts. Something extraordinary had to be done to beat the big guys, if we wanted to stay in business.

Feeling the need to know more about our products, it was imperative to attend seminars, conferences, and design shows offered by the big manufacturers, associations, and experts in the industry. Knowledge is power. One particular bid we made on a project in Hillsborough, California was won, after proving to our client our point, by showing her a video from the manufacturer confirming our statement, that the shades she chose to cover her 28 windows should not touch the bottom of the window, if she chooses to have them inside mounted. The other bidder who lost, stated otherwise.

Things/Adjustments we did to Stay in Business in a Competitive Market:

1) Cut Down on Expenses/Simplify
Moving back our business to our home was a big decision. It was also a great help in slashing down our overhead expenses. Quickbooks Pro software replaced the bookkeeper. We took care of maintaining our books, prepared our own income tax returns, filed them online through Turbo Tax, and hired my son and daughter to do part- time jobs for the company.

Earlier in the business, we hired different installers, decorators, and part-time office workers. We simplified by maintaining one good professional installer (with a good crew), no longer hire decorators, and our Shop-at-Home services are now directly handled by my son, daughter, and myself.

2) Give Extra Good Service
My Shop-at-Home services included a lot of freebies without an obligation to buy, aside from the convenience of shopping at the comfort of their homes. We bring all the samples to them.
We handled any concern/complaint of our clients as fast and as quickly as we possibly could.
Our extra services are big and little things we do for our clients. We have helped some clients with problems concerning the products, installation, and services they purchased from other local dealers who never return their calls.

3) Add More Exposure
The storefront exposure from 1993 to 1996 was not enough, but it was a good start. The exposure we were expecting from the yellow pages book directory ad we had, no longer generated the results we wanted, aside from their costs escallating yearly.

In the late 1990s, times were changing and we knew we had to go with the flow. We had to keep abreast with the new technology, innovations, trends, and study the demographics of what kind of customers buy certain window, floor and wall coverings, and certain types of furniture, and accessories.

Nowadays, serious buyers will most likely use the computer to research online, rather than browse the pages of a heavy, thick, outdated directory book. We went serious on putting up our website and listed the name of our business in every relevant site we could find: San Francisco Citisearch, Local2Me, Better Business Bureau, Window Coverings Association of America, and Yellow Pages Online, etc.

4) Know Your Products
Attending seminars, conferences, trade shows offered by big manufacturers and associations, and experts in the field, greatly helped in widening our product knowledge.

5) Learn and Keep Abreast with Technology
Who doesn't have a cell phone, computer, or a digital camera? If you don't and you're in business, get them immediately. You'll see the wonders of those necessities, what they can do for you, and how they can change your life.

6) Be a Member of Associations and Organizations Related to your Business
Memberships in associations and organizations related to your business like Window Coverings Association of America, Better Business Bureau, etc. are a great help to your business. Not only can they keep you abreast with the industry, they can educate and refresh your knowledge in your business, and also get you a chance to network, meet other business-owners and experts in the field.

The things we did to stay in business, proved that making adjustments were necessary. Having survived and overcome the early challenging years, Window Coverings By Chris is going on its 15 th year and still thriving.


*Article published March 2008 Newsletter of Window Coverings Association of America

Comments

Grace T. said…
I like this post. I want to run my own business soon, so I'll have to keep this in mind. I can use all the help I can get during these tough times. Lately I've been thinking about buying a business instead of starting one from scratch. It's tentative, but I'm strongly considering it. Do you have any suggestions or advice? Thanks.
Chris Nyles said…
Dear Grace,

Thank you for your comment. I'm glad you like my article, "Staying in Business in a Competitive Market".

By all means, go ahead and start your business, when you think you're ready. But first, you have to make a plan, a business plan. It doesn't have to be a complicated plan. Just a note to yourself on how you are going to build your business, what kind of business you want to go into, what kind of business entity would you like, i. e. sole proprietorship (inexpensive and pass through taxation), partnership, corporation, LLC, etc.

Research. Borrow books from your local library on how to start a business and find out what are the requirements in your state. Do not be afraid of the business lingo. They are just names. Anybody can learn anything if you put your heart and mind into it.

Getting a business license yourself and starting your business from scratch might save you money compared to buying an established one. There are pros and cons and it depends on your situation and what you want to do.

It is challenging but you must not easily surrender to these challenges. You will work long hours, but in the end you will flourish. Nothing comes easily without hard work, perseverance, and love of what you do.

Whatever kind of business you want to open, you must know how to do it. If it's a bake shop, you must know how to bake, if it's a restaurant, you must know how to cook and run a restaurant, if it's a window coverings business like mine, you must learn how to measure amd configure window and floor treatments. All these you can learn by reading, researching, taking classes online, taking classes at your community college, interning at a company, etc.

You can do it and anybody can do it.

Good luck,

Chris Nyles
Grace T. said…
Thank you so much for your help, Chris. I really appreciate it. You've provided some much needed insight and help. I'm starting to think that starting one from scratch will me less expensive, even though the process of building clientele might take longer. It'll be harder without the name of a previous business attached to it. But I keep looking at those business marketplace sites where you can buy a business, like BizTrader.com, and thinking that I can fix a business that went bad, but I know I really should focus on myself and my future rather than the misfortune of someone else. Anyway, thanks again for your help. I'm strongly taking your advice into consideration.

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