At one of its regular Tuesday morning manager meetings in April 2008, Thompson Creek Window Co. president and CEO Rick Wuest suggested that it was time for the company to aim for and surpass the target of a $3 million month in sales. Sales and marketing managers conferred with one another, then with their respective departments, and agreed that October would be that month.
September arrived. Banks failed. The stock market plunged, rose, and plunged again. Once-robust housing sales plummeted, along with consumer confidence. But Thompson Creek Window posted sales of $3 million for the month of October. And to prove it wasn't a fluke, the company passed the $3 million mark in March 2009, thanks in part to a window product that already met the .30/.30 requirements for tax credits under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed into law that February.
Thompson Creek Window, our Replacement Contractor of the Year, has had double-digit growth in each of the last 10 years. It's a company that focused on customer service ? systematized and measurable ? before that became a priority to others, a company where marketers weren't viewing lead generation and branding as an either/or proposition, and where the sales methodology has yielded close ratios of greater than 40% while allowing for a referral business of 22%.
Windows were and remain what this company does best. Thompson Creek Window makes its own product in a 50,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Landover, Md., just outside Washington, D.C. Rick Wuest's father, Fred, started the company in 1980 as a vinyl window manufacturer. His customers were small contractors. When Rick became president in 2001, he changed strategic direction. Thompson Creek Window would phase out contractor sales and would become a home improvement contractor itself. Plans for growth were modest. Given the size of the market between Baltimore and Washington, "we didn't need to carve out a big chunk of market share," Rick says.
At the time, the company had no call center, no media or show/event presence, no canvassing team. There was no marketing, really. "We took out an ad in the phone book," Rick says. "That's how much I knew."
There was no salesforce either, until Rick hired one of his former customers, a contractor, to sell. That person, Vincent Gerrior, still sells for the company. His son, Vin, manages the salesforce, which today numbers 45 people.
Home Improvement 101
Starting from limited knowledge of marketing and sales, Rick Wuest says that he embarked on a "path of enlightenment" that took the company from the $1.5 million it sold exclusively to contractors to $30.86 million in sales last year with sales for 2010 projected at somewhere between $40 million and $45 million. That path was made up of any and every best practice that Thompson Creek Window's president/CEO could borrow or invent. "He's a good student," says long-time industry consultant and Replacement Contractor contributor Dave Yoho, whose methods helped both shape Thompson Creek Window's systems and propel the company to higher levels of growth and efficiency.
The student was prepared to go wherever class was held. For instance, at a time when the company had maybe a dozen employees and when Rick and his brother, Brian, manned the Thompson Creek Window booth at home shows, most home improvement companies gathered their lead sheets when the show was over and handed them to the call center for follow-up. Not familiar with the procedure, the Wuests simply set appointments on the show floor. On a 2003 visit to a home improvement company in Columbus, Ohio, they learned how to confirm appointments and set them for specific times rather than for whatever time the prospect found convenient. From others came the novel idea of a pitch book.
For several years the company had no selling system. Then, adapting systems taught by consultants, Thompson Creek implemented a seven-step sales methodology. "That was huge," Vin Gerrior says.
Get Used to Change
In the parking lot outside the Thompson Creek factory, a big-top tent is set up along with tables and chairs, a buffet, and a microphone. The company is hosting its semi-annual customer appreciation event. The event attracts hundreds of people for its prizes, plant tours, free food, and the opportunity to learn about windows. On this day the Thompson Creek Window marketing department sets 47 appointments.
The company moved into its current facility three years ago and soon began to organize its own outdoor events. Operating on the premise that what's unique isn't the concept so much as the discipline to execute it successfully, these events are one of almost 40 sources from which Thompson Creek draws leads.
The watchword here is change. "Technology, communication, the customer, everything is changing," Rick Wuest says. And nothing at this company sits still except maybe the building, which Thompson Creek Window is already outgrowing. "Everything's in perpetual motion," vice president Brian Wuest says. "You get used to change, and that's helped us to implement change."
But getting used to change also means sometimes failing. For instance, for years Thompson Creek Window has made consistent and effective use of radio to drive its advertising message. But there was no canvassing operation to take advantage of the brand that the company was building. Six years ago "we got a van, hired some crews and bought some tapes off the Internet," Rick says. That attempt never gained traction. The next time around, Thompson Creek hired an outside canvassing company. The leads were too expensive. Then along came the first hints of recession and an increasingly timid consumer response to advertising. Now the company needed the steady, measurable quantity of leads day in and day out that a well-run canvassing operation can generate. Salesperson Joe DelVecchio took charge and consultant David Yoho Jr. supplied his expertise. Today Thompson Creek's canvassing department generates about a fifth of the company's business. Getting the canvassing effort going worked the third time around because the company learned, was willing to bring in outside help, and committed itself to getting it right. "We train every day," DelVecchio says.