Peter Allen is vice president of national sales for Four Seasons Sunroom corporate stores. He has also been vice president of the franchise division of Four Seasons, which currently has 312 members. He discusses with Replacement Contractor how the sunroom market ? and his company, in particular ? are faring in the current economy.

Replacement Contractor: What's your sense of how the sunroom industry is doing at the moment?
Peter Allen: Sales at the [Four Seasons] dealer network are probably down 10% to 15%. The figure I hear batted around is that industry sales are off 30%. But Four Seasons company store sales are actually up 8%.

RC: What produced those volume increases at your company stores?
PA: We have the freedom to try new and different things. And if we don't get results, we can try something else. We set up a call center, for instance. And we've gone back to the old style of direct selling. We do shows and events and canvassing. In addition, we've tried to introduce a self-gen culture in the last year and a half. We tell every salesperson that if he or she wants to continue to receive corporate leads, they have to bring in one self-gen deal a month.

RC: What's the most difficult part of creating a successful self-gen program?
PA: You have to get buy-in and you have to be totally honest with the salesforce. For instance, our executives will go out with a clipboard and knock on doors. We are not going to ask staff to do anything we are not prepared to do ourselves. When you do that, you get the buy-in.

RC: Should more owners be out there drumming up leads?
PA: I honestly think that this is a problem in the [home improvement] industry. As we climb the totem pole, some of us forget how to go about doing the basics. Leading from the front is very important to our business.

RC: What's the biggest factor affecting sunroom sales?
PA: Without doubt, financing. For instance, we're $5 million ahead on orders for sunroom sales out of our 16 company-owned stores. But we'll probably lose half that to financing. So we have to drive our numbers doubly hard to get the results that we need.

RC: If a sunroom dealer's sales are off, what do you suggest that he or she do?
PA: Go back to basics. Look at the database, every pitch and miss, and review the pricing. Have an open house. Make sure that salespeople aren't being spoon-fed leads. And if salespeople aren't running leads, they should be at your location working the database for referrals or searching the Internet for new events. All those things drive business. Your sales reps might not like doing it, but it's better than being unemployed.