Early this past summer, Ken Moeslein was at home and heard the front-door bell ring. On opening the door, the CEO of Legacy Remodeling, a Pittsburgh home improvement company, was startled to see a member of one of his company's two canvass crews, clipboard in hand. The crew, it turns out, was working the neighborhood. The company owner requested that his chagrined employee go ahead and make his pitch for a sales appointment, just for practice. "He got nervous about halfway through," Moeslein recalls, laughing, "so I told him to forget it."
Legacy Remodeling, a company long accustomed to receiving plenty of warm-call responses to its media and direct-mail campaigns, is getting the hang of canvassing. Like the other companies on this year's Replacement 100 list of top U.S. exterior/specialty firms, Legacy Remodeling has had to adapt to an economic environment very different from that of two or three years previous. Free-spending consumers with endless home equity: gone. Easy financing from a raft of banks and lenders: gone. Leads pouring in after every ad or direct-mail campaign: down to a trickle.
Owners and managers of the companies on the 2009 Replacement 100, a list compiled from 2008 revenue numbers, recall a trying year, one unlike any they have experienced.
Some owners say that they sensed things were amiss in the spring of '08, when credit turndowns increased and credit sources began walking away from the home improvement industry. Then September arrived, with big national investment houses and banks going broke and others wobbling as they waited for federal intervention. A few weeks later, the stock market began to seesaw.
Stocks, home equity, retirement accounts, everything seemed to be falling. Many home improvement contractors with decades of experience owning their own companies concede that they had never seen anything like it. For many, the tumbling stocks and home values and Americans' shriveling retirement accounts translated to one thing: silent phones.
"For the first time in 17 years," says Fred Finn, president of Euro-Tech, a window and siding company in Illinois, "I didn't know if our business was going to be there or not." As the fall of 2008 wore on, veteran closers were having a hard time bringing in deals. Leads "just would not convert," Finn says. He blames at least part of the company's troubles on the election. But the bigger villain in his eyes were the media, eager to spread news of calamity. For three months Euro-Tech's production "went off a cliff," Finn says. The reason? Consumer fear. Often, of losing their jobs. Many home improvement company owners tell a similar story about the year that proved to be so different from any other.
So some of the companies previously featured on this list aren't on the list anymore. What's also different this year is the company at the top of the list: Window World. Eclipsing rival Champion Window and Patio Room Co. by a little less than $20 million in sales, the low-price window replacement company, headquartered in North Wilkesboro, N.C., has taken the lead in a market ever more competitive. For several years, Window World has been the leader in number of window units sold. In 2008, it became the industry leader for revenue as well.
A comparison of 2008 sales with those of the previous year shows that Window World's growth was relatively slight when the 2008 inflation rate of just over 3% is factored in. But in The Great Recession, any increase is worth bragging about. Especially considering the state of the window industry itself, where shipments of window units have plunged 31% since 2005, according to a Ducker International/AAMA report earlier this year.
"We took a deep breath, patted ourselves on the back, and went back out there after it," Window World's new president, Blair Ingle, says. "There's no celebrating in this market." (Read an interview with Ingle.)
With its roughly 5% share of U.S. vinyl replacement window sales, Window World's size and weight tends to skew the Replacement 100 list. For instance, the average revenue for a company in this year's list is $24,160,738. Subtract the sales of Window World and Champion from the almost $2.5 million total and divide again by 98. Now the average becomes $17,841,117.
Window World's size also skews the figure for average jobs. Adding together the number of jobs for all 100 companies finds the average firm completing 4,333 jobs last year. Without Window World's 124,802 jobs, that average falls to 3,116. Subtract the top four companies on the list ? Window World, Champion, U.S. Home Systems, and Beldon Enterprises ? and the remaining companies averaged 2,008 jobs last year.
What holds true for sales and jobs installed is also true of salesforce size. The average company on this list ran 62 sales reps. Remove Window World and Champion from the equation and the average Replacement 100 company ran 31 reps in 2008. Meanwhile, looking at all 100, the average company generated $771,000 per salesperson and had an average sale of just over $10,000.