Vaughn McCourt is the director of operations for Penguin Windows, one of the nation's largest replacement companies. Headquartered in Mukilteo, Wash., the company also has offices in Portland, Ore., and Boston.
Replacement Contractor: How have Penguin Windows' sales been in 2009?
Vaughn McCourt: If we stay on track, we'll have a 10% growth in sales over last year ... We'll have $58 million in sales [in 2009] just for replacement windows to homeowners, no commercial or new construction.
RC: Even despite this down economy?
VM: Everyone seems to want to bathe in economic indicators and forecasts and where the home improvement market is going to go. Yes, there's 10% unemployment. But there's 90% employment. That's an awful big target. My business won't go up and down based on the economy. My customer base is huge.
People are so interested in what economists are saying. I say: What does that have to do with me? My piece of the pie is so small. There are a lot of companies waiting by the phone. We take a different stand.
RC:What are you doing?
VM:[For] the numbers we want to hit, I need to see 110 prospects a day. When you look at that in the Seattle, Portland, and Boston markets with 17 million people, doesn't that seem small?
Who needs a replacement window? Everybody does. Any window 10 years or older is outdated by technology. Every year there are that many more people coming into the market with homes that are aging.
We get in and give people free demos and free estimates to show them that now, more than ever, is the time to replace. There's the cost of heat going up, and there are the tax credits. All we need is to show them.
RC: How are you finding prospects?
VM: We market aggressively. We go out to get business. If we waited for people to call us, we'd have been out of business five years ago. We're canvassing, knocking on doors. We did $1.8 million to $2.1 million in canvassing alone.
We'll put our people in front of anyone we can ... at home shows, fairs, or festivals, even bridal shows, golf shows ? really obscure places where people are coming ... At flower shows we show garden windows.
In the retail area we might be in Kmart asking people to enter a contest to win a houseful of windows. We run that quarterly; it's worth about $15K in windows. Anyone who signs up is a prospect.
RC: How much has the stimulus package helped boost sales?
VM: Only when you're in the house making the presentation and helping the customer make the decision to buy.... We use it in advertising, but it helps more with the salesman convincing the client.
RC: How do your salespeople deal with clients who are worried about the economy?
VM: The problem is us. Our sales reps are using the economy as an excuse. When our sales took a nosedive in October, we had to lay people off and have some attitude adjustments.
We told everyone that we were committed to [changing our attitude]. We told them we were going to hire new people who had good attitudes, and we turned over about 20% of the salesforce.... Our new people are happy to have jobs.
We're going to win and get people in here who will stand behind it. I don't want to hear about economic indicators. I can't let anything creep into my head. If I'm not right in my head, how will anyone else be right? If you've got junk in your head, it manifests. You always end up where you should be. We've got financing. We've got leads, and we've got people who need windows.
If things aren't going well, hire somebody new and train them yourself. Your current salespeople might pass on their bad attitude.
RC: What are you spending on marketing?
VM: We probably upped [marketing] by 30% this year, and we'll go into any venue at any time. We're spending about $1.2 million on marketing every month. We're profitable right now.
About $300,000 is TV and radio just for branding. The rest is canvassing, retail, shows, getting leads. Some of the old paradigms don't hold, [such as] marketing needs to be 7% to 9%.