Thousands of companies across the U.S. install vinyl replacement windows, and dozens of manufacturers are happy to be their suppliers. But during the last decade, a number of companies have found a different way to go to market: direct buying combined with heavy price promotion of windows that are of comparable quality to windows sold at midrange price points.

“We're not a big-box store, yet we provide the same benefits,” says Jim White, general manager at Windows by Bob, based in Chicago, where windows start at $189. “We're fully insured, reliable, and part of the community. But the customer is paying for things that matter: product, installation, service. Nothing more.”

GROWTH PATTERN Though organizations such as the American Architectural Manufacturers Association and the Window & Door Manufacturers Association track sales by type of window — and say that vinyl currently has 65% market share — no one has established just how much of the replacement market is now in the hands of low-cost window companies.

But clearly, sales are up. White says he has seen “a significant gain in the last five years.” Pat Moran, who has operated Window World of Youngstown, in Ohio, since 2003, says his sales rose 52.5.% last year. He attributes this to the company's marketing, and the fact that people want value at a reasonable cost.

Window World, first, largest and best known of low-cost window retailers, started in 1995 as a single store and has mushroomed into a major player, with, at the end of 2007, more than 190 locally owned offices in 45 states.

CEO Todd Whitworth says that the North Wilkesboro, N.C., company has had a compounded growth rate of 40% in the last three years, selling and installing 850,000 windows in 2006 and topping the million installs mark as of November, 2007.

COMPARISON SHOPPING Low-cost window retailers such as Window World and Arkansas-based Window Depot USA operate through networks of licensed dealers committed to positioning as the low-price leader in their markets. Jim Venable, Widow Depot USA's founder and president, says he has built the company — which aims to have 80 dealers by the end of the year — on the Wal-Mart model. “When you can put quality out there with mass marketing and discount pricing, you are going to do volume,” he says.

Such companies also supply sales and marketing know-how. “They give us a system,” Window World of Youngstown's Moran says, “and we work it.”

How can you sell a window for $189 and make money? Direct buying is one answer. Another is that $189 is a base price for a double-hung window in white. Upgrades such as exterior capping or an energy-efficient glass package raise the price. But even at twice the price, the cost still allows licensees to position themselves as the low-price market leader.

“The greatest thing is if we go to see a customer who's talked to someone from an expensive window company. The first thing they ask is, ‘What's the catch?' There is no catch. It's $189 per window,” Whitworth says.

—Janice Rosenberg is a freelance writer in Chicago.