I read your recent article “Window Wars” with much amusement and interest. You covered a pertinent and touchy subject well and exposed some of the ugly side of this industry movement. The article was aptly named. This “race to zero” in selling replacement windows is a no-win war. And in any war, the few winners are usually far outnumbered by the losers.
One of the big losers will be the uninformed and naïve homeowner who unwittingly buys windows based on price. Such buyers think all windows are pretty much the same and know little about installation. They then become dissatisfied when either the product or installation doesn't perform.
Window replacement is extremely service-intensive. If someone goes to bed one day and wakes up the next thinking their window isn't operating correctly, they call for service. With so many plastic parts, moving parts, and insulated glass units, replacement windows are service calls waiting to happen — even under the best circumstances. In the hands of the low-price installer and companies operating on thin margins, where will today's low-price window shopper go for service down the road? What will they tell others when their windows or the company that installed them don't perform?
The argument by proponents of low-price windows that they're adapting the Home Depot or Wal-Mart model is a fallacy. Those companies sell merchandise off the shelf. There is a huge difference between that and selling installed services that involve technical expertise, workers' comp and general liability risks, building code compliance (in many areas), and long-term performance in protecting the building envelope and standing up to the ravages of Mother Nature.
If these low-ball window companies are willing to confuse low-margin, high-volume activity with productivity, they're free to do so. Even without the major low-price companies, my market has its share of giveaway artists who don't know how to market themselves or sell value. They beat each other's brains out on price, give out prices over the phone, and fax or e-mail bids. They believe homeowners buy on price, so they sell price. I've seen them come and go over the past 25 years. This business is tough enough without compounding the challenges by confusing revenue with gross profit and net profit.
Every time a low-price company goes out of business, there's another one waiting to take its place. That's free enterprise. But because of their reach, what these large-scale low-price window companies are doing is accelerating the process. Ultimately, as the homeowner loses, so will our industry. And that means that the rest of us will continue to have to work harder to redeem the good name of our industry in the face of increasing consumer disappointment and lack of trust created by companies peddling the myth of “selling a good window, cheap!”
May the buyer beware.
Charles Gindele, president and owner Dial One Replacement Windows