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Windows of Opportunity, Part One

Jim examines ways to maximize window-graphic profits.

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Twenty years ago, my sales manager advised me, "Go where they ain’t." He meant that I should sell something that my competitors were overlooking. Of course, I didn’t listen to a word he said. I rarely did. Instead of pursuing a lucrative niche business, I decided to fight over the unprofitable, low-hanging fruit with other salesmen who ignored their managers’ advice.

However, someone in every group not only listens to good advice, but puts it into practice. A colleague decided to focus his sales efforts on window-graphics programs because everyone else focused elsewhere. Most "experts" agreed that window graphics were a waste of time and predicted that the salesman was destined for failure.

Most professionals viewed window graphics as long-term projects that required considerable time. They entailed prospecting on the phone, conducting detailed sales interviews and site surveys, and planning the program’s particulars. Who wanted to work that hard, especially when efforts pursuing such programs never pan out?

This salesman realized that, if window graphics sales were easy, everybody would have been promoting them. Through hard work and perseverance, his road less traveled eventually rewarded him with a customer base of many large, very profitable, national and regional programs. Window graphics can pay dividends for you too, if you make the effort.

Prospecting

The first step in developing window-graphics clientele is prospecting. This involves working the phones to qualify the best program candidates and identifying the decisionmaker(s). If you’re uncomfortable prospecting on the phone, consider using professional telemarketers. A professional can qualify hundreds of calls a week.

A friend recently hired three telemarketers to build a prospect database. The trio camped out at his business for a little more than a week. In that time, they qualified more than 2,000 companies. They gathered names and e-mail addresses of key contacts. After they’d finished, he confirmed mailing addresses, phone numbers and fax numbers. He’s now using this information for mass direct mailings, e-mailings and fax campaigns. The total cost to build this prospect database was less than $2,000.

Establishing contacts

Before you begin, you’ll need a list of potential clients to call. Individual retail outlets or small store chains can become excellent prospects for signmakers. Your list of window-graphics candidates might include car dealerships,gas stations, beauty salons and similar businesses

After developing a database, schedule direct mailings to stimulate interest in window and building-identification programs. These mailings should include a cover letter and a printed, four-color brochure featuring your work. Or, use mass e-mailings to deliver your message. This message should be concise and linked to your Website, if you have one. You can also attach a PDF document file to your e-mail.

The sales call

Whether using direct mail or e-mail, follow up with a phone call. Verify that they’ve received your mail, and, if there’s an interest, schedule a sales appointment.

Signshops that pursue smaller retail chains will often find much less competition than when targeting high-profile clients. Such companies can provide excellent profit margins.

The initial sales call should reinforce the customer’s interest in the program and help gather information. Developing a sales proposal and design concepts requires a site survey. A site survey supplies additional information and involves obtaining necessary measurements, taking photographs and completing a market analysis. In essence, you’re conducting a "market analysis" by asking the right questions.

Some important questions include:

* What are the company’s existing corporate colors, logos and design motifs? Are any changes planned in this area? What liberties can the designer take?

* What are the company’s key advertising and marketing themes? Are changes planned?

* What are the store’s key product lines? Which lines should be emphasized?

* What are the company’s strengths and weaknesses? How is the business currently perceived by customers and employees? How would they like to be perceived in the future?

* What are the company’s opportunities and plans for growth in the upcoming years?

* Who are the company’s primary competitors?

* What challenges does the company face in the future from these competitors?

Your interviewee’s answers should provide the information needed to execute a design program and reveal the retailer’s long-term business and marketing objectives. More importantly, conducting the survey should provide insight into the retailer’s personality. This should help you prepare the sales presentation.

By conducting a marketing analysis, you’ll distinguish yourself from your competitor. For your customer, you should position yourself as a corporate-identity specialist, not the everyday signshop. By making this distinction, you can command higher prices. Remember, a specialist usually makes more money than a general practitioner even though both have an M.D. behind their names.

Sell the benefits

A complete store-identity package is often costly and difficult to sell; promoting such a project requires more "sizzle" in your sales approach. Rather than relating material and manufacturing details, build the sales story around benefits for the store owner. How can the graphics package satisfy the needs that were identified in the survey phase of the selling process?

The essence of the sales story — what the program can provide — is often the same for most stores. The program’s primary benefit program is increased store traffic, sales and profits.

Any successful retailer knows that windows can be effectively used as marketing tools. Grocery stores sport handpainted, paper signs hawking weekly specials. Car dealerships’ windows are frequently painted with bold, colorful graphics. Urban retailers of all types carefully arrange their products in showcase displays to entice bustling pedestrians into their stores.

Reinforcing identity

In the last 25 years, use of vinyl window graphics has grown steadily, replacing paper and paint. These window treatments are an especially effective part of corporate-identity systems. For instance, McDonald’s

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