The Rise and Rise of Window World

For the last six years in a row, the owners of Window World dealerships around the country have gathered for a three-day annual meeting. On the surface, the gatherings are similar to annual meetings held by other franchise organizations. There are educational sessions during the day. In the evening, there is networking and entertainment. But Window World gatherings typically feel different than the obligatory annual business meeting.

For starters, many of the dealers have seen their lives change dramatically for the better since buying a Window World dealership. As a group, they have experienced 40 percent compounded annual growth over the past four years. Many have become wealthy. As a result, these annual gatherings (the most recent meeting was held in August in Cape Canaveral, Fla.) have taken on a true celebratory feel — they are always held at a resort with all expenses paid; spouses are encouraged to attend (and most do whether they are involved in the business or not); and perhaps most telling of all, the dealers themselves have taken to calling the event a “family reunion,” says Todd Whitworth, president of Window World Inc. and son of company founder Leon Whitworth.

“I think this feeling among our dealers is a testament to the value-driven way we approach the business,” says Todd. “We sell a great product at a price people can afford and our dealers have seen the response. It works.”

Leon Whitworth, the founder of Window World Inc., has deep roots in the home improvement industry. Beginning in the early ’70s Leon sold aluminum siding in a bygone era of the siding business. From there he went on to establish a successful building supply distribution firm and a window manufacturing firm.

According to Todd, all of Leon’s business experience in home improvement, (the good and the bad aspects of the industry) laid the groundwork for establishing a new kind of replacement window firm in 1995. And the beginnings of the company were very humble.

“My dad started the company out of what most people would call a roadside shack near Wilmington, N.C.,” recalls Todd. “When I first saw it, my response was: ‘You are selling how many windows out of that?’ I could not believe it. And Leon told me confidently that I would be working for him in a year. I thought: no way. I have a good job and I don’t intend to work for my dad. He was wrong. I was working for him 10 months later.”

Independent of his father’s business experience, Todd also has deep roots in home improvement. Before joining his father in helping to launch Window World in 1997, Todd was a national sales trainer for a window company that eventually became Atrium Windows.

“As soon as I got down to Wilmington, Leon went out and began establishing our dealer network,” says Todd. “Our first dealer was in Raleigh and we got the ball rolling from there.”

Since that time, the company’s growth has been nothing short of phenomenal. The company now has 195 dealers throughout the country, and in 2006 those dealers sold and installed 89,874 jobs, which translated to $270,691,333 in sales, or 850,000 windows. Last month, the company installed 100,000 windows and this year, Todd expects that the firm exceed 1 million windows sold and installed.

A Different Way of Doing Business

When Leon Whitworth set out to establish Window World, in many ways he was also hoping to establish a new model for doing business in the home improvement industry, says Todd. He wanted to offer an alternative to “the dinosaurs” and the old ways of doing things that have dominated home improvement since the 1970s.

“My father started out as a tin man in the early 1970s selling aluminum siding, the same way that everybody else sold aluminum siding at the time. It was a really, really high-pressure close,” explains Todd. “And as he was evaluating what he needed to do to be successful in home improvement and windows, he did it completely backwards from what any MBA or business expert would tell you how to do it. Normally you take your product, your labor, your overhead, and put your profit on it to get your price. My dad started with the price. So he took $189 as a selling price and then backed-in those numbers.

“If I sell it for $189, my labor has to be X, my overhead has to be X etc., to be able to sell it for $189. The real tricky part to that equation was that he could not do it with a cheap window. He recognized that you cannot have cheap price and a cheap product at the same time. It has got to be a great value, which means a low price and a premium product. And since that time, we have built our business on the slogan: simply the best for less.”

“So it starts with great value for the consumer. Then the salesperson needs to make a good income. The installers need to make a good income. The licensees have to be very profitable. And if all that happens,” says Todd, “then we at corporate are profitable.”

A Detailed System for Success

Most of the time when a Window World salesperson meets with a customer for the first time, they want to know where the catch is on the $189 window offer, but there really is no catch. The salesperson will show the customer a good window manufactured by Associated Materials Inc., the same product which recently won a Consumers Digest best product award. They will tell the customer that they can have that window installed for $189. But if they want grills (muntin bars), it will be an extra $32. If they want Low-E glass, that will be an additional $32. These are small and transparent add-ons at a reasonable cost.

Once trust has been established, Window World typically sells more windows and the job size gets bigger. Says Todd, people begin to look for ways to replace all of the windows in their house.

“When my dad told me that he was planning to sell windows for $189, I thought, I am out training guys how to sell windows for $600 to $700 a piece. That was my job, to train people all over the country how to do this. There is no way $189 is going to work. There is no way you can make money.” Todd recalls thinking at the time. But it soon dawned on him that Leon was on to something big. Leon, says Todd, had developed and tested a new “cake mix” of operational systems at his Wilmington, NC “roadside shack” that helped keep the business profitable and on a growth track. The “cake mix” includes everything from marketing and selling to installation. Most importantly, the Window World systems and processes were very scalable to any number of locations.

What’s Next

The vast majority of Window World dealers are located in the South, the Midwest and the Northeast, but not for long. The company has embarked on an aggressive growth path for locations on the West Coast.

Toward that end, the company has hired a full-time sales training consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif., close to where the new dealership growth will be. The company’s window supplier is also planning an expansion of its manufacturing capacity in California. The company is expecting that it will open most of its new dealerships in California, Oregon and Washington.

Yes, the country is experiencing a housing slowdown. And it has even begun to impact the remodeling market, but Window World is expecting to grow in 2008. And given its 10-year track record, very few people doubt that they will achieve their goals.