The COVID Effect on Residential Sales

August 13th, 2021 by Nathan Hobbs

How Film Companies Rose to the Challenge

By Emmariah Holcomb

Window film businesses surviving in the age of COVID had to adapt in order to meet customer needs and demands. Many now use virtual options to meet with customers, mail product samples and rely on homeowner measurements instead of those of their employees. The residential window film business has additional challenges namely customers who are skeptical about installers entering their homes and more.

Business – Is It Booming?

Michelle Clark is the president and CEO of Carolina Premier Window Films, located in Rock Hill, S.C. Clark says she noticed an upward shift in residential business during COVID because people were home more. “Before people were in their homes primarily on Saturday and Sunday and were busy doing things like laundry, running around and taking their kids places,” says Clark. “Now many have had to turn other rooms into offices and are realizing ‘oh my house is actually hot’ or that they have a lot of glare in a particular room.”

Angelo Ragone, president of NBI Suncontrol, in Sarasota, Fla., says he’s noticed people were becoming more cautious. “Here in Florida things are a little more open than they are in the rest of the country, but we all wear masks and booties when going into a customer’s home, whether they ask us to or not,” explains Ragone. “There are some customers that we’ve scheduled jobs for and, because of COVID, we were not able to complete them so we had more open jobs.”

Ragone’s company saw a sharp decline in business in 2020’s fourth quarter, as the company’s overall volume was “off by roughly 55-60%,” to which he attributes to COVID, the election and the holidays that fell in that quarter.

His company was able to maintain its 2019 output and numbers during the first three quarters of 2020. “I think that was attributed to the fact that a lot of the snowbirds never went home and it was probably the first time in a long time that they got to spend the summer in Florida,” says Ragone.

Ragone predicts that Florida, Arizona, and some of the “retirement states” are going to see an influx of residential business within the next 12 months. “The thing that helps us in Sarasota/
Barrington is that it’s one of the fastest-growing gated communities in the country so we have a lot of people moving down here.”

Matthew Darienzo, CEO of Solar Art, in Irvine, Calif., also saw challenges with the residential side of his business. He noticed early on that customers were no longer open to having installers or sales team members in their homes. He started using virtual aspects and asked his customers to send in photos and measurements. “You’re limited in what you can do when you do things virtually,” says Darienzo. “Early on you think … ‘how do you present your products and show customers everything?’ It’s been difficult and a couple of times customers wanted us to do a project from the outside.”

Johnathan Thompson is the owner of SunSational Solutions, with locations in San Antonio and Austin, Texas. He says Austin was fairly aggressive at shutting down at the beginning of COVID. “Austin started going through shut down processes in the beginning of March, then in the second week of March we were in full lockdown and only essential businesses were allowed to function,” Thompson explains.

His company also saw a reduction in business as a result and was closed for several weeks. “We were actually on trajectory for a 40% growth in the first quarter of last year and that was completely
ruined within just a few weeks,” says Thompson.

But the summer rapidly changed things as the demand for residential installations continued to grow. “Texas is a pretty warm state and in June people start experiencing the heat. With people working from home we started getting a lot of calls for glare reduction, heat reduction and privacy projects,” says Thompson. “So we devised a marketing campaign system to target those projects.”

Thompson says his company used a lot of Google ad words, direct mail and resources like Yelp. Over the course of the summer, business started increasing so much that July 2020 became the
company’s largest billing month in its 22 year history … that is until it was out paced by September’s numbers. The quick turnaround is attributed to the company’s aggressive tactics early on.

“We wanted to attack this immediately, before our competition started going after it,” explains Thompson. “We didn’t have as much of a loss as we expected in 2020, by the end of the year I think
we were down about 12%, going into the summer I think we were down about 42%.”

Adapting Quickly

Carolina Premier Window Films adapted quickly and used emails to contact customers and focused on selling the benefits over the phone rather than in person.

“If it’s a smaller job we’re pretty much selling them [the services] over the phone, mailing them samples, giving them the option of our installers doing a home estimate or them using the virtual options,” Clark explains. “Some of the sales cycles have gotten longer because now we’re talking to them on the phone trying to figure out what [it is] that they want or need, then they’re sending us pictures and possibly measurements. We’re then mailing them samples based on what they say. Sometimes we have to regroup and send them something different if the first set of samples aren’t to their liking.”

Clark and her staff are trying to find the best solution for their customers – while not just selling them a product. Safety procedures were also implemented early such as:

• Having all employees practice social distancing techniques as advised by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC);
• Equipping all service vans and trucks with hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes for technicians and installers to use between service calls;
• Limiting their in-person contact with customers;
• Postponing all large meetings and employee gatherings; and
• Increasing shop cleanings.

The SunSational Solutions team created a sanitization process early on that included purchasing additional drop cloths, plastic bins and tools. Thompson says his installers went onsite with two
sets of tools. “We also bought hand sanitizer by the gallon – five gallon buckets actually — and between each project the installer did a full sanitization of their tools, put all of the trash from that jobsite into one trash bag, and put all of the drop cloths into another trash bag,” says Thompson.

The goal was to have a new set of materials when installers went to another installation. These changes came with a cost. “It did slightly decrease the installer’s productivity, but added a piece of
mind for homeowners,” Thompson recalls.

Customer Response

Darienzo found it really tough to do a sale without making contact with the customer, as he noticed his sales volume decreased, but he says his company was able to make due. “I’m surprised, at least in the markets we’re in, that a lot of customers haven’t had any issues with us onsite,” he says.

Darienzo also let his customers take the lead on how installations and estimates were done. “If a customer wanted an estimate and was a bit skeptical we would play it by ear and let the customer tell us what they were comfortable with,” he explains. “For the most part we were able to facilitate estimates onsite while taking precautions.”

“At the very beginning we were trying to take the most ethical approach to this. There’s a pretty big political divide about COVID, and we didn’t want to get in the middle of it. So we quickly devised a program using CDC guidelines on how we would do onsite estimates, and how we could do some things virtually,” says Thompson.

SunSational Solutions also submitted samples prior to onsite appointments and video chatted with customers and the sales team to look at a client’s windows to see what was needed, and to make recommendations.

In many instances customers used their own tape measures and submitted measurements with the understanding that they would be given a price range. “If the project was $500 we would say it would be anywhere between $450 and $600. Then once the installers are on site they confirmed the measurements and we moved on with the installation,” says Thompson. Within a few weeks he found that most people would allow the installers into their homes.

“No, we didn’t get pushback from our customers, because we explained that we tried to limit the amount of installers in a home to a maximum of two people,” Ragone recalls.

“We’re sanitizing and wearing masks as much as we can, but you can’t wear a mask when you’re hanging film, because you pretty much use your mouth as a third hand,” says Clark. “Honestly we
really haven’t [had any pushback from our customers].” She does recall having a few who didn’t feel comfortable, to which the response was “if you don’t feel comfortable with us coming into your home then now might not be the right time for your installation.”

Staying Safe in a New Normal

Although the industry has taken steps to ensure safety for its customers and staff, sometimes COVID hits close to home. Clark’s granddaughter contracted the virus in August 2020. Her daughter works for her and because of this case, she had to quarantine for 14 days. During that time, Clark brought in another installer. They wiped everything down, no longer did face-to-face meetings, and did all estimates remotely.

“Unfortunately where we are out in California things are not good at all–cases are at an all-time high,” Darienzo explains.

While at press time it was not mandatory to wear a mask in Florida, according to Ragone, there are a few places that require them. “I think that once we reach that ‘immunity’ I don’t think it would be necessary [to continue the safety protocols that were put in place],” says Ragone. “I’ll tell you that more than half of the time when I ring the doorbell at a customer’s home, the customer will go run and put his mask on. About 30% of the time the customer doesn’t even wear a mask when I’m in their home. Down here in Florida there’s a lackadaisical attitude and I don’t understand it.”

Darienzo points out that COVID has brought a new way of doing business and that he sees certain changes remaining. “I think people are at least coping with this and now it’s like this is the new norm of wearing masks and social distancing and that’s just how we’re operating business now,” he says. “I think it’s going to continue like this at least until the end of the year when vaccines become more available.”

Emmariah Holcomb is the assistant editor of WINDOW FILM magazine. You can reach her at eholcomb@glass.com

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.

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