Friday, February 11, 2022

Lesson #342: Don't Aspire to Be Champion (Windows)

Posted By: George Deeb - 2/11/2022


& Comment


Normally, in the world of boxing, you would aspire to be world champion, knocking out every opponent you see, pounding them into submission until they finally break.  But, the business world, is not the boxing world.  And, apparently, Champion Windows didn't get the memo, that  you are not supposed to beat up your own customer prospects.  I recently survived one of the most brutal sales experiences I have ever lived through, while shopping for new windows for my home.  This story was so unbelievable, that I needed to share it with you as a case study of what NOT to do, in your own selling efforts.


I didn't now anything about the windows industry when I started this process.  All I knew was my home needed new windows.  I had heard of the big brands like Andersen and Pella, and did a little online research on them.  I ultimately invited Pella to make us a proposal.  But, these brands appeared to be more expensive than many others, for very similar products, and I wanted other options.  

Online research proved too confusing--dozens of unknown brands sounding all the same, and not knowing who to trust.  And, there were no installers that represented multiple brands, where you could compare and contrast products, much like you would in any other shopping experience.  So, I ended up swinging by Home Depot, for their thoughts, as they represented multiple brands.  They recommended the Simonton brand for my needs, so I invited them to make a quote as the windows and services would ultimately be backed up by Home Depot, a known and trusted brand.  

But, I still wanted a third quote.  I had seen a few new windows already installed in my home, so for a consistent look, I called the old owner and asked what brand she used, and she mentioned Champion Windows.  I assumed they would be more price competitive than the bigger brands like Pella, so I invited them out to the home to make a quote, as well.

The Pella Quote

The salesperson who came out to my home was pleasant and appeared knowledgeable, answering the questions I had.  He measured my 24 windows and quoted me within an hour.  He quoted me around $29,000 for their vinyl windows.  At $1,200 a window, that was a lot more than the $600-$1,000 range that was being discussed online, in terms of a reasonable budget for replacement window costs.  I guess that was to be expected from a major brand, being a little more expensive.

The Simonton Quote

Again, a very knowledge and friendly salesperson from Home Depot came to the home, showed me his products, compared the various brands in the industry (which was one of my goals), did his measurements and quoted me the project within an hour.  The quote came in around $22,000 which felt good to me, especially with how comparably rated Simonton was to Pella in the Consumer Reports reviews online.

The Champion Sales Pitch

Let me start by saying Champion was in my home for over four hours!!  And, it wasn't a single salesperson, it was a two person team (a salesperson and his boss, training the new salesperson).  It started with an outdoor tour of the house, not only looking at the windows, by trying to find other products that may need replacing (e.g, doors, sills). I can't discredit them for trying to upsell an order, if they could.  But, they were here to focus on the windows.  So, it was frustrating me that they were wasting my time on anything other than windows.

When they finally came inside.  They made me sit through a long slide show presentation.  They discussed their company, their position within the industry, their warranty, etc.  But, no discussion of the products themselves.  After an hour of politely listening, I asked if we could jump ahead and see the products, he said no that they have to follow their set script.  And, worse yet, if I did not verbally agree they had the best warranty in the industry, they would refuse to continue their presentation and would leave my home.  I should have had them leave at that point, but I was invested at this point, and wanted to learn their quote.  So I continued on with their shenanigans.

When we finally got to speaking about their products, I have to give them credit.  They did a good job of positioning their products as the best.  They showed their white colors vs off white colors of others, they showed how durable its construction vs. flimsy others, and they showed a corner cut of them vs. the competition (with theirs insulated).  But, the wow moment was when they took out a heat lamp and compared BTU readings of their glass vs. others, with them looking great.  Of course, I didn't know any better, and in hindsight, learned that many window sellers do the same thing with an "off the shelf" window salesperson kit.  But, by this point, I was finally warming up to their products; it only took two hours to get to this point!!

The Champion Quote

Drumroll, please!!  The time I had been waiting for had finally arrived.  After asking me to confirm they were the best company, with the best warranty, with the products, and there was no reason other than price not to engage them, they finally gave me their quote.  Understanding, I had already told them the quotes of Pella and Simonton, with the hopes that they would try to beat it.  So, you can imagine my dismay when their initial quote was a whopping $54,000, after two hours of sitting there.  When I told them "are you crazy?", knowing what they were up against, they tried to position it, "well, you said we were the best, and that comes at a premium".  

When I told them that price was a non-starter, then they said, "well, we have a 15% off sale, and if you buy today I can increase that to 25%".  That lowered the price to $41,000.  But, I still said that it felt too high vs. the others.  He said, "well, what do you want to pay".  I said I was prepared to pay up to $1,000 per window, so I would agree to move forward at $24,000.  He countered with, "I'll have to talk to my boss, but the best I could do is $29,000, again if you buy today." And, that was swapping out five double hung windows, with two cheaper slider windows which saved $2,000 (so apples-for-apples he was at $31,000 vs. the others).  

He saw I was getting close to accepting, so then he throws in doing any window sill repairs that he saw outside for free, which he said was a $3,000 value.  So, $26,000 was his final offer, reiterating it had to be now or never.  If he left the home, the price would immediately jump back up to $41,000, as their company requires a "same day sales policy", and that if I wanted a lower price, I would have to wait a year for them to come back out and quote again.  It sounded like sleazy sales tactics to me, as I couldn't imagine they would walk away from a huge sale.

What Happened Next

I told them I needed to clear a purchase of this size with my wife, and that she wouldn't be home for a couple hours.  I asked if I could call him later and purchase tonight.  He repeated, "if I leave your home, the price goes up".  Now I was getting upset, saying how unreasonably stupid that sounded, where he reiterated "company policy".  After another 15-20 minutes of hemming and hawing, he finally agrees that if I sign a contract now, he will put an out-clause in it, that if my wife does not agree to move forward, we won't, but I need to write a 25% check as a deposit before he leaves.  I told him I psychologically would not write a check until I am ready to purchase, and after a little more back and forth, he finally agreed that if I sign the contract with the out-clause, I could call him later with a credit card (breaking yet another company policy for me).  I begrudgingly did it, trying to lock in the low $26,000 price for what I perceived as a good price for what appeared to be a good product.

My Wife's Reaction

When my wife came home, I shared this story, and how I was browbeaten for over four hours.  Her reaction was, "I don't care how good their windows are, they are not getting our business.  They sound like complete slime balls, and I will not give them my business out of principle."  At which point I terminated the contract with Champion with my out-clause.

The Ace Up My Sleeve

What Champion didn't know was, I was communicating with Home Depot while Champion was still at my home.  I shared the above story and my thoughts of the Champion pitch and product, at which point the Home Depot salesperson said "don't fall for their dog and pony show, it is all smoke in mirrors".  As an 18 year veteran in the window industry that was brand agnostic, I trusted him when he said Champion is offering you nothing that merits paying a higher price than the Simonton quote.  He was convinced Simonton was a better product.  And, even came back to the house the next day and repeated the same heat lamp experiment for me that was done by Champion, to prove they were the same.

The Part That Upset Me Most

At one point in the conversion with Champion, I asked them point blank: "why would you start at $54,000 when you know you are competing with a $22,000 to $29,000 quote?"  His response: "you would never imagine how many people pay the first price without even negotiating it."  All I could think: you are willing to fleece unsuspecting people that don't know any better to the tune of almost 2X the price, pocketing that extra $28,000 as pure profit.  Glad I negotiated, but it was a pretty awful experience of getting to that price I was willing to pay.

Selling Lessons for You

My suggestions for all of you coming out of this case study: (i) build great products, as ultimately that is what people want most; (ii) price them competitively out of the gate with your first offer; (iii) limit your sales pitches to an hour or less, where you can (everyone is busy); (iv) follow the lead of your customer if they want to discuss something that is "off script"; (v) don't take advantage of customers, be honorable corporate citizens; and (vii) be nice people, as customers ultimately want to work with nice people.  I sure hope Champion reads this blog post and changes their ways.  And, if you ever need a good window guy, I now have a good one at the Home Depot (who ultimately won this project at $20,000 when they swapped the double-hung windows with sliders, as Champion proposed)!

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

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