Stories from the Covid-19 Front Lines: Kelsey Stuart, Bloomin' Blinds CEO
Name: Kelsey Stuart
Brand: Bloomin’ Blinds
Segment: Home improvement, home services, retail, repair
Locations: 22 states
How many locations has your brand reopened? How many are closed permanently?
We were fortunate to be part of the “essential business” category, so none have had to close. All 47 locations are open.
What are your franchisees telling you about their economic recovery?
Because we were categorized as essential, our businesses never really slowed down. If anything, the shift to “work from home” has accelerated our sales volume. We have dealt with nerves and unknown horizons, but being able to remain in business has certainly aided in our recovery mindset. Our hearts break for other businesses and industries that have taken a massive hit, and we are going out of our way to support their revenues as much as possible, such as buying local instead of online.
How has your business shifted in terms of health and safety? What effect has this had?
As Covid emerged, we began to promote virtual sales calls vs. in-person visits, and offsite repair services vs. doing them on the kitchen table, but our customer base has remained surprisingly comfortable with our in-person offerings. Roughly 5% of our business has become offsite/virtual services, and the rest has been a continuation of our traditional in-home business model.
What new programs did you introduce for franchisees during Covid-19?
We began to offer virtual sales consultations, offsite repair services, and added significant technology to help customers begin to visualize our products before we step foot in their house. We also put a greater emphasis on product offerings installed outside the house (e.g., patio screen shades) so customers wouldn’t need us in their house to pursue those products.
How have your franchisees responded to these programs?
They have responded exceptionally well. We’re incredibly impressed with the flexibility and resiliency of our franchise operators in the face of Covid. Considering that we have been a franchise for just over 5 years, our owners have never seen a disruption to the typical business environment. On the other hand, our leadership team has been in the industry for nearly 20 years and have weathered multiple economic downturns. The relationship between our leadership team and franchisees is strong, and has helped our owners trust our “pivots” during the Covid era — we’ve had nearly 100% of franchisees adopt our programs. This has been one of the brightest spots for our franchise organization as it really showcases how strong our mutual relationship is as a team.
What are your franchisees doing for their customers?
Outside of our safety protocol when entering a house, franchisees are exhibiting care, compassion, patience, and empathy. We are treating our customers with the same levels of respect and prevention that we wish every business would show us when we are the customer. Do unto others as you would have done unto you… it’s our company motto and we live it every single day.
How are customers responding to your reopening guidelines?
They seem to be consistently comfortable with our presence in the home. And they’re even more grateful for the level of care seen in our safety efforts, patience, and willingness to work together and push forward.
Have your suppliers supported you through the pandemic? Do you expect any permanent changes in how you do business with them?
Overall, very little has changed in regard to how we interact with our suppliers on a day-to-day basis. When the pandemic first hit, we had some product availability issues as suppliers were required to close for cleaning or quarantine. The suppliers have been very communicative during this process and have gone to great lengths to make sure we are well informed of current production times. This has been very helpful in setting expectations with our customers, as time frames have fluctuated. The suppliers also have produced an expanded library of product videos, information guides, and webinars that can be used for customer information.
How do you see the future of your brand, operations, market, etc. post–Covid-19?
For now, while many Americans are forced to work from home, our retail sales will remain strong and will continue to build. However, it’s likely that working from home will no longer be a trend in certain industries, but rather a shift, which will aid our business even further. Our outdoor retail sales have skyrocketed, and we expect that trend to increase even more than the general improvement of brand-wide sales. We do not see this trend letting up in the next 12 months.
When the economic impact of the Covid disruption begins to surface as a recession (we do predict a U.S. recession in 12 to 36 months), we will see retail (new product) sales begin to fade away to nearly half of current volumes. When the recession occurs, Bloomin’ Blinds will then shift much of its efforts into the repair and maintenance categories of our services. Our brand and franchisees are uniquely positioned for a recession environment as the only national window treatment company that has built out a repair and maintenance component to its business model. The fact that we sell, repair, clean, and maintain window coverings is a safety blanket that will carry us safely through any recession.
In regard to franchise growth, we predict very strong growth over the next 2 to 4 years. The brand is well-positioned in the franchise space as an affordable option within the growing home improvement sector. Our owner-operator model, combined with hundreds of open territories and our key industry differentiators, have primed us for rapid growth. We have already seen a strong increase in franchise applications and expect that trend to accelerate strongly, even more so if we slip into a national recession.
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