American Blinds is in the house

Plymouth, MI-based American Blinds is adding a twist to the shop-at-home concept. The home decor cataloger partnered with Orange, CA-based Budget Blinds to offer customers in-home window-treatment consultations and installations. The $100 million American Blinds is also testing a program in Michigan that offers customers total in-home decorating services. If that program is a success, president/CEO Steve Katzman hopes to roll the service out nationwide within the next 12-18 months.

“More and more people would rather pay to get discount decorating work done as opposed to doing it themselves these days,” Katzman says.

For the window-treatment program, customers can call American Blinds or log on to its Website to request a consultation. Within 48 hours a local decorating specialist affiliated with Budget Blinds will provide a free in-home consultation and estimate, except in Michigan, where an American Blinds decorator will make the house call. The Budget Blinds decorators can sell their own products as well as American Blinds window coverings. If the customer decides to go ahead with the job, the same decorating specialist arranges the order and performs the installation.

The benefit for Budget Blinds is clear: Since last summer it has paid a flat fee of $10,000 a month to receive the leads from American Blinds, says Brent Hallock, Budget Blinds’ executive vice president. Although Hallock won’t disclose which percentage of leads convert to sales, he says that the average order value is $1,200-$1,400. As a result of the partnership, Budget Blinds has increased its number of franchisees and independent contractors from 300 in 2003 to 800.

The benefit to American Blinds is less readily apparent. In addition to the monthly fee from Budget Blinds, American Blinds receives the names of the customers seeking the in-home consultations. “Our biggest gain is that we are providing a service to our customers — creating goodwill so that they will buy other products from us,” Katzman says.

The partnership with Budget Blinds will also help American Blinds determine if it should roll-out a nationwide full-service in-home consultation service. In addition to window treatments, American Blinds sells wallpaper, lighting, bedding, and home accents. It already offers a toll-free line where decorators offer free advice, but only via the phone. The Michigan program, launched in October, provides customers and prospects in the state with complete free decorating services. Assuming the company remains pleased with the results of both the Michigan and the Budget Blinds programs, it will begin offering in-home decorating services nationwide next year.

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