After graduating from college, interior designer Carlene Lower did a short stint creating window treatments for homeowners. She didn't like it. But it wasn't the job she despised, it was the price of the products she was selling.
"I was working in residential retail design doing window treatments for consumers. They would see a simple window treatment, and I'd have to say 'OK, this will cost $1,500' with a straight face," Lower says. "I thought it was ludicrous, and the customers usually had the same reaction."
Her customers were not wealthy people by any means — they were middle- to upper-class Americans. "The value just wasn't there. The clients felt trapped."
The customers were boxed in because at the time only two extremes of window treatments were available: custom-made treatments and ready-made treatments. And both types have their own faults, Lower explains.
Custom-made treatments, which cost at least $500 and go as high as thousands of dollars per window, are difficult to install and require a lengthy delivery period. On the other end of the spectrum, ready-made treatments cost between $60 and $300 but are made with lower-quality fabrics and are less versatile.
Lower saw the need to tap into a middle market so customers could receive quality and affordability in one product. At the time, however, she put the idea in the back of her mind. A decade later, after leaving a successful career in interior design and having a baby girl, Lower decided the time was right to venture into that still-untapped market.
While creating some prototypes using her own sewing machine, Lower discovered she could design a modular-based window treatment with quality fabrics and at a low price. Her window treatments, which customers can order on her Web site or through one of her sales consultants around the U.S., are made up of 7 core shapes from up to 40 different designer-quality fabrics.
Thus her products are more versatile than ready-made treatments and typically cost up to 50 percent less than similar custom-made treatments. Lower's treatments start at about $60 and go up to about $200. Because they're modular, the treatments allow customers to easily change the appearance by simply adding or deleting pieces. Lower explains that by adding inexpensive pieces to their treatments, customers could even change an everyday look to a more formal design for a dinner party.
Lower founded her company, Windowplicity, in 1998, filling the niche that she first spotted almost a decade earlier. She's even applied for a patent on her system of connecting the window treatment's modular pieces.
The most challenging part of Lower's business is convincing her customers there's a new and affordable way to create window treatments. "If someone sees the product and has experienced the frustration level that I went through, they immediately get it," she says.
And a lot of people must be getting it: Lower expects her first-year revenues to be $1.2 million. And her second-year profits? She's forcasting about $7 million.
— Kim Wimpsett