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‘It’s here to stay so make the most of it’

Steve Birtles discusses a number of opportunities created by Louvolite's revolutionary new web-based virtual pattern book service

“Like it or loathe it, the web is not going to be uninvented and to that end it is here to stay. If we accept that – and there really is no excuse for not accepting it – we also have to accept that the Internet as a reference, marketing tool or just as a huge shop window is unbeatable.

In the United Kingdom alone an amazing number of people are on-line with 16,000,000 households having Internet Access – yes that’s right 16,000,000.

If we include the numbers who can gain Internet access via their place of work this adds up to 40,000,000 individuals with Internet access – that 66 per cent of British population. The numbers are really quite staggering but then so too is the opportunity for those who wish to embrace it.

At Louvolite we have viewed technology as an opportunity for many years now; some of you may remember the interactive CD we produced in the 1990s which allowed you to create room settings and then introduce blinds of your choice into those settings – it was called ‘blinds@home’ and perhaps it was a little ahead of its time.

But the Internet is very much here and now and it’s being used every single day by millions of people, yet the majority of our industry is not taking advantage of the opportunities it creates.  Why?

Well its probably because the majority of UK blindmakers are fully engrossed with the day-to-day issues of running their business to consider the virtual world and the ramifications of becoming involved with it, and yet therein lies a huge opportunity for them to grow their business.

At Louvolite ,however, we have looked at things a little differently – first of all it is apparent that a number of highly specialised companies are using the Internet as a selling tool and very successfully too. It occurred to Louvolite that all of its customers would benefit if it was able to bring its product offerings to the widest possible audience via the Internet.

But how could this be achieved? Well, typically, the first thing that the domestic end user recognises as a buying influence is the fabric choice. Fabric presentation books are the items that are always taken to a consumer’s home on a sales visit, less typically are system samples taken. Also when customers visit blind suppliers’ premises their first reference point is the fabric collections in the presentation books provided.

Reviewing the existing sites for window blinds on the Internet revealed a focus on fabric colours and choices, although these were typically very limited in number and variety.  If Louvolite was to become involved in this opportunity we had to make the effort work for our customers and help re-enforce the messages that they were already communicating. In truth we fairly quickly recognised that the answer was already in place and all we had to do was think laterally and turn concept into reality.
Louvolite fabric collections are arguably the most popular in the industry. This is due to the variety of base fabric types, colours, prints and designs that work in combination with a variety of special fabric features with real and qualified superior performance levels. The hard job of producing the fabric programmes and vehicles to display the fabrics had already been done, now all we had to do was make the tangible, virtual.

Rather than bore you with all the technical details and the months of work that went into creating Louvolite’s Virtual Programme, let’s just summarise by stating that all of Louvolite’s fabrics were scanned and this information loaded into a computer programme. Virtual duplicates of all of Louvolite’s pattern books were also recreated and these too loaded onto the programme. Once all this was done, computer boffins put it all together to create a carbon copy of the physical collection books that Louvolite customers use today.

So how are they to use?  Well the book covers look the same on screen as they do in reality and you easily identify each programme. To select a book all you do is use the mouse to select the book and click. The screen then becomes the front of the book selected – move the mouse to the bottom right hand corner of the book and click again and the book opens to the first page.  At the bottom of the book you will notice direction arrows, these allow you to move forward and backwards within the book, page by page. In addition to the arrows the colour spectrums are displayed where appropriate just as they are in the real books.

To go directly to a particular colour section just point the mouse at the colour and it opens for you at the appropriate section. You also have sections identified for specific areas such as Energy Saving Information, Finishing Touches or Gallery. Again all you do is point and click – yes it does seem simple, but it had to be as I had to be able to use it quickly and easily because  if I could use it, anybody could use it.

The sections within the virtual books are laid out in an identical fashion to the corresponding sections in the real books. This was critical to ensure that the customer could immediately identify real product location when referenced from a Virtual Book. When viewing fabrics, the user scrolls the mouse pointer over the fabrics, if they hover over a particular fabric the fabric name pops up. If they click on a fabric the image changes from the general image of the page to become a dedicated sample image of the selected fabric in higher resolution for more detail. Shown alongside the fabric sample are all the details you would typically find about the fabric on the fabric label. In addition, there is a facility called “in situ” which allows the user to view a blind in a room setting to assist them in visualization of how a fabric impacts on a room. To view other fabrics just click “close” on the viewing box and the image returns to the page. To close the book just use the directional arrows until closed and select another book from the array provided. The Virtual programme was created to operate essentially in the same way as the physical books and to be frank I think we have done a great job in achieving that goal.

Great, but now we have got it what are we going to do with it?
Well lets go back to the beginning when we were talking about the web – it is a fact that web based sales revenue is growing at the rate of 35 per cent per year. It is another fact that retail analysts state that 50 per cent of all retail sales could be web based in five years time. This medium will have an enormous impact on our industry one way or another and it is really up to us to grab the opportunity rather than try and resist the inevitable. Just consider your own business for a second and calculate the maximum exposure you have to customers – lets say that your business operates ten hours a day, for six days a week, 48 weeks of the year. That’s a pretty worthwhile “window” for people to view your offerings isn’t it – not when it is compared to the web. The web is open 24hrs a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks of the year.  It will never replace real people and real products but as a complimentary tool it is awesome.

Imagine the scenario – a potential customer phones your company for a quote, perhaps just wanting price details. You explain that, as all the products you offer feature different characteristics, it is difficult to give an exact quote on the phone. As your company offers a measuring and quotation service you could pop round later to measure up and discuss the possibilities available. No difference there then – but wait.

With the virtual world you can take this service a lot further.  As before the blind company agrees the home visit but then:
Have you visited our web site, madam? Please do, our web address is www.fabulouslouvolitefabrics.com  On the site you will be able to view the whole programme of products that our company offers and take your time to consider which product you feel is best suited for your particular needs. In addition you will be able to view the fantastic variety of fabric choices available in each programme.

I will bring physical samples of all the programmes later and we can decide which is the best for your circumstances - OK?
Lets just review what we have achieved by utilising the Virtual Books.

  • The customer’s focus is now on the product options available to best satisfy their need and the ability to scroll through the fabric options available on line rather than just price.
  • The customer will be able to view the programmes at home in a relaxed atmosphere to visualize their purchase in advance.
  • The customer should have a much better understanding of the products on offer and the fabric options available. The customer will be more receptive to additional product lines
  • They should be able to gain inspiration from the high quality room settings featuring window shades.
  • It is possible that other members of the family will be able to view the products on line too allowing family discussions to take place over suitability of product and possibly even pre-selecting a fabric type before your visit. This could remove the need for a family member to “refer to the other half” before committing as they have viewed on line and agreed what they want in advance.
  • The customer will be able to customize the shade by reviewing the accessories where appropriate – this should lead to better customer satisfaction and a higher value sale.
  • In addition, the on line viewing facility would allow the family to revisit and even consider additional blinds in other rooms – secondary sales opportunity.
  • I would also suggest that such za facility will significantly enhance the image (brand) of the blind supplier and this in turn would be reflected in recommendations to friends and relatives – all of whom could visit the blind suppliers web site before a call for an appointment or a visit to the real store. It may be that they would even come to the store with a printout of the fabric they have selected form your Virtual Books.

So all you need to do now is to construct a website and gain access to your virtual books – actually we have thought of that as well. For the princely sum of £199 Louvolite will arrange a web site to be created for you, it will include hosting charges for two years and it will be linked to the Virtual Book presentation.

If you already have and operate your own website – just contact your Louvolite Area Manager and they will arrange for the link to be set up.

So what are you waiting for? – tomorrow is here today, and frankly it’s been around for some time now. The utilsation of a great tool such as Louvolite’s Virtual Books is an absolute must; as an old mentor used to say to me, DO IT NOW.”

 

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