Before Stephanie Vanderbilt started her company, she was a special education teacher. Turns out, working with homeowners isn’t all that different. With both, Vanderbilt says, it’s all about appreciating the audience.

“When you’re teaching a special needs child, you have to think past what you see. What are the issues you have to get past to reach them and how can you identify with them?” Vanderbilt says. “I related that to homeowners. We’re homeowners ourselves. We understand there’s fear about renovation. So we made sure we took those fears and built trust.”

How? Once again, through educating customers. Vanderbilt points to Coastal Windows’ A+ rating on Angie’s List and top awards from industry trade groups. But she says the company’s six core values really win customers over—and teach them how she’s different from the rest. “We don’t take advantage of people,” she says. “We really tailor solutions to them.”

That approach seems to be working. Vanderbilt says Coastal Windows has exceeded its sales goals every year and this year is on pace for 25% growth. That would make it a $4 million company.


-- As part of her education efforts, Vanderbilt writes a “Dear Abby” style column for local papers called At Home With Stephanie in which readers submit questions. “I just use the knowledge I have to educate the community,” she says. “We get leads from that all the time.”

-- Vanderbilt is always asking the question: Who has our next customer? That means she’s looking to partner with other companies such as solar panel installers, chimney sweeps, and energy auditors. “You have to imagine the customer journey—how they get to you and the companies that can bring them to you,” she says. “But it’s not easy. They’re not just going to give you that business.”

- Vanderbilt makes sure to keep her installers busy even during the winter offseason. For example, last winter she kept her roofers busy removing snow. While they were there, they did a full roof inspection, which led to a lot of new roofs. For window replacements, she pays homeowners’ heating bills to get past the reluctance of opening their homes in the winter.