Check some boxes, scribble a few notes on the bottom of the page. Get a signature, rip a page off a pad, leave the carbon with the client. That’s the way a lot of renovation and repair jobs get sold, and that’s the way they used to get sold at The Glass Guru, a California-based franchise operation that specializes in fixing windows and doors, or, if appropriate, replacing them.

Up until two months ago every estimate provided by every salesperson at The Glass Guru’s now 50-plus stores did exactly this. But a year ago the company began working to develop a system that would digitally replicate existing estimating forms, along with product and service options and contingencies, and resize them to fit on a small screen.

The goal was an entirely paperless sales presentation and, if the deal was sold, customer transaction. Sales reps use tablet computers such as iPads or small laptops such as Netbooks (available from Best Buy) to record measurements and other information in fill-in-the-blanks format, calculate job costs, and also to reference online videos or other information as a closing tool, via wireless Internet. Customers can choose either to have the digital proposal e-mailed to them or have the salesperson print it off a printer in his truck.

E-mail the Proposal

Since the system actually came on-stream 60 days ago, the 10 Glass Guru stores serving as guinea pigs have found that 80% of customers want their invoice e-mailed to them, the remaining 20% request a paper copy. The whole idea was to create a system that is “simpler and less redundant,” says Dan Frey, founder of the original Glass Guru store in Sacramento and the franchise, which operates in 13 states.

Less redundant because now the paper proposal or sales agreement no longer has to be manually entered into the company’s database at the office. Wireless estimating eliminates a step in processing transactions. The information collected at the point of sale, Frey points out, is real-time, i.e., immediate and immediately available both to the franchise owner and The Glass Guru corporate office. Frey reports that the Glass Guru franchises using wireless estimating with their iPads and Netbooks close sales at a higher rate, a benefit also reported by the handful of home improvement companies such as Hullco, in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Yankee Home Improvement, in Northhampton, Mass., that now use tablet computers — in their case iPads — in every sales presentation.

Broader Shift

The Glass Guru began planning its transition to wireless estimating a year ago, as the operation hit 50 member stores. Wireless estimating is one part of a larger move to shift the franchise operation’s entire client database online, so that every store is using the same online business management software and every transaction at every franchise is automatically uploaded and available to corporate management.

That makes it easier for the franchisor to manage and plan for every aspect of its operations, from finances to marketing. “We can see what is happening in real time with every store across our organization,” Frey says, “as opposed to waiting for the QuickBooks report at the end of the month.” Frey says that with every store using the new business management software, and the testing phase of wireless estimating now complete, all Glass Guru stores will be doing wireless estimating in the next 30 to 60 days. “We recognize the trends,” he says, “and we want to be on the front end of it not the back end of it.” —Jim Cory, editor,REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR.