By Jim Cory. Kip Lee and his wife, Sandy, are the ideal sunroom franchisees. Lee worked for various retailers' sell/furnish/install programs and several sunroom operations before opening his own company, Coastal Empire Exteriors, three years ago in Savannah, Ga. Beginning as a dealer for Four Seasons -- the sunroom industry's largest manufacturer and the only company offering franchises as well as dealerships -- Lee generated $700,000 worth of sales in his first year. Now a franchisee rather than a dealer (franchisees get rebates of co-op funds of up to 5% of materials purchases to cover advertising costs), he's on track to more than double that volume this year. Lee added windows as a sideline business last March. Windows now make up 12% of Lee's business -- and that's growing, because windows make an excellent add-on sale with a sunroom.
Windows and sunrooms seem like naturally allied product lines. But while selling and marketing the products is similar, experts point out that it's easier for a sunroom dealer to enter the window market than vice versa.
Leader also points out that sunrooms are not a replacement product but an addition, which means they appeal to owners of new and older homes alike. That means diversifying into the sunroom market can make for a more stable business. Last year 50% of the Ohio Energy Contractors' $12 million volume was generated by its sunroom division.