Conceptual image. Isolated on white
Conceptual image. Isolated on white

The prevailing wisdom is that contractors who sell windows should also be selling entry doors. It’s basic “you want fries with that burger?” sales logic. But the reality is anything but.

Just ask John Gorman, president of the Save Energy Company. “Everyone says it’s a natural tie-in to windows so I relented and got into it. But there’s so many more headaches than there are with windows,” Gorman said. “So you often wonder whether it’s worth your time.”

On the sales end, those headaches range from too many to not enough options to manufacturer bottlenecks to order mistakes, especially compared with the relative ease and simplicity of selling windows.

“Doors take a lot of work for not a lot of pay,” Gorman said. “You think you have the door sold and then the manufacturer says, ‘Oh, we can’t make that particular size with that particular glass.’ So then you have to go back and go through the whole process again. Just selling the damn thing is hard enough but then you order it and the ship date is two weeks or three weeks late. Then it arrives and there’s chips in the paint. It’s endless.”

Recently, Gorman was at a conference and the subject of selling entry doors came up and the whole room seemed to agree that it’s a problem. “It was like, ‘See, it’s not just us,’” Gorman said. Apparently, that sentiment is more than just anecdotal. Consider the sales of Window World, one of the nation’s largest exterior remodeling companies. Currently, the company sells about 10,000 to 11,000 entry doors per year. But based on sales of other exterior products, that number should be closer to 30,000, according to Steve Newton, the company’s vice president of national products.

“We’re getting better at it, but we’re still not at the level we should be,” Newton said.

So why do contractors struggle so much with this one particular product? The answer boils down to one main problem: entry doors take more skill to sell.

But some firms are discovering how to address that challenge. And they say contractors who can do the same stand to earn substantial rewards.

“Our customers will [complain] about a $1,000 garage door, but they won’t bat an eye about and $8,000 to $10,000 entry door,” said Bollin, president of TOLEDO DOOR AND WINDOW.

That’s because entry doors are more than just utilitarian for most homeowners. As the first place many visitors see, the entry door serves as a calling card for people’s homes, tastes and personalities.

“The key to selling entry doors is you have to know what you’re doing. You have to build value and you have to be selling a high quality product that’s going to last a long time. People don’t mind spending money if they know it has a decent warranty and will last them a long time,” Bollin said. “They want to see something that stands out a little bit, not something that just blends and flows with the home.”

But selling homeowners the ideal doors is often where most contractors get lost. There’s so many options with doors — color, glass, style, size, transoms — that it’s easy to overwhelm customers and sales people alike. So Bollin and Newton have both settled on a simplified sales process that walks customers through basic options and builds from there. The ultimate goal: to upsell customers and grow margins.

For example, Window World uses a 10-point questionnaire to identify what door and glass package customers have now and what they might be interested in as an upgrade. From there, sales people can show them a two-page brochure that fits with those styles. Sales people can also take pictures of existing doors and plug in new door styles to virtually show how it will look.

“You can sell a much higher end door if you allow the customer to know what the options are and let them build it to their specifications because now they’ve gained ownership into that build,” Newton said. “But a lot of guys will drop down to a cheap door with very little margin because they’re less confident and they’re just trying to sell a door system on price alone.”

Bollin said his sales people have that confidence because they receive regular training from his manufacturer and stay up to date on the latest offerings. “You can’t just grab a brochure and price list and go to someone’s house and sell them a door,” he said. “You have to know doors. You have to know glass families. You have to ask the right questions. You have to talk to them about budget and you start building a door from there.”

Bollin has also found that having a showroom is crucial to selling high-ticket entry doors. He devotes around 9,000 square feet to his showrooms and updates it regularly. “A showroom is a huge investment,” he said. “But if you’re trying to sell off brochures and hand samples you’ll never succeed.”