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.

Courtesy Four Seasons Sunrooms "Window installation is a low-management process," says Brian Leader of Ohio Energy Contractors, a Columbus siding and window firm that took on sunrooms as a Temo dealer seven years ago. "A window job is in and out in a day. Sunrooms are much more complex. With a sunroom, you inherit all the problems of the house. You've got to coordinate the roof with the roofline of the house or the soffits. If they have electric utilities on the back of the house, that's required to be moved. And every municipality has a different permitting process and guidelines." But don't forget that remodelers do receive compensation for those troubles. At a retail price point of somewhere between $7,000 to $50,000 for a sunroom and related products such as patio enclosures and conservatories, a sunroom sale is often a much bigger ticket than window replacement, at similar margins to windows. "If you run 10 leads a week, you ought to be able to make three sales," Lee says. "Why not go after a $20,000 ticket?" Now Lee can and does sell both.

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.