Selling wood windows calls for a different kind of marketing. Just ask Tim Murphy. About 95% of the work done by Tim Murphy Carpentry, Chicago, involves replacing windows. And not just one, two, or even 10 windows. Murphy shoots for jobs that involve a minimum of 50 openings. In its 15 years of business, the company has developed a healthy niche changing out the windows in large apartment buildings. Many are located in older, prestigious neighborhoods on Chicago's North Side, and most are condominiums. Typically, when the need arises, the buildings establish a committee of condo owners charged with negotiating for the replacement of every window so as to ensure consistency.

Let the product do the talking

Having staked out this big-ticket niche, Murphy hired a marketing consultant two years ago to help him get jobs. At her suggestion, a local production company put together a 15-minute video. The video shows a crew changing a window, sending the clear message that not only is wood beautiful and appropriate but that the company's installers will leave building interiors virtually unchanged.

However, the video -- made for under $10,000 -- is only one marketing tool. Tim Murphy Carpentry posts job signs and takes out ads in community newspapers, inviting anyone interested in a tour to visit a current work site. To drum up more leads, Murphy also joined the Institute for Real Estate Managers.

Tim Murphy Carpentry's niche is wood window replacement.
Courtesy Tim Murphy Carpentry, Inc. Tim Murphy Carpentry's niche is wood window replacement.

Committees of condo owners charged with selecting the contractor who will change out a building's windows can spend as much as a year reviewing product and installation options before hiring a company. To provide a hands-on demonstration, Tim Murphy Carpentry constructed a full-scale masonry opening that the company hauls to presentations. "We use brick paneling, but it takes two guys to carry it," Murphy says.

"We put that on a table and walk them through the installation," he adds. Workers install a vinyl window, then an insert, then a wood window, so that the committees can compare the options. "We had the video, and then I had to do a presentation, which is new to me," Murphy says. "I realized I needed some props."

Spread the word

Half the work done by Northbrook, Ill., contractor Maurice Forde's company, Forde Windows & Remodeling, consists of window installations -- most of them wood windows. By far the largest percentage of Forde's leads come from referrals from suppliers, such as Lee Lumber, or manufacturer Marvin Windows.

In addition, about one in 10 leads are generated through a newsletter the remodeler mails four times a year. Forde says he recently joined a networking group consisting of one each of different types of local businesses. As a lead source, it's "starting to pay off." Forde -- whose window replacements usually involve 10 or more openings -- says consumers typically have little idea what they want.

"The two things I hear most are energy savings and quality products," he says. Often, clients have been to manufacturer Web sites but have no understanding of window technology or window construction. "They've heard some buzz words like 'energy savings.' They know what it is, but not what it means."

Ray Westmoreland, owner of Wood Windows of Boise, in Idaho, agrees that the wood window buyer is a hands-on buyer. He points out that, given the expense, "it's pretty important that [clients] come to the showroom. If they're looking at wood windows, they're a picky buyer in the first place." Westmoreland recently printed a brochure, a first for his company. The pamphlet features highlights of the company's 23 years installing windows. "Invest in quality and enjoy the view," it says.