Dave Ramsey interviews Jay Steinfeld, CEO of Blinds.com about his company's success and business philosophy.
Welcome back to our small business and money special hour. I'd like to introduce you to a man who started out with a dream and not much else, and grew his window covering business into a fifty-million dollar enterprise. You know, it's one of the beauties of my life these days, I get to meet people who have done things like this, and they are pretty incredible. I was on a conference call dealing with some advertising things, and blinds.com is somebody that I endorse on the radio side of my world, and I started hearing the story of this company and I went, "Dude, you gotta come on Fox Business and tell this story. This is inspiring to everybody who every started thinking about a business. So Jay's not out here peddling a book, he's not out here as a media mogul of some kind, he's a guy who started a deal in his garage and it blew up because he's a great leader and has done a great job of marketing above all else.
Jay Steinfeld, the founder of Blinds.com, one of the fastest growing online companies in the country today. Jay, welcome man, it's good to have you. Thanks Dave, great to be here. Well I'm honored to talk with you man and let you share this story with some of our guys. Alright. Thank you. Let's go back to our phone conversation a little bit. We were having that kinda caused this interview to happen. How do you do this? I mean you started how long ago in your garage, and where is blinds.com now? Tell us the story. Well, we started in 1993. I had a store that I owned with my wife, and the store would take us to people's homes to help them measure and install and decide on the best blinds, and I had read a story about the world wide web, and decided I would look into it. I'm always tinkering and experimenting with marketing. And this is before people knew what email was. Certainly way before broadband. And just set up a website as a brochure for my store, and then three years later, 1996, with just $3000, decided to sell things online. It looked like maybe you could sell product online, and in my garage early in the morning before going out to the store, I would work on the marketing; late at night, I would work on the marketing, and during the day, would be going to people's homes and selling through the store. If somebody happen to call--this is back in 96--they would call to the showroom, and my showroom manager (there were only two people working for me there) would call me on my cell phone in my van. I'd be driving through Houston, Texas. Pull off the side of the road, put my calculator in the front seat, my order forms, price list, and call the customer back because as they say, all our customer service representatives are busy, and I would be the customer service rep. I would call them back from the car, and maybe make a sale once or twice a day. And that's basically what I did for a year or two by myself in my van. From there, I then hired my wife, and then one employee, and then decided I should do this full time because I was making more money selling blinds online than I was in my store. I sold the stores and in 2001 went fulltime online. And now we are the number one online retailer of blinds in the world. And you're the top 200, according to internet retailer list, of all e-commerce companies. That's pretty strong. Thank you. That's correct.
Pretty amazing. And so you go from your garage to $50 million bucks, and now I'm breaking it down. I mean, really most of this is happening in 3 or 4 years, hasn't it? Umm. You said 2006 is when you went full-time online, right? About 2001. Oh. Is when we went fulltime. Oh, okay. And then it's been a slow, slow process. I've made a couple of acquisitions of competitors over the years, and that's helped. But the main thing is working on the customer and focusing on providing the best value that we could and making it as easy as possible for people to buy blinds. Blinds are not the easiest to buy--they are more complex than people realize. Um, there is wood, vinyl, all the different kinds. They can go horizontally, vertically. What we try to do is make this complex buying decision easy and that's really what our forte is, to make complex customizable products easy to by. So you think that's why blinds.com is so popular? Well, besides from having the lowest price, yes. I mean, if you were to go into a big box store and try to get help, it's hard to do.
With us, you can call 7 days a week from 7am to 9 o'clock, have no pressure, read everything you want online before you even call us, and in fact, over 80% of the people who buy never even call us. They get all the information that they need online, they see all of the brands that they want, they can compare prices. We have seven or eight thousand online reviews from actual customers. We post all of the reviews online. So people can not just see what we have to say, but what other customers say about the products, make their own decision, and compare price. We have a 100% satisfaction guarantee. And even with that, only less than half a percent of the people who buy from us return their product for any reason whatsoever. So. [talking over each other] Over half the business is repeat. We have about 70 employees. And doing about 50 million [talking over each other] a year that's pretty incredible. So you've been able to, because there is just tremendous efficiency here with the internet being the primary push, like 90 some odd percent of your push, that efficiency allows you to drive down those prices, then.
I think one of the keys to any business is to keep your overhead low. Personal overhead, as I know you talk about a lot. But I think it's also true with business. You can keep your overhead low, then you can spend your money on what will be in the best interest of the customer. Filters, so people can find their product. Training for customer service representatives. Anything that the customer will feel that is customer facing, that's where you put your money. And that's what we do. And by having low overhead, we can afford to pay above average wages to our employees, and there is no commissions that we pay, so yeah, I think the business model is definitely a competitive advantage that we have against most of our competition. So I'm out there in my garage right now, and I've got Fox Business Network and I'm watching Jay and Dave talk about this, and I've got my little hobby thing that I'm thinking about a business idea. Thinking about moving it out on the ebay store and maybe eventually onto its own website. Umm, what is Jay tell that guy, that's watching me right now? Jay: I think the first thing you need to do is think of your business not as an ecommerce business but just as a business. Focus on your product or your service first, and make sure that you have some compelling value that is going to provide some sort of relief to the pain that your customer is experiencing now. Make sure that the value that they are going to be paying for that service is real. The internet, the ecommerce aspect of it is really just a conduit for finding customers and for conducting the business. The true essence of that business has got to be with your product and service. I would focus on that, number one. I would keep you overhead as low as possible, and definitely shore up yourself because everybody's got weaknesses. And you must find good people to work with you. And find those people that are either going to be employees, or that are gonna be outsourced to mitigate your weaknesses. And work on those things that you're best at. But I think the key is really focusing on the customer. What should you do that the customer will believe is real value, so that you'll shine above everyone else.
Dave: Okay, I'm getting ready to hire my first person. How do I find those good people? Jay: That is probably the hardest question to answer, is to find good people. Contacts is good, you can run ads but I think networking is probably the best way. Talking to people. We use social media right now to a great extent. We're on facebook, twitter, and we talk about that, linkedin, we're using social media for recruiting. We use our existing employees to find people. We go out to stores; I found many employees by just going to other stores and finding people who provide me with outstanding service, and if they have, I tell them, "hey, you've got an interview right now," and try to find great service oriented people from other locations. Dave: I learned that when I was a kid. My dad owned a real estate company and we were, I was probably 10 years old and we were eating at a nice steakhouse one night and we had a waitress from heaven. This woman was unbelievable. He hired her the next day, and she sold a million dollars worth of real estate the first year in the business, back in the day when a million dollars was a lot of real estate. Jay: That's exactly right. Dave: He found somebody who is on fire for life and just plugged them into a better vehicle than waiting tables. And that's what you're looking for. Jay: Exactly. You're looking for people who really have empathy for helping other people, who who don't mind taking direction, and who are especially looking to improve. We've got a few core values, one is improve continuously, and that's really one of the basic basis of out success, is that we're never satisfied with anything we've done. If you're the best, that's not good enough, there is always some aspect of your business that can be improved, and you find people who have that kind of core value, who are really passionate about improving, that are looking at themselves and business objectively as to finding ways that they can improve, to experiment without fear of failure, another big core value of ours. If you can find people with those two core values, who like to experiment and who like to improve themselves without the fear of failure, then I think you've got a person, at least in my judgment, of the kind of person who you want to work for you. Dave: Well, in small business, we do not have the luxury of having people on our team who are just there to work a J-O-B. They're there to collect a check and do as little as they can and go back home. We don't have the luxury of keeping those kind of people around. We've got to have people you and I do, business our size, that have to have buy in. I mean, they gotta be sold on what we're doing, and into those core values, and have emotional ownership in the organization. And your team obviously has that. Jay: That's true. I think so. We work on that all of the time. I can't say that we doing as good a job as I would like. We try to overcommunicate those kind of values to people. We have a board at our office that says, "Improve continuously. How I've improved today?" and people just go to the whiteboard and post something that they're doing. It could even be tennis lessons, singing lessons, something that they're doing personally, just to show that they're active and improving themselves. Because we want there to be a little peer pressure, and also for people in the organization to see that we really do mean this about improving themselves. Because if we improve ourselves, we'll improve the experience for the customer. It's all about raising the bar up to wow every single customer through that experience. Dave: And you really don't have an option to do it halfway. There's not enough margin for error in small business to, uhh, you know, as you are growing this thing out of your garage, you couldn't afford to lose 50% of your customers to crummy service. You had to make every one of them happy. I know we did. Jay: That's absolutely true, and these days it's even more important because one unhappy customer can tell tens of thousands of people on social media. It's not just word of mouth now, it's word of web. So you have to be really, really careful to make sure that everybody's happy. And we go out of our way to do it, we don't always do it but we sure, that's certainly the mission, to be the best in the world at it, and when we don't we admit it and try to learn from it so that we don't make the same mistake twice. Dave: Well Jay it's inspiring story you've lived brother. I'm proud of you. Jay: Thank you. Dave: Good stuff, man. And thank you Jay: Thank you Dave: for joining us and telling everybody about all of this. We appreciate you hanging around. Jay: Thanks for having me, Dave. Dave: Very cool. Jay Steinfeld, the president and owner and founder of blinds.com. Again, grew this from his garage to a $50 million dollar company. Interesting thing he said there.
Very few ecommerce only ideas work. Most ideas are good ideas, and ecommerce is a way that they take them to market. Hmm. That's a take away for me right there. I'm going to pencil that into the Dave book. So check out his website, you're going to love it. And you can check out his product, I'm an endorser of it at Blinds.com. Lots more calls and emails coming right up, don't go anywhere. You're watching a special small business and money themed hour on the Dave Ramsey show right here on the Fox Business Network [music].