Technology opens doors for growing Zionsville window dealer

Michael Foit was an aspiring actor and part-time bartender when he discovered his unlikely calling: selling replacement windows.

His interest piqued by a part-time job in the Cincinnati area, he spent a long drive back from the East Coast thinking about ways to fix what he saw as industry-wide problems: questionable sales tactics, dubious quality standards and poor customer service.

More than 15 years later, his Zionsville-based Apex Energy Solutions is reporting double-digit annual growth and Foit has licensed his trademarked “Flipside” selling strategy and proprietary technology to independent operators in more than a dozen markets.

“I want to cultivate that entrepreneurial spirit in others,” said Foit, 44 and a resident of the Village of WestClay in Carmel.

Total sales at the Apex-branded businesses approached $20 million in 2013—7 percent of which flows to the parent company through licensing fees—and Foit said business is on track to increase by about 50 percent this year. (Sales in the company-run Indianapolis and Fort Wayne markets are expected to reach $6 million in sales in 2014 year, up from $4.4 million.)

Apex has been on an upward trajectory since 2008, despite recession-related weakness in the national remodeling market. The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University reported a slight uptick in home-improvement spending in 2012, and researchers expected pent-up demand to push sales past $124 billion last year.

Foit credits his unusual business model, which eschews traditional—and expensive—mass marketing in favor of face-to-face solicitations. It’s a bit more sophisticated than the vacuum cleaner salesmen of yesteryear, but the idea is the same: Don’t wait for customers to come to you.

Door-to-door sales still carry a stigma, Foit admits, but he believes a renaissance is coming as the Millennial generation comes of age.

Realtor Jan Teal is a convert. After a year of soliciting bids for replacement windows for her Geist-area home, she opened the door to Apex and hasn’t looked back.

“I normally would never buy anything from someone who knocks on my door,” said Teal, who has worked in the real estate industry for more than 30 years.

But Apex provided a reference from one of her neighbors, and the quoted price on the triple-paned, energy-efficient windows was an astonishing 65 percent lower than one of her previous bids for a similar product. The process exceeded her expectations from start to finish.

“It’s hard for me to be happy with home contractors anymore,” Teal said, citing years of bad experiences, “but they really have gone above and beyond the call of duty.”

Apex employs technology both to find customers and educate them. Equipped with a proprietary smart-phone application that tracks past purchases (and firm “nos”), its sales partners three levels of possible clients.

Owners of so-called “promotional” homes in highly visible locations are offered the steepest discount (about 58 percent off retail prices) to be among the first in their areas to make a purchase. They also are asked to share utility bills to before and after installation to demonstrate the energy savings.

“They’re like a billboard for us,” Foit said.

Next up are homes that are losing energy—determined through a thermal imaging test conducted from outside the house—and finally a “cleanup” sweep through the neighborhood.

During the initial “door pitch,” interested homeowners can schedule a follow-up appointment where they’ll get to explore a touch-screen presentation Foit developed to replace the dog-eared flip books many sales pros still carry. Among its features: a three-dimensional illustration highlighting the windows’ design.

The interactive presentation is much more effective than an old-school sales spiel, Foit said, calling it a paradigm shift for the direct-sales industry by making customers an active participant in the sale.

“We want to change the way people make decisions in their homes,” he said, likening the multimedia presentation to a high-tech, adult pop-up book.

Apex has a decided technological advantage over most of the dealers that sell Associated Materials Inc.’s Alside windows, said Brad Beard, chief commercial officer for the Ohio-based manufacturer.

Not surprisingly, it’s also among Alside’s top accounts in terms of sales volume.

“They have had unprecedented, sustained sales growth for 10-plus years,” Beard said.

He credits Apex’ technology, professionalism and integrity—all of which go a long way toward earning the company high customer-satisfaction ratings. The company’s singular focus on energy-efficient windows also helps.

And Apex practices what it preaches, investing $1.5 million about three years ago to renovate and expand a 1924 farmhouse on Michigan Road in Zionsville, transforming it into a LEED-certified “living showroom” and corporate headquarters.

Indeed, Foit wants to lead by example, polishing the industry’s often-tarnished image one house at a time.

“That’s what excites me the most,” he said. “Very few people have a chance to reinvent their industry, to change the way it is perceived. We’re doing that, little by little.”

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