Donald Franks is the owner of Shade One Awnings, a Toms River, N.J.-based awning company that specializes in residential and commercial awning sales, service and installation. Franks started the company in 2002 and has since set himself apart from competitors by focusing on motorized retractable awnings. Here, Franks talks about how he got his start, the challenge of marketing in today’s Internet age and his predictions for the future of the shade industry.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN THE COMPANY/INDUSTRY?
I got Shade One Awnings started by subcontracting every retractable awning installation I could find from other awning companies, dealers, designers, contractors and homeowners throughout New Jersey and New York City. A few years later, SunSetter® invited me into their early dealer program. I recognized the opportunity before my competition and remained loyal. If SunSetter gave me a lead, I sold a SunSetter awning. 2016 marks our tenth year as a SunSetter dealer.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU FACE?
Getting leads and closing leads will always be a major challenge in my crowded market. Generating a lead in today’s Internet age is a literal web. Untangling that web can take many hours in a foreign land spoken in a foreign language … backlinks, banners, Bing and blogs. Then there are the acronyms … CPC (cost per click), CTR (click through rate) and CTA (call to action). I have competitors in New Jersey that have been in business for more than 100 years. And if they don’t learn Google™ analytics, that will all be history.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST REWARDS?
The biggest reward so far has been growing Shade One Awnings to the size that allowed my wife, Robin, to leave her position as a banking executive and stay home with our three young children, Sarah, Alex and Jack.
WHAT DO YOU ANTICIPATE FOR YOUR INDUSTRY IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS? TEN?
In the next five years I expect all motorized awnings and shades to be solar powered. In the next 10 years, I hope all shade structures and awnings will incorporate photovoltaic technology and become the ultimate solar panel. Can awnings generate electricity to homes and businesses? Will we ever see a solar panel in Forest Green Fancy? How about a shade sail that can power a home? I don’t think it is that far off.
WHY DID YOU JOIN IFAI? WHICH SERVICES/BENEFITS DO YOU USE THE MOST?
The annual IFAI Expo is something I attend every year and is what inspired me to become a member. Just the scale of it reminds me that I am a part of an important and successful industry. I try to get everything I can out of it and I sign up for every education class that applies to my field or interests me. After class, I hit the show floor looking for new vendors. I take meetings with my existing vendors. I am all over the place, attending campfire sessions and product demonstrations. I participate. I ask questions. When it comes time to pay for the Expo trip I always ask myself, “Will I sell more awnings this year if I go to this show?” The answer is always yes.
WHAT ARE YOUR HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK?
With three young children, my hobbies are little plastic building blocks, soccer balls and coloring books. They are at the age where every day is a new adventure and everything is a learning experience. Everyone says to enjoy these younger years, and then they remind us how fast they grow up. My wife and I are listening and making sure we don’t miss a thing.
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
The best advice I received was from Sal the carpenter. I was a young man and his helper. He told me to pick one thing and stick to it, become an expert at it. That one thing turned out to be motorized retractable awnings. Thanks Sal!