In the last couple of years, a lot people have been forced out of their jobs and into self-employment. Jay Steinfeld can certainly identify. When he was fired from his CPA job in the late 1980s, he went to work with his wife in their drapery design store. At that point, most people would not have described his career as successful.
But, the day Steinfeld went into business for himself, he believed he was already a success.
“Success is not about achieving a certain point,” he said. “It’s about being on that road. The steps you take to reach that point is success.”
After 24 years on that road, Steinfeld is the CEO of Blinds.com, the largest online retailer of window coverings in the world. Last year, the company did $75 million in sales with 110 employees.
Blinds.com Born on a Borrowed Computer
When Steinfeld started selling drapes and blinds, it was 1987. There was no Internet—he didn’t even own a computer! So how did this modestly successful brick-and-mortar business become the top online retailer in its field?
Much of the company’s success can be traced to two of his core values. First, he is dedicated to continuous improvement. Second, he allows himself to experiment with new ideas without fear of failure.
In 1993, Steinfeld put those values to the test when he decided to try an experiment he hoped would improve his business.
“By that time, I’d heard about the Internet,” he said. “I thought it could be a good way to promote my business.”
He paid $1,500 to launch his website—the first in the window-covering industry.
Three years later, he launched another website—this one costing $3,000—that would allow him to sell his product online.
“That’s all (the money) I’ve put into it,” Steinfeld said. “It was just me, in the garage with a borrowed computer.”
By the way, he borrowed that computer from one of his manufacturers. Blinds.com now accounts for a third of that manufacturer’s business—not a bad investment on their part!
For years after that, Steinfeld built the business in both the real world and the cyber world.
“I did all the marketing, all the SEO—even social media,” he said. “Of course, it wasn’t called social media, then.”
Early in the morning and late at night, Steinfeld posted comments on news groups and bulletin boards, answering people’s questions about widow coverings and establishing himself as a credible industry resource. During the day, he was in his van, selling his product face-to-face.
Eventually, he started hiring employees, and in 2001, he closed the stores and began selling exclusively online.
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Growing the Business Debt-Free
Steinfeld agrees with Dave on another key factor in Blinds.com’s success—get and stay debt-free.
“It’s been our goal to grow inch by inch, never spending beyond our means,” Steinfeld said. “We’ve done it all debt-free!”
Because of the company’s careful planning, Steinfeld said his company has continued to grow while most of the industry has suffered a significant drop in sales over the last two years.
“We’ve made some acquisitions, some distribution deals and built up our technology with the money we’d saved up,” he explained.
Core Values and Everyday Life
You’ve seen how Steinfeld’s core values changed his business, as well as the window-covering world. Can dedication to constant improvement and overcoming fear of failure change your life as well?
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Absolutely! But Steinfeld knows from experience, the first step is the hardest part.
“The same can be said about getting out of debt,” he said. “You just have to start, and you’d be surprised what might happen.
“If I think of success as achieving one particular thing,” he added, “I’ll see myself as unsuccessful until I reach that point.”
Instead, Steinfeld said to make small, incremental changes—baby steps—toward your goal, and count each step as a success.
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