For most of us, retirement means saving in our 401(k), putting aside extra cash (if we have any), betting on Social Security and, if we are lucky, collecting a pension.
Court Overholt, owner and president of Fairfax-based Window Decor, is late to the retirement game. He devoted the lion’s share of his earnings to raising and schooling his five children.
At 58, the small-business owner finds himself wrestling with the challenge of turning his business into an asset that can see him through his Golden Years.
He recently hired a financial consultant to try to put a value on Window Decor, a thriving enterprise that has provided a nice life — and plenty of education — for him and his family.
“The goal is to basically see the business through the eyes of an investor,” Overholt said. “How could someone buy my business and then get a steady paycheck as the business continues to perform and allows a new owner to take a salary but not have to work 80 hours a week?”
Many small-business owners are in the same boat. Figuring out how to pass along a family business you have spent your life building is not easy. How do you put a value on it? How do you extract that value? Do you sell it to your children? An employee? Employees? Or do you hold on to it, pull back and collect a dividend while you sail into retirement?
“I am trying to make it worth something,” Overholt said. “Our goal is to automate more so that in 10 years, it’s more turnkey.”
Overholt’s company, headquartered in a Fairfax showroom, sold nearly $1.7 million in window shades, blinds and shutters last year. Nearly all of the products are manufactured by Hunter Douglas, a Netherlands-based high-end maker of window treatments.
Overholt has done well in his niche. I estimate he makes between $150,000 and $200,000 a year, which he declined to confirm. He is rolling his profit, estimated at around $50,000-plus last year, into the company to expand, hire and, ultimately, enhance Window Decor’s value.
Overholt’s timing to jump in the window-treatment business was spot on. Window Decor has ridden the Northern Virginia construction boom for more than two decades. His business lies smack in the middle of one of the wealthiest suburbs in the nation.
He makes the business go, which is part of the problem he faces in putting a value on it without him. Last year, he personally closed $900,000 in sales, more than half the total revenue. He installed about $250,000 in window treatments, or about 15 percent.
“I have been chef, cook and bottle washer,” said Overholt, who frequently works six or seven days a week. “I am installing, selling and ordering everything.”
Window Decor has four full-time employees and a van. His daughter, Courtney, 25, is joining the firm this spring. He is also looking to hire another full-time salesman.
Overholt said the business, so far at least, has withstood the onslaught of the Internet.
“We have stayed clear of being a victim of online technology,” he said. “My business is very touchy feely and hard to get without putting hands on the product.”
Most sales begin in the showroom, where people first see the product. But the deals are closed in the client’s home, which is why his Lexus hatchback is piled with window and shutter samples.
“People call us to come to their house or business,” he said. “You bring samples and they make their decisions there.”
Overholt has been careful not to expand too quickly and take on more employees and overhead than he can afford. The vast majority of installations are made within 20 miles of his Fairfax showroom. Window Decor comes to the District occasionally, and pushes farther into the Northern Virginia suburbs if the job warrants it.
The jobs range from $500 to $10,000, with the average around $3,000. The company makes about 600 sales a year. Residential sales are about $1.3 million of sales, or 77 percent. The rest is commercial. Overholt said his mission over the next decade is to grow the commercial side and boost total residential and commercial sales to $3 million.
He estimates that he has sold $30 million worth of shades, blinds and shutters over the past 25 years, catering to a core of around 1,500 customers. About 70 percent of his customers are previous clients and referrals.
Like most consumer businesses, the key is a personal touch that keeps customers coming back. (I heard about Window Decor from one longtime client.)
For example, Overholt recently swallowed $1,000 in costs to help fix a problem for a longtime customer who has spent $90,000 with him. He also ate $2,500 to redo a job for a customer who complained that too much sunlight was squeezing through the outer edges of the window.
As Overholt puts it: “The business is about keeping customers happy and fixing problems.”
How do you get into the window treatment business?
Overholt, a direct descendant of the founder of Old Overholt rye whiskey, wasn’t born into it. He jumped into the window treatment business without knowing anything about it.
In 1986, he and his wife were living in Centreville, Va. Overholt was sick of commuting to Landover, Md., every day to a finance job. He attended a one-week franchising show in Florida, and returned committed to a new career working on windows.
In November 1987, he launched his Window Works franchise from scratch. His father loaned him $60,000, which Overholt paid back over two years.
He rented space for $2,300 a month in a Fairfax shopping center owned by A.J. Dwoskin. He bought a van, spent $30,000 on Yellow Pages advertising and waited for phone calls. Like most small-business operators, he was occasionally a nervous wreck.
“It was one kitchen table sale at a time,” he said. “I would literally stay up at night sweating, and thinking, ‘Oh, my God. How am I going to do this?’ ”
But he did do it. He took home $50,000 the first year and in a decade he was over $1 million. He shed the franchise affiliation and has grown the business to where it is today, save for the sales he lost during the Great Recession of 2008.
Overholt sees his next mission as growing the company to $3 million in sales, and turning it into a retirement vehicle. He may not have much saved for retirement, but he doesn’t regret the $1 million he spent on private schools, college educations and postgraduate degrees for his children.
Besides, he loves working.
“I want to retire at 68 or 70, but even then I will come in for a few hours,” he said. “I like being in the game. If I had nothing to do all day, I would be dead in 10 years.”