– Words by Sean Mcintyre Photography by Don Denton
A lasting lesson from the pandemic is the realization of just how important essential service providers are to our broader economy and individual lives. My dad advised relentlessly on the importance of finding a job in a “recession-proof” sector, and the pandemic era has most definitely highlighted the resilience of jobs in health care, public safety and the grocery store sector, among others.
Similar parallels can be drawn in the homebuilding and improvement sector. Not everyone needs or wants an in-home entertainment room with luxury recliners, and heated floors and towel racks aren’t necessarily the right fit for everyone. Nice to have? Definitely, but luxury items will always be overshadowed by basic necessities.
This key business principle is well appreciated by Tara Anderson, co-owner of Budget Blinds’ three Vancouver Island locations.
“As soon as the sun comes, people start calling us,” Tara says during an interview from her company’s headquarters in the Cowichan Valley. “Everybody is always going to need window coverings.”
Even if you live in a rural or remote property, far from the prying eyes of passersby and nosy neighbours, a properly sized and attractive set of household blinds is important. The proper design sets the right tone for your living space, helps control light levels and can reduce room heat on long summer days.
So much of a room’s allure is based on the lighting it receives, how that light is filtered, or how it’s diverted. Painting a room or selecting new furniture can set the right tone, but don’t offer the same flexibility that proper window coverings can provide. Likewise, lighting options can conjure a cosy look but often involve complex and costly electrical installations. With the right window covering, Tara says, you can instantly create privacy, control how much light fills the room and generally improve the look and feel of your living space. All with the flick of a wrist.
Tara and co-owner David Anderson have owned and operated Budget Blinds locations in the Cowichan Valley and Nanaimo since 2016, expanding to the Ladysmith location in 2018. The business partners had owned and operated two Budget Blinds franchises in the Lower Mainland prior to their move to the island, eventually selling them in 2021 to focus on the Vancouver Island operations.
Looking back over the past five years, Tara says, nobody could have predicted the dramatic changes the island region has encountered since she and her family arrived here from the Lower Mainland. The island’s real estate market has experienced an unprecedented boom as prices for existing properties steadily rise and new builds of all shapes and sizes are ongoing to satisfy the flow of newcomers to the region.
The pandemic also had house-bound people staring longingly through their windows at the outdoors. While awaiting an easing of lockdown restrictions, Tara says, many islanders took the opportunity to update and upgrade their living spaces, and window coverings were a popular choice for home improvement projects.
“We’ve been booming through COVID,” she says. “People weren’t travelling, but they were realizing what projects needed to be done—and here we are,” she says. “I think most noticeable here [since I moved to the island in 2016] is how much building there has been. We haven’t seen any slowing down and we really appreciate that. For us, we have been very fortunate to have cornered a lot of the builders’ market.”
The company’s success goes beyond favourable market conditions. Early on, Tara made a commitment to hit the ground running as a way to introduce herself to her neighbours while spreading word about Budget Blinds. There were Rotary meetings, youth soccer matches, charity golf tournaments, food festivals and so many other mornings, afternoons and evenings devoted to creating the kind of face-to-face relationship that makes or breaks a locally owned, small business. She streamlined the company’s image and strove to make it a household name in homes from the Cowichan Valley to the Comox Valley and beyond.
“It really is grassroots marketing because it is the ground-level stuff that gets you going, and that’s what we’ve been doing for the first four or five years. Marketing is expensive and, until we were able to afford the type of marketing that’s required, we were out there, feet to the pavement, knocking on doors, doing door hangers and doing all these things to make ourselves seen and known. And it does help.”
Tara says having a local connection is something many people overlook when considering purchasing more generic, mass-produced items from larger stores. Having someone with you who can walk you through the various options related to blinds, shades, shutters and drapes can be a massive help to make decisions a whole lot easier.
When a Budget Blinds consultant meets with a client online or in person at their home or office, they discuss details of a given project, sort out the vision and outline what’s possible within a specific budget. When a general plan is created, the consultant whips out the measuring tape to size up the scene before delivering a digital quote on the spot that covers everything from shipping and delivery to installation.
“There’s a much bigger selection than people think. Everyone comes in and does the, ‘Oh, it’s just blinds,’” Tara says. “When people are thinking about aesthetics in their home, we do drapery and shutters. It’s not just faux-wood blinds that you slap up. There are many people whose window coverings are part of their decor, and we want to help build that room for them as designers who can help along the way.”