There's nothing like being shown the light. If you work in the blinds-and-drapery business, that should come with the territory. But on Friday's episode of "Undercover Boss," Chad Hallock, CEO of Budget Blinds, the country's largest window-covering franchisor, fought enlightenment as long as he could.
"I take it very personally when [my employee] starts disagreeing with the way corporate spends its advertising [money]," Hallock told the camera while defending a national advertising strategy for his company's 800 franchises. "I don't think I am defensive. I think I know what I am talking about. I've got incredible logic and rationale to support the decisions we make."
Hallock, pretending to be "Tom Robbins," an owner of a cast-iron business on a phony reality show called "Second Chances," dismissed critiques from an employee named Keith, citing Keith's performance as a Budget Blinds' salesman. His numbers "aren't stellar," he said. In fact, despite his 10-year's experience, Keith's sales approach seemed a bit lethargic -- at least from what viewers saw on the show.
"Would you see yourself as a little more casual?" Keith asked a client, as if he were a therapist, and not a pitchman trying to close a deal. His sales visit took hours, and the clients were left unsatisfied. "I need someone to tell me what to do," one customer said.
"Keith's problem was that he didn't know how to consult," Hallock said during an interview with AOL Jobs. "There comes a time when the customer wants to know what you think." So Hallock initially paid little attention to Keith's complaints that the Chicago-area franchises should have greater control over advertising money, as well as the ability to choose which television stations to pitch to.
Until he heard the exact same gripe on his next site visit.
Boss Learns To Heed Criticism
"Why can't we have local control?" asked Maris, who owns one of the Chicago franchises, saying she'd like to choose where Budget Blinds billboards are placed in her market. Maris' performance was more formidable than Keith's. She owned her installation visits, seeing to it that the blinds and draperies fit perfectly while also assuring customers that they need not fret about the process. She also showed a willingness to "juice" doormen by "greasing" them: She gives them some cash to make sure they send business her way.
It wasn't surprising that Hallock stood firm in the face of a little criticism. Having been abandoned by his father during his teenage years, he was forced to work to help put food on the table. As he notes at the TV episode's start, the situation made him angry until, at age 16, his stepfather asked a question that changed his life: "What makes you think your parents owe you anything?"
By age 19, he opened his Orange County, Calif.-based blinds business which, he says, began generating $100,000 a month in sales by the end of the first year. Twenty-six years later, that figure has grown to $240 million in annual revenue. But he is still surrounded by his closest friends and twin brother, Brent, in his inner circle at Budget Blinds. Having mastered the chilled-out West Coast casual-corporate look, the group comes off as if they just walked off the set of "Swingers" while appearing at a company barbecue. Keith even tweaked Hallock for being too "Hollywood" for the company's Midwest employees.
Another 'Undercover Boss' Heartthrob
Perhaps not surprisingly, one of Hallock's site workers swooned over him. In what has become almost a weekly routine on the show, the Boss became a heartthrob. Last week, it was Sam Taylor, the CEO of TaylorMade, who was so flattered by one of his employee's come-ons while he was undercover that he decided to reveal his identity.
For his part, Hallock kept his actual identity secret, even while Pam, an assembly line worker in Middleton, Wis., openly fawned over "Tom Robbins." "Tom has a famous rock star look," she confided to a co-worker.
'What in the world was appealing about me? I was wearing a Mohawk [for my disguise]," he said during an interview with AOL Jobs. "Pam was just such a sweet person, it was really more sweet than wrong." Pam even told him that she wanted to invite Hallock to her hot tub, but it was unclear if her husband would also be asked to join the party.
The show moved from the light to the heavy in its last visit, in which Hallock worked with a blinds installer in Topeka, Kan., named Dennis. In a company that allows franchisees to run the business as they see fit, Dennis does door-to-door advertising after each site visit -- even though he's just an installer. And his chivalrous demeanor -- he disapproves of the cool, grunge style of "Tom Robbins" -- is a total success in the field. He nets 600 installations a year, which Hallock said was enough to make Dennis one of his highest performers.
Dennis has had no choice but to excel for his family. Having lost one of his five children to a roadside shooting, Dennis presides over a tight-knit clan in which he and his wife of 25 years help raise their grandchildren. And so in the reveal, Dennis was given $40,000 to help remodel the family home. Both Dennis and Hallock were moved to tears.
"That's the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me," Dennis said. Hallock was equally charitable with Maris, the second worker to complain about the advertising plan. She was given $30,000 to help pay for the medical bills for her 12-year-old son Tyler, who's had trouble writing with his right arm after a football injury. She was having trouble getting appointments with neurologists.
The experience was a learning one for Hallock. He came around on the marketing strategy, announcing a committee for regional advertising during the reveal. He'll also pony up $25,000 for the campaign. He even eased up on his hard-nosed style; admitting to Keith his stubbornness about ad strategy. And the punishment for the brazen Keith, who maintained his air of defiance through the reveal? A college fund for his kids, with $15,000 for each.
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