I have been in the business for 22 years and employ 18 office and workroom personnel. My workroom is 15,000 square feet, and our product line includes draperies, top treatments, fancy work, shades, bedding and accessories, and all upholstered cornices, benches and headboards. So, as you can see, I am not a small operation.
I have been serving the wholesale trade for 16 of my 22 years and must say there are many times it is so frustrating I just want to quit. I do a limited retail trade not because it is what I really want to do, but because sometimes it is the only thing that pays the bills. I do not advertise for retail business, but receive jobs by word of mouth.
I have two price sheets. One is for wholesale and one is for retail. I am adamantly opposed to discounting a custom product in any way. I never sell a retail customer at wholesale. Furthermore, I will charge a one-time designer who is doing her own home full retail prices on labor. I agree with your comments 100 percent regarding workrooms not selling to the consumer at wholesale prices and making it virtually impossible for the designer to compete. We are destroying ourselves by not using good business sense.
However, I would like to take this one step further in defense of workrooms. Many designers have very little understanding of what a workroom has to do. They want sweatshop prices so they can mark-up labor at double their cost. This often puts them out of the range of a consumer's budget. Then, they come back to the workroom and want us to find a way to bring the price down. I have never confessed to being an inexpensive workroom. Drapery Works is very good at what we do, and we charge according to our ability.
In addition, designers want workrooms to give them ballpark figures so they can give their customers an idea of cost. They want workrooms to quote numerous revisions and, when there is a mistake, pay all of the expense of the correction regardless of who is at fault. When there is a mistake, and there may be because the seamstresses are humans, the designer wants the workroom to replace fabric. These fabrics are C.O.M. and the workroom has no profit built in for fabric replacement, yet the designer expects the workroom to cover any problems and still keep their prices at bargain rates. Large workrooms cannot do this. What business outside of the drapery business covers costs that are not built into the quote? None that I know of.
Designers don't really want to learn any more than they have to regarding the fabrication side of the custom industry. They want workrooms and installers to take all of the risks of a job. They often don't want to give a workroom a drawing, but want the workroom to figure out the details and tell them what to do. Many designers will not even be at the installation to help an installer with any last-minute changes and adjustments. Yet these same designers will expect the installer to return to the job when the customer isn't happy and make adjustments at no charge.
Often they even expect the workroom to pay for the installer's time.
I would like to see articles in trade magazines regarding the designer's responsibility on a job. Some of the points that need to be addressed are:
1. Workrooms cannot be resentful to designers who mark up labor price. However, designers cannot beat down workrooms on price so they can double the cost. I recommend designers mark up my price a certain percentage and double their fabric cost. On larger jobs, the designer should discount the fabric not the labor.
Each treatment a workroom fabricates takes the same amount of time and effort regardless of how many windows there are on the overall project. A consumer should be given a break on large quantities of fabric not on labor.
2. Give the workroom all of the details required for a quote. Every revision takes time and time is money taken out of the profit. The only way to make that up is to raise prices.
3. Find out what your customer can afford. Don't show her a treatment that's out of her budget range then go to the workroom and try to pressure them to get the treatment at a lower price. There are no shortcuts in custom.
4. Don't ask the workroom to put your customer in front of others or to squeeze in your job because you didn't get it in on time. Every overtime hour has to be charged to someone. The workroom, especially during the holidays, often ends up on overtime with no way to collect from the customer.
One designer said to me, "You have to get the money (work) when you can." The workroom industry doesn't operate like that. We can't hire extra hands at the last minute. Custom seamstresses have to be trained and you can't do that in the busy season. We can't hire then carry new seamstresses in the slower months because you never know how many orders you may or may not have.
I have designers who are regular customers and work 12 months a year. Then I have the ones who let me know, "I don't have to do this." I say then don't. Let the rest of us make a living and stop playing in our industry.
5. Don't compare the prices of a large or small custom workroom with a made-to-measure operation. When you do production sewing you are making a totally different product. If your customer can't afford a Cadillac, sell her a Chevrolet and explain the difference.
The comments above are quick and I hope they make sense. I like the idea that Kitty is pushing for professionalism. In our workroom I teach classes to designers covering everything from quoting to measuring to selling, design and on and on. I believe we just have to keep trying to educate them. I have been in this industry for a very long time and it has been good to me. I care about every one of my clients and treat them the best I can. I insist my staff show respect and courtesy at all times. I have never missed a deadline and am proud of everything that leaves my shop.
I stress that all designers, installers and workrooms should work together protecting each other and helping each other to build a solid profit margin. We can be professional and still fulfill our artistic side.
Thanks for hearing me out.