I have really been intrigued with the results you have been publishing for industry workrooms (see "Workroom Operations," D&WC, May 2000; June 2000; July 2000; and August 2000).
As a licensed interior designer in the state of Texas, your published findings are not really surprising to me. A portion of my business has always been in soft window fashions, and by talking with workroom owners over the many years I have been in business I have found the same findings you have discovered nationally. What I have found different is the lack of sound knowledge of their businesses and their abilities to attract qualified workroom help.
In this part of the country the biggest complaint is finding anyone now under the age of 45 who can sew, and who can speak the two to five different languages spoken in workrooms nowadays. I find that owners are spending multitudes of time trying to cope with employees and the newer, sophisticated designs needed to satisfy our clients. I have seen numerous workrooms in the Houston area collapse under these conditions and have found those workrooms that remain are trying their best to absorb the rest by putting extreme pressure on their workforces to turn out goods within a reasonable period of time.
We have a community college and trade schools here that encourage students to make draperies, slipcovers, etc. But rather than encourage them to seek employment with already established workrooms, they encourage them to set up their own businesses in their homes or garages and not only to make window fashions, bedding or slipcovers, but actually to set up accounts with fabric suppliers and become their own decorators with cut-rate pricing. As you well know this is, at best, the worst advice to give a student. You can't do both and do it well. They suffer, the clients suffer, the industry suffers and even I suffer because the public has little understanding of this industry and very little has ever been attempted on part of the industry to set national standards.
Most important, I see the degradation of the workroom industry. Everyone I know who has a furniture store, department store, wallpaper store, upholstery store, retail fabric store, or is a custom home builder, tract builder, college, box store or hardware store is diversifying and diluting the market to the degree that I am fearful that the true professional—who really knows the craft of custom- designed window fashions, has knowledge of fabrics and can deliver an expertly made and expertly installed window fashion—is on the decline. I have been keeping track of many professionals like myself throughout Texas and have found that to be true.
Sandra Scott Interiors
I just read the third Workroom Survey Results article. It is disheartening to see that so many of us are dissatisfied with our incomes.
I've tried to analyze the reasons for this dissatisfaction in my own situation and can only say that there are many factors to be considered. I can't tell you how many times I've thought of throwing in the towel and quitting, and I can't really explain what keeps me going except a loyalty to my two full-time employees and the reward of a job well done when a client is ecstatic with the end product.
I've compared price lists and have been completely shocked at the low, low prices many workrooms charge. I found that my prices were higher in many cases and still I have a hard time making ends meet. So, I wonder, how on earth do other workrooms do it?
In my own personal experience, the factors I find that affect my business are the mentality of the designers I work with as far as pricing goes, and the prices competing workrooms charge. I have also found that even though my prices have gone up, designers do come back, but not until I've experienced a good amount of anxiety over the issue. I don't get all of their work because they have a couple of lower-priced workrooms that pound out the work for next to nothing. They only want me when they have a very picky client because I put out a higher-end product. Don't get me wrong, this does keep me busy, but I feel that too many in this business are not charging nearly enough and drag the rest of us down with them. Even though I put out a great product—better quality than many workrooms in my area—I am constantly being beaten by the clientele over my prices and constantly need to defend myself. This gets rather tiresome.
The other major factor for my business is the cost of employing people. Because my business puts out a higher-end product, I need to hire more experienced people, which means higher hourly wages. And even though they are more experienced, I find I have to make sure I am working right beside them in order for the production to stay at a higher level. This, coupled with tax implications, workman's compensation, state unemployment insurance, business liability insurance, as well as the normal overhead of equipment, is a huge drain on the business. I find many other workrooms do not operate their businesses "legally." They don't register with the local and state agencies, collect sales tax, pay their employees on a payroll, etc. How does a legitimate business compete with that? I find this very frustrating. How is that fair to those of us who do things legitimately?
To summarize the problem: too many people in this industry lack self-confidence and don't know what they are worth. They fear they are not good enough to charge what they should. They are working in their own self-inflicted sweat shop environment. I always thought I had more self-confidence and felt a higher level of self-worth, but there are times when I fall into the same category that I've just outlined. So, why do we do it? I'm still looking for that answer.
The Sewing Loft