I wish I had a dollar for every time Iíve been asked where to find seamstresses for workrooms. This situation is difficult now, but in the near future it will reach critical stages.
In the labor pool of seamstresses we do have, skilled workroom seamstresses
are few and far between. Most workroom owners would rather not hire
seamstresses with workroom experience because often they are difficult
to retrain. However, this certainly is not a reason to pass up hiring
a seamstress with drapery experience. One of my best seamstresses
was experienced and was very open to retraining. Her background
in mass production also made her especially fast.
American colleges are not instructing teachers to teach sewing.
Therefore our children, even if they are taught very basic sewing
methods, are not learning enough about it to spark their interest
in this art form. Parents either donít know how to sew or donít
have the time to teach their children.
When we run out of our current grandparent pool, those who know
how to sew and may or may not be teaching their grandchildren to
sew, weíll be in crisis mode for English-speaking seamstresses.
NON-ENGLISH SPEAKING LABOR POOL
There are many foreign born citizens who may not speak or read English
very well, but know how to sew beautifully. Unfortunately, for small
workrooms the language barrier is too difficult to overcome. I know
of one workroom owner who finally decided to take Spanish lessons.
That might help her in her area, but there are many other immigrants
who speak languages other than Spanish, are hard workers and very
skilled in sewing techniques.
What does the future hold? Maybe the cost of learning another language
or paying for potential employees to learn English will become a
cost of doing business. This would raise selling prices even more
to the workroomís customers.
I doubt we can expect any help from the government, as the federal
government doesnít even acknowledge the drapery workroom as
an industry and does not keep records on it. This lack of recognition
probably has discouraged some people from going into this industry.
Being in Virginia where many textile factories have closed and gone
offshore, I even approached my state senatorís assistant about
obtaining government assistance to retrain some of the sewers from
the closed factories to make them productive drapery workrooms.
She totally understood because she had experienced having to go
out of town to have her draperies done.
She requested that I write a letter to the senator who would soon
be going into session with the General Assembly. The high unemployment
rate in the area would be high on the agenda. I wrote the letter,
but nothing came of it.
There is possibly a temporary fix if you need employees. Contact
your American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) office and ask
if any of their members are seeking work as seamstresses. Our aging
Baby Boomers are the ones who know how to sew and enjoy it. They
also have a high work ethic.
As I said, this is a temporary fix. Once these seniors and a few
in the middle-aged bracket are gone, our suffering labor pool will
be down to drops in the bucket.
Many workrooms are hiring people to do things other than sewing,
e.g. cutting, building and covering boards, pressing, cleaning,
etc. Many times, someone like this will acquire an interest in sewing
just by being around it and can eventually be trained to sew.
You even can get a few more hours to work if you hire someone to
clean your home. If you make more spending a few extra hours in
your workroom than what a cleaning service charges, then it is worth
This is also a good argument for converting as much as you can to
the iron-on products available today. Because these products require
only pressing, itís easy to train someone to do it and you
end up with a beautiful product as well.
Instead of hiring employees, invest in all the tools and machines
you can find to speed up what you do. Yes, you may pay a whole lot
of money for some equipment, but look at the numbers. One employee
who you pay $7.50/hour (purely hypothetical) to work 40 hours/week
for 50 weeks costs $15,000 plus what you have to pay in federal
taxes, unemployment insurance, possibly other benefits and what
you loose in your time spent training them. If you track the latter,
you would be appalled at the amount of your production time that
is lost due to training.
I know of a large workroom that pays an employee to train new employees.
She calculates that it costs her $30,000 the first year to train
one person! In a small custom workroom, even one year is probably
not enough time to completely train an employee.
Think about it. Machines and tools show up for work and rarely call
in sick. Once they are paid for, the extra money they enable you
to bring in is all profit.
SPECIALIZE AND SUB-CONTRACT
Itís a given fact that most workrooms rarely make the profit
margins they need on pinch pleat draperies and dust skirts. At the
very least, the former is pretty darn boring after a while! As I
said in my last article (see D&WC, June 2002, page 56), decide
what you really like to do and sub out the rest. You likely will
have to spend some time and money to determine which workrooms produce
satisfactory quality for you.
Belonging to a local chapter of the Window Coverings Association
of America (WCAA) is very beneficial in your search, as the members
will gladly share resources and some of the members may even do
work you need.
In some cases it works out well to sub to someone who is on your
industry e-mail list or forum. However, just because they talk a
good talk online does not mean they are good, dependable, quality-oriented
business people. And, yes, I have heard a very sad and costly story
from an e-mail list connection, but I have also heard some wonderful
success stories. All Iím saying is, beware when you canít
see their faces. Itís certainly within your rights to ask for
When you find the right workrooms and develop good working relationships,
you will be freed up to produce even more of your specialties.
TO TELL OR NOT TO TELL
The question often arises as to whether a wholesale workroom must
tell their designer clients that they sub-contract out some of their
work. The answer is no.
When you hire a contractor to build a house, he sub-contracts to
many other companies and that is never questioned. If you sub to
an installer, that is not questioned. You are in control of your
business, and you are the quality control person whether itís
from your workroom or anotherís. The designers should be pleased
they donít have to be involved with more workrooms themselves.
In fact, with the few workrooms we have today, they should not care
at all as long as the work gets done and their customers are pleased.
Your designer clients should consider you a part of their team to
please their customers. Thatís the whole point in your relationships
with your clients.
Maybe these ideas have helped you and maybe they havenít, but
if you love this industry do not give up! Many of us veterans owe
our whole careers and many years of joyous work to this industry.
We do not want to see it evaporate. Anyone who is in this industry
and loves it owes it to the next generation to do what he or she
can to see that it survives.
If you happen to be of retirement age and have employees, maybe
one or all of them would want to buy you out in order to retain
their jobs. Mentor others, especially the young, to help them learn
this trade. Get involved with career day at your schools. Talk to
your schools and see what other opportunities they have to allow
you to expose children to this career option. If there are sewing
teachers in your community teaching basic how-to-sew classes, talk
with them about a field trip to your workroom for their students.
Talk to scouting groups about teaching basic sewing for merit badges
with a field trip to your workroom. They must first enjoy it before
they consider it as a career option.
All of these ideas will help to increase the labor pool available
to you, but that is not the only reason for this extra effort. You
all are very creative people. Your industry is depending on you
to use your God-given talents and power to make this a lucrative
career option and to pass it on to the next generation. Can the
drapery workroom industry count on you?
Kitty Stein, CWP, WCAA past board member, is a 26-year veteran of
the drapery workroom industry. Having owned drapery workrooms as
one person and as a company of nine, she is now president of Workroom
Concepts a consulting firm offering educational resources to the
industry on its Web site (www.workroomconcepts.com). Her experience
in the window covering arena has contributed to her success as a
business consultant. A professional speaker and writer, she has
authored several industry products including Order in the Workroom,
The Price List, Workroom Specifications and Price Your Work with
Confidence, available through D&WC.
Stein, CWP, WCAA past board member, is a 26-year veteran of the drapery
workroom industry. Having owned drapery workrooms as one person and
as a company of nine, she is now president of Workroom Concepts, a
consulting firm offering educational resources to the industry on
its Web site (www.workroomconcepts.com).
Her experience in the window covering arena has contributed to her
success as a business consultant. A professional speaker and writer,
she has authored several industry products including Order in the
Workroom, The Price List, Workroom Specifications and Price Your Work
with Confidence, available through D&WC.