If you are an independent entrepreneur, you likely rely on other people to provide the services you require. But even if you own a large company offering design, fabrication and installation services, you still must work with other departments to complete the window treatment or interior decorating process.
As with any other team, the strength and success of your business is determined by the strength of its components and how well they work together. All three components or participants must be equally dedicated to provide the best product and service possible.
Good Workroom Qualities
If you are an independent designer or decorator confident in your own selling and design skills, but must rely on a wholesale workroom to fabricate your designs, how do you find a good workroom to suit your needs? A revealing workroom questionnaire can be the key to your future success.
What are the factors that make a workroom good? The workroom must have high standards of quality, stand behind its work and accommodate the needs of the decorator. Asking the following questions will help determine if a workroom is up to par with your own standards:
1. Do you guarantee your work? If the workroom makes an error, is it prepared to replace the damaged fabric and provide extra labor to repair the error at its own expense?
2. Do you have a set price list? Professional workrooms serious about serving their clients should provide printed price lists. The more detailed and thorough the price list, the less chance of pricing misunderstandings. The price list also can provide insight into the workroom's background experience and its organizational status.
3. Why should I use your particular workroom? When shopping for a new car, a customer typically asks the salesperson why he or she should buy that particular automobile -- prompting the salesperson to highlight its best qualities. The salesperson's educated, confident and convincing response usually serves to impress the customer. Remember this analogy and ask the workroom being considered the same question. Let the workroom's salesperson sell and impress you on its good qualities. Your questions also may prompt information on available services of which you were previously unaware.
4. Would you provide the names of decorators currently using your workroom services? The best recommendation possible can be obtained from someone already using the workroom's services. Ask these customers if they are pleased with the service and if any problems have been experienced.
5. Can you provide samples of your work? In this case, seeing is believing, and the best way to judge the quality of a workroom is to examine some of its work. Is stitching straight and even? Has the workroom personnel used the appropriate thread? Is any hand sewing evident? Is the sample nicely pressed? Encourage the workroom to discuss specific points that demonstrate its workmanship.
6. Are you willing to create samples to show my customers? If so, will a charge be applied? The workroom's willingness to help promote your business demonstrates its interest in you as a customer. Many workrooms will construct small samples at their own expense, if assured you will use their services. However, requesting a minimal charge for the samples is not unreasonable. In this case, a rebate on future orders is usually arranged. Make sure to clarify any charges before samples are made.
7. What kind of lining do you use? Make sure the workroom uses high quality lining. If the workroom cuts back quality in this area, be aware of any other areas in which it also may restrict quality.
8. Is a handling fee applied if I supply my own lining? One of the best ways for a workroom to make a profit is by selling lining. Most workrooms do not impose a handling charge if you supply your own, however it is not unreasonable for a workroom to do so. In this case, it is important to know of the charge in advance.
9. Do you provide consultation services? Is a fee charged for that service? The workroom's willingness to accommodate your requests is critical. You may encounter an unusual installation challenge that must be rectified before you can determine the finished size of your treatment. A workroom willing to advise you on these matters is providing an invaluable service. Usually, a workroom will offer help and advice on a limited basis, and charge a fee beyond a certain point. Clarify any charges in advance.
10. Do you supply standard forms on which to submit my orders? A well organized workroom will provide greater work performance and allow fewer chances of errors. Organization is a good example of the workroom caring about you and your business by making the ordering process as simple and efficient as possible. Providing standard work orders eliminates any chance of misunderstanding instructions.
11. What is your delivery time? Do you guarantee the exact time of delivery? Expect a very specific answer regarding the workroom's procedure if it falls behind schedule. Does the workroom notify you of the impending delay before the job is due?
12. Will you create one-of-a-kind treatments? Versatility is another very important characteristic to look for in a workroom. As an innovative designer many of your designs may be original and some your workroom has never made before. You do not want to be stifled by a workroom that will not consider designs other than its own specific styles. A workroom must be able to fabricate all of your designs.
13. Will you create treatments from a photograph? Magazines are a great source for ideas and serve as a good selling tool. However, this source loses its value if your workroom won't make the designs.
14. If an order must be altered due to an error on my part, will you make those alterations? Is a charge applied for this service? Some workrooms will not make alterations even if they originally made the treatment. If the workroom agrees to do the alterations, make sure the charges are specified such as in an hourly fee. Also clarify what priority the alterations are given in the workroom's schedule. Your customer will not tolerate waiting three to four weeks for an alteration on an error you made.
15. What size jobs can you handle? Will the workroom be able to manage those large contract jobs planned for your future? You do not want to be limited by the workroom's inadequate capacity.
16. Do you have catastrophe insurance? This question is very important, yet rarely asked. Be wise and consider the possibility of future disaster. If your fabric is ruined by a mishap, including fire or water damage, could the workroom afford to replace it? If not, could you survive the monetary loss?
Choosing an Installer
If you must rely on an outside installer, how do you find a good one to suit your needs? To qualify installers and determine their attitudes toward quality and cooperation, ask the following crucial questions
1. Do you guarantee your work? Will the installer return to the customer's home at his own expense to make necessary adjustments? Clarify how quickly the installer would return to make the correction. For example, would he just fit it into his present schedule or return within 24 hours?
2. Within what time frame do you work? Before committing to a particular installer, it is very important to know exactly what lead time he needs. To schedule your deliveries in a timely manner, you must be aware of the time necessary for a job to be placed on the installer's schedule. Lead times will vary according to the number of installations scheduled, however the installer should be able to provide an average time frame within which to plan.
3. If a job is not finished at your usual quitting time, are you willing to stay until the job is finished? Although personal schedules and appointments beyond daily work schedules should be respected, an installer should be willing to stay until the job is satisfactorily completed barring any interference with previous commitments.
4. How do you handle a customer who watches your every move? Your installer is a reflection of you and your company's reputation and should be as courteous to your customers as you. Many installers are not intimidated by those observing them and consider it a challenge to entertain them while simultaneously accomplishing the installation task. The installer's specific response to this question can provide insight to his attitude toward customers.
5. Are you willing to install jobs without my presence at the site? Does the installer have the confidence to work independently while you are selling another job or working in the office? Many decorators prefer to be present at each installation to show the customers they appreciate their business and are concerned about the installation's completion. However, not being present for the entire job frees the decorator for additional selling. This system works if the installer has the personality to pamper the customer and provide personal attention to the customer's needs.
6. Do you have standard forms available for me to provide specific installation instructions? The more efficient the communication between installer and designer, the less chance for errors and the less time involved in communicating specific instructions.
7. Do you have a set price list? Some installers charge by the size of rod. Establish whether this price includes hanging the treatment on the rod. Some installers charge by the hour. Do they charge for travel time? Make sure the installer is very specific with his rates. A clue to the installer's integrity is how willing he is to provide this information.
8. Are you willing to steam wrinkled treatments as part of the installation? If so, will an extra charge be applied? Sometimes treatments become wrinkled in transit and require some ironing. Meticulous installers recognize this need as part of their responsibilities; others concentrate only on the installation.
9. Do you handle all aspects of dressing the treatment? Will you tie bows and pouf balloon shades and top treatments? Some installers don't include dressing treatments as part of their service. Clearly establish what the installer does or does not include to avoid misunderstandings.
10. What do you do if the treatment does not fit exactly? Does the installer accept the challenge and responsibility to determine whether an adjustment would correct the situation, or is the job left unfinished because it's the decorator's responsibility?
11. What do you do when wall studs can't be used for mounting? Listening to how technical the response is to this question can reveal the installer's knowledge and experience with special situations and on-site problem-solving.
12. Will you install into solid concrete, rock or cinder block? How accommodating is the installer? At what level is his skill and ability to complete jobs that require special tools or extensive knowledge of varying materials?
13. Do you have extra help if I assign a job too big for you alone? You worked hard to achieve those terrific, big jobs and do not want to be stifled by a lack of resources to complete them.
14. What tools do you have with you at all times? This question is a key to the installer's efficiency, preparation and experience.
15. How large a variety of hardware parts do you have with you at all times? Again, is the installer as prepared as possible to meet all problem situations at the time they occur in order to avoid return visits?
16. Do you thoroughly clean up after completing the installation? If the answer is yes, question exactly what is done. Does the installer simply remove the empty boxes and wrappings, or does he spot vacuum and dust to remove the debris left from drilling? If the answer is no, decide whether to use another installer or to provide this service yourself. To leave any kind of disturbance in the customer's home or business is unacceptable.
17. Do you have liability insurance? If the customer's antique vase is knocked over and broken, can it be replaced? Can you afford the loss if the installer has no insurance?
The design team's strength and success is determined by the effectiveness of each of its three components and how well they work together as a team. All three contributors must be equally dedicated to providing the best products and services possible.
Cheryl Strickland is owner of Professional Drapery Seminars. She is an internationally-acclaimed speaker with more than 20 years experience in the window coverings industry. She is the publisher and editor of Sew WHAT?, an international monthly newsletter for professional drapery workrooms. Strickland also is the author of A Practical Guide to Soft Window Coverings and the Designer's Sketch Pad, which are available through Draperies & Window Coverings magazine.