Sometimes specifying a lead time can be almost as stressful as pricing. Lead time is not a worrisome thing until someone objects and states they must have the job sooner. We don’t like being challenged, and often self-doubts arise when we are. Pleasing a customer is what a business is all about, but sometimes you have to be like a doctor who must give his patient a shot in order to make him feel better. He may caution the patient that it may stick just a bit, or he might just chitchat to help his patient through it.
So, how do you, a wholesale workroom, help your designer and her
client through the weeks of waiting for their draperies? What can
you do to reduce their annoyance and your worry? Here are a few
stress reducers that might help.
DEFINE LEAD TIME
Unless you have it spelled out well in your terms and conditions
(which you should!), your designers very likely may have a different
interpretation of when lead time starts. Which of the following
possibilities would you say is the beginning of lead time and which
would your designers say?
1. When the designer requests a quote.
2. When the designer’s customer writes the down payment check.
3. When the designer writes her down payment check to you.
4. When you receive the purchase order or the work order from the
5. When all the materials, i.e. fabric, trim, hardware, work orders,
etc., are received by you.
6. When you have No, 5 and the down payment from the designer.
Either Nos. 5 or 6 would be considered ready orders.
Now, what would you say defines the end of the lead time?
1. The work is bagged and ready for delivery.
2. The work is installed.
Do your designers agree with you?
YOU ARE THE LEADER
It’s up to you to define the lead time. It’s up to you
to know what is possible and what isn’t possible within your
business set up. Most of us have worked long overtime hours in order
not to lose a job, but that should be an exception and not the rule.
You are like the farmer who has 50 acres to plow with only one mule.
If he habitually pushes the mule beyond his daily endurance without
adequate food and rest, the animal will eventually slow down and
will suffer exhaustion. The farmer knows he must take good care
of his mule to get the most out of him. However, if foul weather
is being called for and the farmer only has a little more to do,
he can probably get the mule to work a little longer one day without
You must take care of yourself and be fair to all your customers.
Sometimes a gentle reminder that you are only one person will help.
First, you must be sure your designers understand what your lead
time encompasses. Because you also do the installing, they may think
your lead time includes installation when you were only quoting
to the fabrication completion. Explain that installation time can’t
be quoted because it depends upon the customer’s schedule
and the installation schedule at the time of fabrication completion.
Then you have to help the designer to communicate to her customer
and keep her customer satisfied during the long wait.
A recent discussion in an industry e-mail list brought some great
ideas to help this communication process. Remember a well-documented
paper trail is invaluable.
1. Draft an explanation of the entire process of a custom window
treatment order that would be given to the consumer. Collaborate
with your designers to see if and how they would like the document
2. Not only keep the designer informed every step of the way, but
keep the consumer updated as well. Many of you do work directly
with the designers’ customers and form a business relationship
with them as well as their designers. Decide with your designers
what communications you need to send to them and which should also
be sent to their customers. These are possible items for notification:
• All materials have been ordered
• All materials have been received
• Note the lead time or anticipated completion date when you
• Inform of delays, e.g. backorders, etc.
• Fabrication has begun
• Fabrication is finished
• Installation needs to be arranged
• Designer needs also to let you know of any delaying circumstances
3. Possible means of communication are by postcard, fax and/or e-mail.
4. Create a form for the notifications and try to use the same one
for as many notifications as possible so that past history is always
5. Ask for a receipt acknowledgement. If you fax the designer, ask
her to initial and fax back. If you e-mail, set your mail to request
a receipt. If you use Outlook Express, open the new message box
and click on Tools in its top tool bar. Then click Request Read
Receipt. Some people have set their computers not to allow these
and the recipient can also ignore the request. But you will have
the satisfaction of knowing you tried.
6. Discuss with your designers if you or they will keep their customers
informed. Be clear on exactly what you are supposed to send to their
7. Use your Web site for keeping your designers informed. Sydney
Hardiman, The Silken Scissor, has a password-protected part of her
Web site where she keeps all the updates and progress reports for
her designers. They can log-in anytime to get the status of their
jobs. What a convenience this is for your designers who are not
always able to call you during business hours. Of course it also
means you won’t be getting as many calls from them!
8. There are many places on the Internet where you can post photos
and allow people to view them. If you are having problems with an
order that you would like the designer to see, photograph it with
a digital camera. Then post on the Internet and e-mail your designer
the password to view it.
As you consider the above ideas, keep these things in mind. While
you must get input from your designers on what will help you both
it is not a good idea to have a different process for each designer.
You need to determine one way to do things that works for most of
your designers. If you don’t meet and work with the customers
of all your designers, then it’s best and safer for you not
to communicate with any of your designer’s clients. The designers
can easily forward your updates to their clients if they chose to.
I once had only one designer of many who did not want weights in
her draperies. We would try to remember not to use them, but we
forgot so often, she finally accepted them with weights. This was
a minor issue but miscommunicating with a designer’s client
could be major.
With the real estate boom right now, lead times are getting extended
way beyond even your comfort level. Instant gratification has become
an accepted attitude that is very difficult to counter, but you
can learn to deal with it. Our present society thrives on a constant
flow of information and that’s what we are talking about here—a
constant flow of updates to your clients. All these ideas presented
are not just helping you but also your clients as they deal with
their clients. Investing a little more time to keep clients is far
cheaper than trying to find new ones.
Go ahead. Call the designer that keeps calling for updates on her
orders, and see how you can lead each other through the holiday
Kitty Stein, CWP, WCAA past board member, is a 29-year veteran
of the drapery workroom industry. She has owned both retail and wholesale
drapery workrooms as one person and as a company of nine, and she
is the founder and past owner of Workroom Concepts, a consulting firm
offering educational resources to the industry. Her experience includes
professional speaking and writing for two industry trade magazines.
She currently owns Kitty Stein & Co., which supplies industry
vendors with the industry-specific products she has authored including
Order in the Workroom, The Price List, Workroom Specifications, and
Price Your Work with Confidence, available through D&WC.