There are many drapery workrooms out there that are operating a retail and a wholesale business. In other words, they sell directly to their own retail customers and to designers who resell to their own retail customers. It’s the designer’s customer that we are talking about here. Is it OK for you to sell to the designer’s customer if she comes to you after having worked with one of your designers?
There is a variety of arrangements by which workrooms can work with
their designers. In some cases, they never go on site with the designers.
In other cases, they may accompany their designers to the customer’s
home and work as a team to design the best treatments for the situation.
In still other arrangements, the designers will just give the workroom
the customer information and turn them over to the workroom to do
the windows. In this latter case, the designer’s customer
becomes the workroom’s retail customer, and there is no problem
here. It is the other arrangements that could present an uncomfortable
No matter how you work with your designers, you must have an understanding
up front concerning how you perceive the designer’s customer—either
protected or fair game. This is the time to find out what your designers
expect and need from you and for you to let your designers know
exactly what you expect from them and what you can and will provide.
The kinds of arrangements you have with your designers may vary
depending upon their specific needs and capabilities. While you
can and should have an oral understanding, having a written statement
is much safer.
YOUR BUSINESS BELIEFS AND PRACTICES
Here are some things that you should discuss with your designers:
1. Your loyalty to the designer and protection of her customers.
2 A policy that all communications between you and the customer
must be done through the designer’s office. Under what conditions
would this rule be waived? The more a customer talks with the workroom,
the more they will get comfortable with them and be more inclined
to approach the workroom with their future needs.
3. Never criticize a designer’s work in front of a customer.
4. Refer the customer to the designer for all questions.
5. Try not to use your company name.
6. There might be unintentional work with a designer’s client.
It is possible that you or your employees will bid a job without
knowing that your designer has also bid the job. Determine how you
will handle this if either of you discover you are bidding on the
7. If the designer goes out of business, her customers are open
for you to approach.
8. Suppose the customer calls you and is totally unaware that you
had done the designer’s work for her last job? How would your
designer expect you to handle this? How do you think it should be
9. How long after a job is completed, would it be fair for you to
accept a designer’s client if you are approached?
10. Would the designer accept a referral fee/percentage if her customer
calls you for work to be done?
THAT GRAY AREA
Let’s say you have tried to discuss every possible scenario
up front with your designers, but it happens anyway. Your designer’s
customer calls you for an appointment. What would you do?
First let’s assume that the customer knows you did the window
treatments for her designer and that is why she called you. A few
questions are certainly in line here to determine why the customer
is not calling her designer back.
• Does she not like the designer? Why? Was it a personality
conflict? It’s possible that it could be something that, had
the designer been told, would have been easily corrected.
• Does she not like the designer’s work? If this is
the problem, then why did she go forth with what the designer presented?
• Is there a conflict with the designer’s business ethics?
• Does the customer think she can get her work cheaper by
eliminating the middleman? Is this a good reason for you to consider
working with her?
After you find out the real reasons why the customer came to you
instead of the designer, you have to make a decision. Would it be
appropriate to call the designer and discuss the situation? Maybe.
Maybe not. You could offer the designer a referral fee since the
contact wouldn’t have been made without her.
Before you make your decision, determine whether or not you want
to risk losing that designer. If the designer is a good client and
gives you a lot of good work, you might want to send the customer
on her way. Besides that, if the designer is upset with you, she
is likely to share that grief with fellow designers. Designers aren’t
as likely to share good workrooms, but they sure will talk about
There is often a tendency to fear hurting someone’s feelings,
i.e. the designers, but is this a good reason to turn away business?
You must have enough customers, whether retail or wholesale, to
make your business profitable or your workroom won’t be there
What is your relationship with your designers? Is it unique, i.e.
different from any other business/customer relationship in another
industry? Do other businesses compete with their customers? What
about our trade suppliers that advertise to the consumer in the
back of shelter magazines? How do you feel about that?
Designers often use more than one workroom. Therefore is it not
fair for their customers to use more than one designer? Are the
designers being loyal? Is it fair to you that they don’t give
you all their work? Does this bother you or not? If there has been
a drop in the economy and your sales are to the point of jeopardizing
your business, should you turn away potential income?
And here is another very important question. How would you feel
if the designer took your customer?
Due to the continual shortage of workrooms, designers are going
to the retail workrooms and asking them to do their work. If retail
is your main business and you are basically doing a favor by doing
work for a few designers, then they have to realize that you are
their competition. If you are marketing to the same clientele, then
it must be understood that there are no protected customers. Deliberately
trying to steal your designers’ customers is another matter.
WHAT ABOUT ETHICS?
So is it right or wrong to take your designer’s customers?
Can we make this issue black or white all the time? Not likely because
it depends . . . I have presented you with many questions that need
answering by you and no one else. Each person is different and unique
and this may require a customized solution in some cases.
Managing and running a business is not completely about making money.
It’s about loyalty, honesty, dependability, reliability, trustworthiness
and peace. Peace in knowing you have done the very best you could
today without causing unnecessary harm to anyone. It’s also
about faith. Faith in knowing that God is going to bring you all
the business you need and faith that you will know which customers
are to be yours.
For the record, I did own a retail and wholesale workroom. I was
blessed to work with wonderful designers. I tried very hard to protect
them and their customers. Having peace of mind was my priority.
If you know a particular decision will leave you feeling guilty
and without peace, then listen to that feeling. A good night’s
sleep is best for everyone. Are you sleeping well?
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.