These statistics are not from Sarah Youngblood’s business, but are typical of a personal business model operated correctly.
Typical Business Metrics
Products and Service
With now more than 60 articles in Draperies & Window Coverings sharing success formulas about benchmarking, goal setting and measurements that lead to success, it’s time to see how real-life business owners, just like you, put these ideas to work. This is the first of a series, with research and assistance by Cathy Guterman.
Sarah Youngblood, Alpharetta, GA, is a classic example of an open-minded, coachable business owner willing to take risks to grow her business. She started as many women do in our industry: sewing draperies in her home. Sarah steadily learned to decorate and sell to customers, then to operate a profitable and successful business. Her purpose is to contribute to her family and help her children select a college of their choice.
Sarah Youngblood is a leadership example for dozens of women who love sewing, yet seek personal and business growth. I believe she well deserves to be the first profile for this series. Here is her story.
How did you start your business?
What were your first years like?
I began my careen in corporate banking, but I was frustrated and needed a different path. By 1989 I left the corporate environment to be a stay-at-home mom and began sewing window treatments for my friends. I was an avid sewer, making my own clothes in high school, so this was a natural direction for me.
As friends referred me to their friends my business started to slowly grow. Clients brought their own fabrics to me. I designed, sewed and installed drapery treatments in their homes. My children were still in elementary school. I juggled a lot to be there for them and still to serve customers. I was a “moving target,” doing everything from bookkeeping and design to production and installation. It was very labor intensive and I worked very hard.
What caused you to change from a home-based sewing business?
In 1998, my youngest child turned eight-years-old. I purposely began a transition to a full-time business. My husband and I both wanted the kids to go to college and for them to have choices about which colleges they could attend. We felt I was ready to assume more financial responsibility. I knew my business could be much more than a hobby and my long-term goals were to provide reliable income for our future.
My defining moment came when I realized that all this juggling was never going to work if I were to remain a single practitioner.
The only way for me to become more successful was to bring in fabric lines and sub-contract the work to other seamstresses. When I made these changes, I felt like Christmas had arrived!
What changes have occurred for you over the past five years?
A pivotal moment came for me two and half years ago, when I signed up to join the Exciting Windows! team. After attending Steve Bursten’s and Jo Ann Brezette’s class at Window Coverings University, my thinking completely shifted from that of a seamstress—embedded in a craft culture—to that of a window treatment/interior design professional. Attending WCU offered me a glimpse of what it could be for me to really take the reins and develop my business.
What were your fears and feelings as you made the change?
I knew I was able to communicate the design needs of my clients to other seamstresses so the finished products would be beautiful. But my fear was whether I would truly be able to free myself from that creative process to pursue other areas of my business—such as sales and marketing—to really become successful in this highly competitive field.
What has the experience of transition been like for you?
The process has been extremely exciting, although I’ve worked very hard. I feel like I’ve been on a cruise liner that needed to completely change the course of its direction! However, with help I have been able to develop a roadmap and gain support with a group of mentors who have helped me to pursue the challenges that I faced—and still face today.
What have the major changes beenfrom then to now?
The changes have been enormous! I’m still a one-person business; however, I now have a support system that has enabled me to shed areas of responsibility so that I am of maximum service to my customers. Today, I have a full bookkeeping service, which I’ve hired to handle all paperwork and billing. I sub-contract my jobs out to four different workrooms and have two professional installers that finish my jobs.
I now look at the number of appointments, average size of sale and closing ratios. I focus on the tools that I need to use to continue my success—with advertising, direct mail, flyers, design seminars and personal events.
With these changes, I have been able to double my sales and learn how to manage my margins so that my profitability continues to grow. I’ve learned how to manage business beyond invoices and purchase orders.
How do you see your future ahead?
With just over two years since the pivotal moment when I decided to grow as a businessperson, I am still learning how to avoid mistakes and get the best pay-off for my decisions. I see future increases in size of sale and higher profitability as I gain experience and become an effective competitor.
Expanding my business and shifting my focus has helped me become more proactive for my customers—recognizing that my job is all about serving them and meeting their needs. I can provide them with more creative expertise, solve problems better and go the extra mile to bring beautiful window fashions into their homes. I’m also planning on hiring an assistant so that I can tackle more complex design issues and develop a wider product base.
If you were to go back to work for a corporation, how much would they have to pay you to work for them, instead of for yourself?
Working for myself, learning how to grow, putting money in the bank for my family’s future is priceless! No corporation could ever pay me enough money!
What would you tell others thinking about a career as a window fashions business owner?
I work much harder for myself than I’d work for someone else, but I get to call the shots and I have the flexibility to create my own schedule. This work is extremely rewarding with unlimited opportunities. What you put in to it directly affects what you will get out of it. I love this business and I especially enjoy the gratification I get by participating in my customer’s design process.
Steven C. Bursten is the retired founder of Decorating Den Interiors and currently chairman/CEO of Exciting Windows! a national network of experienced window coverings professionals specializing in high quality shop-at-home service. He is the author of a how-to book on new business start up, “Bootstrap Entrepreneur” and is the co-founder and CEO of Window Coverings University and Window Coverings University—Online. Questions andcomments welcome: steveb@ExcitingWindows.com or