Workrooms have their favorites. We can’t help but be partial to certain decorators and designers. We try to be unbiased, but we’re susceptible to being drawn to certain ones. It’s not that we’re enamored with their wonderful fabric selections or unique designs. It’s that we’re totally in love with the way they conduct themselves in business.
I will never forget the day a designer stood in my workroom and said, “You need to go up on your prices.” This is the same sweetheart that always asks about my employees, my family and my life in general. I remember well the day that she and I were standing in a client’s bedroom installing a rather large job. She whispered over to me, “The fabric supplier must have messed up, that’s the companion fabric to what I really ordered.” That was followed by, “Shhhhh, don’t say anything. I doubt the client will notice or care since I’m the one that picked it out in the first place.” When the client came into the room, my beloved designer raved about how beautiful everything was. The client followed suit.
Now bear in mind that the designer had provided us with a paper scan of the fabric. She could have put a huge loss right in my lap. Never mind that the companion fabric was remarkably similar to the actual selection, so close that one would need more than a glance to tell the difference. One cry of foul from her in front of the customer and my profits would have been affected adversely for a very long time.
But this designer is a real professional. She has been doing this long enough to know that pointing out troubles that are not really troubles only makes things harder for the customer and ultimately harder for her. And, most of all, she understands the importance of her relationship with her workroom and other suppliers. This particular designer does only high-end jobs, and she does that type of work over and over because of her talent in making the process so enjoyable and stress-free for her clients. Not blowing the whistle on a fabric that could just as easily been her choice meant no stress for the client and only a slight heart attack for me.
A wise designer will understand that many customers come and go. When the job is over, the designer moves on to the next customer. A smart designer knows that the workroom is part of a team of suppliers and subcontractors that service her clients. She strives to develop a long-term relationship that is mutually beneficial to her and her team. It is also beneficial to her client as well, because good working relations make for ultimately better service.
GREAT THINGS GREAT DESIGNERS DO
In order to prosper and, yes, even survive, workrooms cherish designers that know how to work with a workroom. Here are some things that great designers do that make us love them:
• Great designers understand that the workroom takes huge risks for merely the price of labor. Labor pricing has to include not only labor costs, but overhead, taxes, supplies and on and on. If something goes terribly wrong, a workroom can suffer a huge loss in a hurry with something as simple as a snip of the scissors.
Great designers hold the workroom responsible for the quality of workmanship and following work orders, but they strive to minimize exposure to risk by protecting the workroom whenever possible. Always a true professional, the designer knows that it is in her best interest to help her team prosper.
• Great designers write work orders that include a clear picture of the desired results. Time taken to interpret unclear work orders costs money and directly affects pricing and productivity. Having to redo a treatment because the work order was written wrong or interpreted wrong is unpleasant for everyone involved. Great designers make themselves readily available for clarifications. Playing phone tag with a designer while work is at a standstill on the worktable costs time and money.
• A great designer understands that she is the workroom’s customer, not the client. She makes certain that she structures her business in a way that provides enough capital to finance her own jobs, and she pays promptly. Workrooms often do not have a deep pool of working capital, which means that the workroom owner is not in the position to finance jobs.
A great designer understands that not paying on time is basically borrowing money from the workroom and places undo stress on a vital part of her team. A workroom that works with several designers can find itself in a cash flow crunch by failing to avoid financing multiple jobs.
• A great designer understands that many potential problems can be avoided by preparing her client. She prepares her client for a realistic lead-time for fabrication. She prepares her client for back orders. She makes certain that she is in control of the client’s expectations in every way.
• Great designers understand that their method of handling mistakes is important. Everybody makes mistakes. Workrooms that have been treated graciously when the mistake is theirs are much more forgiving when the mistake is the designer’s. Designers who take responsibility for their own mistakes show true professionalism.
• Great designers understand that not all fabrics are suitable for all applications. Fabric selection is the key to good results. Workrooms price their labor on best-case scenarios. But when a difficult or impossible fabric is chosen, man-hours multiply in a hurry with loss of profit for the workroom. Great designers work with the workroom to make prudent fabric selections. Extra man-hours spent on a less-than-stellar result are disappointing to everyone involved, especially the workroom.
• Great designers develop a long-term collaborative relationship with one workroom. Pitting multiple workrooms against each other in bidding wars is not good for the designer/workroom relationship, nor is it good for the workroom industry.
Workrooms love to see the wonderful designs and fabulous fabric selections that great designers bring us, but most of all we love to see the outstanding business practices and people skills that great designers display. In return, we do everything we can to make great designers look marvelous to their clients.
Mary Ann Plumlee is the owner of a retail and wholesale workroom. Starting with only $50 and a home sewing machine in 1985, her business has expanded to include a showroom, 12 employees and two locations. She firmly believes that in this business only the tough survive. Finding the humor in the everyday life of a “curtainlady” is how she not only has survived, but thrived in this industry. Plumlee is often seen traveling around the country teaching classes and seminars. She is the author of The Adventures of Curtain Lady and has launched a workroom related blog: www.workroomintelligence.com.