Like many in the window coverings industry, Dian Garbarini’s career did not exactly get off to a quick start. But, more importantly, she persevered. Her earliest successes came about from hard work driven by motivation.
“I paid my dues. I worked to the bone, and I worked 24 hours a day,” Dian says. “I was quite in debt from a bad real estate investment that I had gotten into, so I was in debt up to my eyeballs and was determined to get myself out of debt. So that helped to push myself further than I probably would have had I not been in debt. That’s my silver lining with the debt: knowing that it was there to push me. I don’t recommend that for anybody, but that was my motivating factor. It took a while, but I was able to get out of debt.
“It’s possible to make some good money [in this industry],” she adds.
As Garbarini’s business began to pick up, Dian began to extend her network. She attended industry educational and trade events where she met people like Cheryl Strickland, Lavelle Pinder and Boots Parker. She began to realize that helpful information was out there if you would look for it and could find someone willing to share it.
“It was the days before the Internet and you just had to seek out things on your own. You just had to kind of wing it as far as pricing, figuring things out . . . nobody was really there to teach what we do.”
In 1994, Dian read an announcement from Rory McNeil, TechStyles, for Window-Pro, an Internet chat group hosted on America Online (AOL). “That was really exciting to participate in something that was worthwhile over the Internet,” she says.
“I participated in Window-Pro very actively for a year and realized that there were people on the forum that did draperies. It was a weird venue to be discussing soft treatments on the hard treatment site. So with Rory’s blessing, he thought starting another forum would be a good idea. That’s when DraperyPro came about. I think Margie Nance was the one that actually came up with the name DraperyPro.”
DraperyPro went online in 1996. “I would get the e-mails and copy and paste them into one mailing that was sent out,” Dian recalled. “There was a lot of work on my end to get these all together and send them out regularly. I did this for a year and a half without charging any kind of a fee.
“[Then] one of the members put out a survey to find out whether they would be willing to pay for the service. Overwhelmingly everybody said yes. So we came out with a very nominal fee and people paid and it was exciting!”
One of its most important DraperyPro features early on was a weekly live chat for AOL members. It became quite a ritual. “We were so religious about attending those!” Dian says. Meanwhile, one of the most important events in Dian and her husband Rob’s life also took place about this time: the birth of their son. DraperyPro members have virtually watched Dustin grow up—they even threw an online surprise baby shower. “That was exciting! I still have the e-mails that were sent,” said Dian.
“We’ve been active for 11 years and I learned so much from that,” says Garbarini. “I learned what other people were charging and realized that I wasn’t charging nearly enough. It really gave me courage to raise my prices and also in knowing that I can sell anything, and not even have a clue of how to get it accomplished but knowing that I can turn to the people that I had met within the industry,” Garbarini says.
Today, DraperyPro has 300 members around the world. For that nominal annual fee, members can contact and network with others in the soft treatments business across the United States and in Canada, Europe, Japan and Pakistan.
“I’ve met some wonderful people,” Dian says, “and made some friends that I’d hate to think that I would never have met had I not been involved in the Internet.”