With a focus on finding business-building solutions through education and training, 650 window coverings professionals met at the Mass Mutual Center, Springfield, MA, September 25 through 28 for the Eastern Designer & Workroom Conference presented by Draperies & Window Coverings magazine.
Drawn by the need to sharpen their business skills, learn new fabrication techniques, network with peers and discover new sources and suppliers, attendees from throughout the Northeast (and into the Midwest, Southwest and even West Coast!) came to the conference knowing that personal customer service, solving clients’ problems, creating and offering top-quality products, expert installation and business knowledge will be the building blocks for their businesses heading into the next year.
In a written conference evaluation questionnaire, 94 percent of respondents rated this conference as “Good” or “Excellent,” indicating the found what they had come for. Attendee Terre Heinz, A Better View, Nashua, NH, summed it up well, saying, “It’s important to attend these events for education, networking and recharging your passion for what you do.”
PARAMOUNT FOR GROWTH
The heart of the Designer & Workroom Conference is the seminar schedule. For the Springfield event, 60 sessions were held over the course of four days—a full day of seminars was offered on Thursday with half days on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The sessions were organized into design, business and workroom tracks so attendees could concentrate on areas they feel were most important to their businesses.
The Designer & Workroom Conference schedule offers the most seminars and time slots giving attendees the most choices on any one day or throughout the full program. In Springfield, more than half of the seminars were new, added topics to address areas of growing importance such as working with QuickBooks, successful business communications, creating customized fabrics, hiring for success, contemporary interior design style, the professional workroom and neighborhood marketing.
There were many “encore” sessions presented as well. These courses—highly recommended from previous conferences—included Scot Robbins’ “Let’s Talk Romans,” which covered the features of roman shades and fabrication methods; Suzanne Cox-Hudson’s “Stop Selling Yourself Short!”, which presented eight keys leading to higher income and professionalism; and Jeanelle Dech’s “The Best Crash Course in Fabric Coordination,” which explained monochromatic, dominant print and neutral background schemes.
A slate of seminars specifically on business building skills was added for the Springfield conference, which included Neil Gordon’s “Word of Mouth Marketing”; Steve Bursten’s “The Science of Profit” and Steve Wishnow’s “Advertising and the Budget.” In Gordon’s “Following Up” session he explained that pre-existing relationships are the most important factor for building business into the future.
A faculty of 21 experienced and expert industry leaders led the Springfield seminars. The response by attendees showed they were eager to learn and to put into action what they picked up in the sessions.
Commenting on Cathy Tucker’s seminar on the importance of communicating the terms and conditions of contracts, Gloria Walker, Fabric Accents, Basking Ridge, NJ, said, “I came home all pumped up to start working on my terms and conditions for my business as you presented them in class. I was so impressed with the thought and time that must have gone into the development of them.”
“Training is paramount . . . continuing education is paramount for growth,” said designer Deborah M. Williamson, Treatments For Your Panes, Macedon, NY. “The sharing is great! We get more energized being with others in the industry,” she added.
As in past shows, D&WC has made all seminar handout materials available on CDs at the show, rather than printing out several hundred copies of multi-page handouts. Not only does this save paper (think green!), it’s also much lighter when packing up after the conference and heading home.
FIND IT HERE
The Designer & Workroom Conference schedule includes two afternoons for the open exhibit hall—a schedule that allows attendees to focus their attention on suppliers, products, tools and equipment showcased by some 40 exhibitors without seminars also taking place.
In the exhibit hall they could find everything from accessories to zippers. Drapery hardware, roller shades, workroom supplies, trimmings, pillow forms, decorative fabrics, machines and equipment, estimating and design software, tools, patterns—if it helps designers and workrooms work easier, faster and better, it was exhibited by an industry supplier at the conference.
Special features of the exhibit hall included the 3,000-square-foot Working Workroom where products and techniques were demonstrated. A schedule of vendor demonstrations was set in an area on the exhibit floor for more detailed or specific presentations without leaving the hall.
One of the more important parts of the conference is its networking opportunities. Attendees often comment on how they were able to meet with peers and discuss how they do things, what works for them, pricing and other helpful ideas.
The networking opportunities began almost immediately with the Get Acquainted Gathering held first thing Thursday morning before classes started. Prizes are awarded to the first attendees who could learn three facts about five new people at the conference.
At noon on Thursday, designer Margi Kyle delivered the conference’s lunch keynote address. Kyle’s theme was building self-confidence in order to gain business and fulfill dreams. Her suggestions included finding a mentor—someone not necessarily in the industry, but someone who can change your life for the better. She also stressed the importance of dreams and goals, having a mission statement and taking a realistic look at your and your company’s image and whether you are attracting the type of clients you want.
Immediately following Kyle’s keynote the lunch tables were quickly re-set for the roundtable discussions, a part of the conference quickly growing in popularity. Seminar instructors set up areas in the hall on general themes such as workrooms, design and marketing. Attendees sat, listened and asked questions. Every 10 minutes the sessions ended and attendees could move on to another topic of their choosing.
Everyone in this industry knows the importance of referrals. One of the most important questions asked in the conference evaluation questionnaire is if an attendee would recommend the conference to others. Virtually every attendee (98 percent) submitting a comment questionnaire said they would.
“Lots of great tips and ideas. We get a shot in the arm when things get a little stale, learn new styles and be on the cutting edge. It helps differentiate our business,” said designer Nancy Hogan, Great Panes, Rochester, NY.
“We look at what you gave us as a pattern to follow, we now have the steps to map our growth, set smart goals and keep working a business plan to map our futures,” said Charlotte Connors, Charlotte’s Custom Draperies and Home Fashions, Waynesburg, PA.
“Great opportunity to meet and exchange info with others in the industry. Great hands-on experience! I am glad to have attended. I feel energized and ready to make some changes in my plan and workroom,” said Colleen Schultz, MJ Installations, Voorheesville, NY.