My husband owns a small, custom business also. He is perceived much differently than I am . . . and people quickly pay him his price without question. Even though I continually take great effort to present myself and my company as a professional custom business, I still get clients who place me at a lower, non-professional status. Sometimes I ignore it, but more often lately I try to say something to ensure they understand who they are contracting with for the custom products they are ordering.
I keep in close contact with many small, top-quality custom workrooms in Maryland. There are plenty of them here. What I hear and have come to understand as I network with these workrooms bothers me greatly. And I can relate to what they say. Although they desperately want to, it seems these workroom owners have not set up their businesses (administratively, financially or production-wise) to operate as a successful business, especially one that is offering custom services by highly skilled people.
I hear they aren't making enough money to live on. I hear they have no idea what the production time is for most of their jobs or what their administrative and operating costs are in order even to begin determining what they need to gross per hour to operate their businesses and pay themselves decent salaries. They jump from cutting fabric to answering the telephone to letting decorators stop by unexpectedly to putting together a quick estimate instead of finishing a deadline job to whatever anyone wants next.
Some workrooms seem to allow others to run them instead of them setting the tone for their own companies. One owner seems to let a decorator run her as if she were the decorator's private seamstress. One woman allows her "designer friend" to introduce her as a seamstress instead of as an owner of a custom window treatment business. Would she do that if they both were doctors?
Another husband told his wife she could make more per hour by working at McDonald's. He is right! Just last week another man asked me to talk to his wife about how much she should be making per hour to run a business and bring in a salary. I think I've set myself high enough finally, but when I told him what I try to gross per hour on average he said I was too low for our area. Thank you very much!
The custom workroom is just as custom as any other business in a custom industry. Our specific skills are just as valuable, our services are just as professional, our fabricated products are just as custom as any other custom product made with specific materials for a specific place (a window, in our case), in a specific style, to serve a specific function, to meet a very personal decorating style for the client. Why some retail customers and some designers think that custom workrooms overcharge for their services is beyond me.
If a retail client or designer cannot afford to pay for custom service and products, then they should not be looking in the custom market. Why should a workroom keep its price low so the buyer can afford it? Who is losing out here? Because I am also a decorator I can say that it is more fair (in my eyes) for a client to pay me for my design time based on what I am worth per hour of time with them. The workroom charges or any other labor and products I sell to them is added on. I do not expect my salary for design services to be based on how cheap I can get a workroom to do the job for me so I can upcharge it more.
Why some retail customers and some designers think that custom workrooms overcharge for their services is beyond me.
Teresa Grysikiewicz is the owner of Interior Attire, Arnold, MD.