For some reason, a designer is expected to be someone quite different and maybe even superior to the average retail customer. In reality, a customer is a customer is a customer! None of us would have a business if we had no customers. Designers are customers, and they deserve respect and consideration not only for keeping us in business, but for keeping us in a business we enjoy.
It is important to initiate and develop good, solid and respectful relationships with your customers, the designers and decorators. This relationship can make or break business transactions and the success of your business. Try incorporating the following C's into your thinking and into your business practices. You might be pleasantly surprised.
In the previous article, I stated that most designers are not well educated in window treatments. Their businesses are entirely different from yours. If you hire a carpenter, he doesn't expect you to know how he's going to add on that room you want. It might help him if you knew a little bit, but if you know nothing, he still can do the job.
That's not to say designers don't need some educating when it comes to window treatments. In our industry, it certainly helps if they understand more of the mechanics involved. But on the other hand, too much knowledge can cause problems, too. Many designers, however, realize that more education will enhance their sales ability and they will welcome the additional education.
I'm sure designers also realize that every time they try a new workroom there are new procedures and methods of calculations to learn. Be willing to give them the training they need to use your workroom. Also, consider offering more extensive training, for a fee, to those who want it.
From the very beginning, as you work with designers explain to them why you suggest or reject the things you do. If you are conscientious about educating them with relevant bits and pieces of information all along the way, they will become more knowledgeable and less of a burden as time goes on.
The time you must spend with each designer can be reduced dramatically if you supply them with a basic set of specifications for your workroom. These specs primarily would include the information they need to calculate a job. They also might include information on how top treatments are mounted, sizes of hems and placement of seams-anything about which they might have to ask.
Many workrooms prefer to calculate yardage for designers for every order. This is fine as long as you are paid for the time you spend on estimates. In this case, it also is necessary for you to educate them on all the information they must supply in order for you to prepare a complete estimate.
Often resentment builds in a workroom for that extra time it spends with designers because it is not financially compensated for it. As a legitimate business out to make a profit, you cannot afford to give away the time you need to spend fabricating and making money. There is a fine line between providing the training necessary to use your workroom and providing the extra training and consultation to competently sell window treatments.
A certain amount of instruction and education should be covered in your overall charges. Of course, any business that appears to give beyond what is expected is bound to attract loyal customers, designers or not. The key word here is appears. If you were really to give away your time and knowledge because it's expected, then resentment will build as your profit declines. You won't enjoy what you are doing and you will likely put the blame where it doesn't belong. If you want to offer the extra help and knowledge a designer wants or expects, then charge for it, but explain your pricing structure so the designer understands what his or her money is buying.
It's a fact, educating and coaching your designer clients always will be necessary. You must be financially compensated for this time one way or another.
Be genuinely interested and concerned about and for your clients. Developing a relationship of respect and trust with clients is the core of a good business. Many of your problems and aggravations can be eliminated by solving their problems first.
Consider the case of a client who regularly is making costly mistakes, which happens much too frequently. Now consider the deadly effect that can have on your business. Maybe the client is willing to pay for all the rework and alterations (which should be the case), but it's causing severe stress on your work schedule. Did it also occur to you that if the designer continues making the mistakes, he or she may likely go out of business? Then you will lose not just the alterations, but all the designer's work.
Talk to her about giving her personal instruction (for a fee). Approach this as a way of helping her with her business. If she stops making the mistakes, she'll have more time to spend making new sales, which will more than pay for your personal instruction. By solving her problems you have eliminated the frustration of correcting all her mistakes!
Now, I admit there are designers out there who don't want to learn and will not learn. If you can't come to an agreeable arrangement that financially compensates you for the extra trouble this causes and dramatically reduces your aggravation level, then fire them. You do not have to work for everybody who knocks on your door. If your personalities don't click, then you shouldn't try to make it work. Fortunately, there are a lot of wonderful designers out there who know how to work with workrooms that show a sincere interest in them.
All of the C's in these articles could effectively come under the heading "Communication." However, listening and making every effort to understand what the designer needs is at the center of good communication. The important rule here is not to assume anything!
In reality, you not only are trying to learn what the designer wants, but also what the designer's customer wants and expects. Here again, your expertise in fabrication can guide the designer in dealing with his or her customer. The more you know about a job, the more help you can be. If you can eliminate mistakes and please the designer's customer, then you have done your job. Every time you make the designer look good in the eyes of his or her customer, your value to that designer has risen. All of this is accomplished through good communication.
We are used to hearing retail sales people talk about their number or percentage of closures. While the percentage of closures is important, you also need to look at the quality of the closures. When a workroom meets with a designer for the first time, that workroom is selling itself for a long-term relationship worth many future sales. But it is entirely possible for the workroom to sell only part of the package.
I have had designers use my workroom just because I could make a particular product, but if I didn't persuade them to use me for other products, then it was not a complete and successful closure. You must convince the designer that you not only are a quality fabricator, but that you are a reliable, educated and caring businessperson. The designer must be confident that you are completely knowledgeable and capable of handling any situation that should arise. In other words, the designer must trust you to meet all her needs completely for most, if not all, products and believe that any rules and guidelines you have established are necessary.
If you are not able to get this impression across, then seek out more education in sales techniques. Take seminars, listen to audio tapes or read books. Learn how to sell the whole package!
CHECK, CHECK, CHECK
Check the designers' orders as soon as you get them. Check everything about them. Is the yardage correct? Are the fabrics compatible? Do the measurements jive? What's the right side of the fabric? What is the up and down of the fabric? And on and on . . .
Check and recheck everything about the order, especially when it is completely finished and before it goes out the door. This is so important to reducing mistakes! This care and quality control is what the designers are paying you for-although most of them won't know it until you enlighten them.
In the very beginning of your relationship, tell them all that you are doing for them so they'll know why you are charging what you are charging. You are the fabrication professional. It is your job to see that the fabrication will work correctly the first time. This can be accomplished with a check system.
Designers and decorators are customers, but they are people first. They need care. They need coaching and support. And they need rules to live by. Take the time to build a relationship with them full of mutual trust and respect. Then you not only will have a successful business financially, but one that will be personally fulfilling and satisfying.
Kitty Stein, WCAA, is a 20-year veteran of the drapery workroom field, having owned and operated her own business for 18 years and having taught classes on window treatment construction. Until 1990, Stein and a partner owned a workroom with nine employees. She since has opened her own smaller workroom, Workroom Concepts, that has just one employee. She also does workroom consulting, seminar speaking and is the author of Order in the Workroom available through Draperies & Window Coverings.