If you want to learn, yet don't have the time or money to attend an on-site school, try a home-based certification program. The Window Coverings Association of America (WCAA) offers the most prominent and well-known certification program out there. The Certified Window Treatment Consultant program was designed to provide a comprehensive professional level of knowledge.
The certification is an exam in two parts. The first part tests basic knowledge of window treatment functions, measurements, hardware selection and installation, fiber properties and product care. The second covers period window treatments, calculating yardage, selecting the right fabric, combining treatments and creativity in design. All of this information can be found in the textbook, Window Treatments, written by Karla J. Nielson and provided by WCAA when you register for the program.
The certification essentially is a self-study program. The WCAA recommends you allow yourself six weeks of advance study to prepare for the exam. The exams are held throughout the year in locations around the country. For a list of scheduled exams, see WCAA Notes on page 18, call the WCAA [(888) 298-9222], or log onto its Web site (www.wcaa.org). The certification enables members of the trade to gain fluency in the language and methods of the window coverings industry. To master your craft and to keep up-to-date with emerging trends, bolster this training by attending conferences.
Educational conferences are occurring with increasing regularity throughout the country. Conferences are opportunities to take classes, explore new products and ideas, and meet other members of the trade. All of this can improve your craft and business skills.
One opportunity you'll find at many conferences is D&WC's Interior Fashions University (IFU). IFU is an ongoing seminar program for interior fashion professionals, offering seminars on design, workroom and marketing topics. At this year's International Window Coverings Expo, a faculty of four renowned professionals presented 10 seminars. Kay Pegram, Cheryl Strickland, Kitty Stein and Karla Nielson have all made tremendous marks on the industry. Each is published and highly successful with her own business.
The seminars they presented covered topics as diverse as Strickland's "Calculating Yardages," to Stein's discourse on what is professionalism. Nielson covered business techniques, Pegram discussed marketing. (See D&WC, February 1999) Best of all, show attendees could learn by taking the seminars for free. They are an excellent way to continue learning.
IFU offers additional ways to keep your skills honed. The D&WC Bookstore, available on-line at www.DWC.desigNET.com, offers select guidebooks, decorating manuals, custom videos, worksheets and forms. In short, it contains valuable information you need to keep up with current trends and techniques. As a recent added benefit, the D&WC Bookstore page includes a direct link to Amazon.com and a growing list of books and materials selected for the industry.
Another educational conference opportunity is The SewWHAT? Newsletter's Annual Workroom Educational Conference. Formerly known as the Ultimate Learning Retreat, this conference is held in Asheville, NC, each September. It is an excellent way to combine intensive instruction in diverse areas while visiting a popular vacation spot. For a fee of $395, the tradesperson gains access to 16 instructors, all industry leaders.
The instructors offer detailed classes on workroom techniques, marketing strategies, business methods and selling tips. The conference lasts four days. Attendance this year was estimated at more than 250 participants. In addition to the instruction, participants have the opportunity to meet with vendors and industry representatives who have displays at the conference.
If a conference only wets your appetite, or if you're new to the industry, a more formal school might be in order. Schools offer a variety of curricula from installation to design to fabrication techniques. Some manufacturing companies provide training centers specific to their products.
One such company is Lafayette Venetian Blind Co. in West Lafayette, IN. The Lafayette Training Center was established around 1990 to train workrooms in the installation of Lafayette drapery, shutters and motorized systems. The course lasts from Tuesday to Saturday and costs $595. It takes place at the plant under the supervision of Dan Kerrigan, who instructs students in all aspects of the course. Such courses usually focus on those hard treatments produced by the specific companies.
Another company, On-Site Drapery Cleaning & More, Hayden Lake, ID, just announced the opening of its On-Site University, a center dedicated exclusively to providing its dealers with specialized training in cleaning every fabric window treatment on the market.
Classes at the state-of-the-art facility feature one full, intensive day of expert hands-on instruction on the best procedures for using the On-Site cleaning system and its proprietary attachments. Student are taught to clean everything from the latest fabric window shadings to swags, balloons, jabots and top treatments. A second half-day is devoted to marketing and business development for dealers.
For a more generalized and diverse educational experience consider a school such as Cheryl Strickland's The Professional Drapery School. The only school of its kind in the country, it offers hands-on classes in window treatments, slipcovers and installations. Strickland started the school in Maryland, in the workroom of a consultant, three years ago, and it has grown into a 5,000-square-foot structure in Swannanoa, NC.
The school consists of model workrooms, classrooms and plenty of practice material. More than 600 students have attended the four-day classes at the school. The focus in all classes is on making and installing treatments as quickly as possible while still maintaining high standards of quality. (See D&WC, March 1998) The classes impart tricks of the trade, what equipment you'll need, and the little details that make a big difference. From information such as what tools to own and use to how to most efficiently set up your workroom, the school covers it all. A handbook given to each student includes all of the lessons for future reference.
Instructors also place a great deal of emphasis on running a business well. They recognize that you can know all of the trade secrets and create excellent treatments yet still flounder in the business world. Strickland seeks to impart the knowledge necessary to have a successful business as well as produce quality products.
Strickland, herself, teaches classes on window treatments while the faculty handles the installation and cornice and headboard classes. All of the faculty members own their own businesses and still are active in the industry. The classes are offered every month with each subject having two levels. Strickland currently is formatting a third level for the classes. Many students will spend three weeks at the facility taking three classes back to back to back. When you consider that students have traveled all the way from Japan to take these classes, that makes sense.
The only prerequisite for the window treatment and slipcover classes is that you know how to sew. For the installation classes, there are no prerequisites. It is conceivable that for $695 and four days of training, you could come away with a complete trade. Not bad considering the thousands of dollars and years of studying most trades require.
Strickland has plans for new classes, including bed treatments, iron-on techniques and any other class she feels there's a need for. The school also participates in vocational rehabilitation programs through Maryland and other states. Strickland feels it is vital to help other people get back on their feet by learning to be productive and creative in their lives. Also new is the Professional Drapery School Web site (www.draperyschool.com). Soon you will be able to visit the school and have Strickland give you a tour from the comfort of your home.
The opportunities to acquire new skills and to refresh old ones, to learn a trade and to make valuable contacts are endless. Education can improve your product, your business and your outlook. Whether you seek education as a means of gaining certification or knowledge, improving your earning potential, or simply as a means of keeping abreast of the industry, it will be a wise investment. Learning always pays off.
K. Culley Holderfield is a free-lance writer based in Asheville, NC.