To illustrate the problems, let's take a look at what often happens at a COM workroom.
The customers who bring you their own fabric are almost always bargain hunters. If they weren't, they would hire a decorator or designer. If they are paying your prices, then that tells you that you have bargain prices!
If you are new at making window treatments, then your bargain prices are probably in line, as long as you are making more than what a fast food restaurant pays. However, if you are continually educating yourself and have been in the business a few years, then you are worth far more than bargain prices!
ILLITERATE IN MEASURING
It is very unlikely that the average customer knows anything about measuring, especially if the drapery rod is not already up. That means it will take you time to educate them and to explain to them how to make the necessary deductions to come up with finished measurements for you.
It also, then, becomes necessary for you to provide these customers with a measuring sheet on which they will write their exact measurements and their finished measurements. They should also sign it. That's more work for you!
Rarely does this customer come to the fabricator first to calculate yardage. She usually takes her measurements to the fabric store where an inexperienced clerk uses a chart to calculate yardage. In too many cases, you end up short because no two workrooms calculate or fabricate the same way.
It's up to you not to just take the customer's word for how much yardage she has, but to unroll it—or unfold it, as the case may be—and count the yards yourself. This process takes even more of your time.
The true indication of a bargain hunter is that she brings you bed sheets to make into draperies, dust skirts or anything else she dreams up. First, unless sheets are washed, the fold creases cannot be pressed out. Second, sheets are a real challenge to calculate yardage because they aren't the standard width, and you are using pieces instead of one long length of fabric.
Then, of course, the prints in sheets never match and maybe even the dye lots don't match. On top of that, you may be expected to make some wonderful things out of fitted sheets! Here you go again, using up your time educating the customer and calculating yardage.
Many of these customers will purchase flawed goods, sometimes knowingly, but many times not. Here again, you have to check for flaws and have them sign a disclaimer that you are not responsible for flaws being included.
If they are concerned about the flaws, then you have to wait for them to see if they can get something done about them.
The bargain hunter is likely to tell you to work around the flaws or the short yardage. "Just do the best you can," she is likely to say. Besides taking a lot of extra time, you are taking a big risk because the end results may compromise the quality for which you are known. Any work that you put out has your name on it, and people will judge you by your work.
No matter how hard we try, we all make mistakes, like the time I miss-cut $100-a-yard fabric! Sometimes they are easily and unnoticeably remedied, sometimes not.
What happens if you totally ruin the customer's fabric and there is no more of it to be had anywhere? She may allow you to reimburse her the original cost of the fabric, but then again as I once heard, she may ask you for more than that because the fabric is irreplaceable. Who is to say how much that fabric is really worth?
This is where your biggest risk is involved, and there is no insurance that will cover it. Do you have the extra money even to reimburse the original price, much less an inflated one?
Suppose the customer doesn't like the finished treatments? How will you handle that? Chances are her fabric can't be remade and you may have to replace the fabric, if it is replaceable. Here is where a contract is a lifesaver.
CONTRACT WITH TERMS AND CONDITIONS
A contract is a definite must to protect you from all risks. Going over a contract with your customer helps each of you to clearly understand who is responsible for what and what are the risks involved. That's the first purpose of a contract.
The second purpose is for the agreement you strike with your customer to hold up in court. For that security, an attorney must approve the contract.
You don't have to keep doing what you're doing. You have options. They include the following:
1. You must charge more—much more—to do COM fabric to cover your liability and all the time you spend on these jobs. You owe it to yourself and the industry to shed the bargain label.
2. You can sell your own fabric (see the annual D&WC Directory and Buyer's Guide for resources, which also is available online at www.DWCdesigNet.com) and refuse to do COM. Yes, you will lose some customers and you will have to help other customers decide on treatments—in other words, really get into selling retail.
You will have less liability, but you will have to invest in samples. Because of that, along with your experience and education, you will need to raise prices to what you are really worth—taking yourself way out of the bargain category.
3. If you prefer to sew and not sell fabrics, then work only for designers and decorators. There is a major shortage of workrooms in most areas of the country and no young people are coming up in this industry. Designers call me regularly looking for workrooms. Again, have a contract complete with terms and conditions for these clients and get a price list together that will give you the prices you deserve and will earn you a good living.
Working with COM may seem like the easy way out, but you are walking on quicksand. If you are a sole proprietor and not incorporated, then a disgruntled customer could take you for everything you have. If your prices are bargain basement low, then you not only are losing money, but also are contributing to the death of an industry.
If window treatment fabricators do not soon start making the money they deserve and make this a lucrative career option, there will be no one to replace those who are retiring. Yes, you, as one person in your city or little town can make a difference. Will you?
If you have any questions or comments about this article, previous articles or any topic of interest to workrooms, please contact me at:
Draperies & Window Coverings
666 Dundee Rd., Ste. 807
Northbrook, IL 60062-2769
Fax: (847) 498-0231
Web site: www.workroomconcepts.com
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 and Price Your Work With Confidence.