In recent months, I have read forums and e-mail lists concerning a variety of problems in this type of relationship. Sadly, these problems are not new. The parties just have different names. Workrooms feel lost and powerless when they are blamed for situations over which they think they have no control. It is only human nature to want to blame anyone else but our self for something that goes wrong, especially when it affects the pocketbook. That doesn’t make it right, but understanding that can help you learn how to handle an uncomfortable situation.
Below are some real situations that happened along with questions asked by workrooms and my comments.
A designer regularly calls the workroom and asks for a quote on an unusual job. The quote is given. The work is fabricated and delivered with a bill for the exact quote. In the meantime, the designer decided the quote was too high and she lowered it to give her estimate to the customer. When she receives the bill from the workroom, the designer writes her revised quote on it and pays only what she believes the work is worth.
Workroom question: This designer has been a client for many years and brings in lots of work. This is a fairly recent development (probably due to the fact that the workroom has finally realized its value and what it must make to survive and has raised its prices). How do you make the designer pay and maintain good customer relations in order not to lose her business?
My response: First, diplomatically explain that you are not gouging her on the price—that it is exactly what you require to do the type of work requested and stay in business. Explain all the experience and education involved to fabricate such work.
Further explain that you will do no further work for her and stop any work in progress until she has paid the bill in full. In the future you will require 100 percent prepayment if she desires you to do work for her.
A designer asks the workroom for a rush job and offers $50 to $100 extra to get the job done in a couple days. The workroom complies. From then on, the designer must have every order done as a rush job, but offers no extra money.
Workroom question: The constant rush jobs are causing chaos with my production schedule. How do I charge for the rush jobs and have more control over them?
My response: First, it is up to the workroom to determine exactly what it is worth to do rush jobs and how to charge. I suggest adding at least 50 percent or more to make it worthwhile to work longer hours to stay on schedule. Keep in mind that rushing leads to mistakes.
Tell the designer up front exactly what the charge will be to get the work ahead of all the other clients you have. If it is too disruptive to the workroom schedule and you are not willing to risk mistakes, refuse to do them at all or limit the number of times per year that each client is allowed a rush job.
You own your business. It is up to you to make the money you need to
make to compensate for the extra stress. You do the work you do because
you love it. Do not allow it to become a burden.
A designer pays a 50 percent down payment upon placing an order. When the designer’s installer hangs the job, she pays him on the spot but makes the workroom wait until she is paid by her client. Sometimes this is several weeks.
Workroom question: I want my money when the job is installed and the customer is still thrilled with the treatments. I cannot afford to wait a few weeks for payment. How do I get the designer to pay me sooner?
My response: All workrooms should be paid COD, i.e. before the work leaves the workroom. Once the customer is in possession of the work, it is hard to take legal action.
Tell the designer that you have been forced to change your business policies and that from now on you must be paid before the work can be installed. Be sure to guarantee your work in case you do make a mistake. If that happens, fix it immediately!
A designer makes an error in measuring, which is discovered when the treatment is installed. The treatment has to be altered.
Workroom question: Should I charge for the remake and, if so, how much?
My response: Definitely charge for the remake if it is the designer’s fault. If this is an unusual occurrence for this client, I suggest you do it by the hour at a reduced fee, but be sure you do make a little profit on it. Also, do it as quickly as you can.
If it is a regular occurrence with the client, then charge a higher than normal hourly fee and work it as quickly as you can. Be cautious not to aggravate another client by putting the remake ahead of her order.
If your client is habitually asking for remakes, then it might be wise to be “too busy to handle her work any longer.”
The workroom fabricated a job for a designer exactly as requested. The work was installed and customer and designer were happy. Suddenly, the customer doesn’t want to pay the designer and doesn’t want to do any more work with her. The designer refuses to pay the workroom for this job, blaming the workroom for her problems. However, the designer brings the workroom additional work.
Workroom question: I did exactly what I was requested to fabricate and I’ve billed the designer several times, but she won’t pay. She also has not paid for the job after that one.
My response: First, the workroom should never have done a second job when she hadn’t been paid for the first job. Second, refer to Situation Three. There are other fish in the sea. Let this one go and do no further work without 100 percent prepaid upfront.
As far as collecting, turn it over to a collection agency or, better yet, a lawyer who does collections. A typical collection fee is 25 percent, but something is better than nothing. It’s also less stressful and less expensive than going to court.
This situation also reminds me of a famous quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” This seems to be what the designer is trying to do.
A designer brought the workroom fabric and asked for a quote. The workroom was told the price was too high, but the designer left the fabric anyway. Later, the designer faxes prices from her “other” workrooms for the same job in which only one price was higher than the first quote.
Workroom: I could really use the work right now. Should I reduce my price to be competitive?
My response: Your prices are what you must charge; do not back down. Again, diplomatically, explain to the designer why your price must be what it is and stick to it. If you reduce a price one time, she will expect it every time. Besides, how do you know for sure that what she quoted is the going rate in your area? And even if it is, it doesn’t mean your competitors’ work and service are comparable to yours.
This same designer is not likely to try to bargain with Nordstrom’s over a dress that is similar to one she can buy at Bloomingdale’s, which is less expensive. Explain to her that if she wants to price-shop every job, you are not the workroom for her. Your prices are not negotiable and are what they must be to deliver quality fabrication to keep you in business.
The following quote by Lisa Salvatore, a member of the WindowWeb e-mail list is a perfect response. “I don’t care how much they charge. My prices are based on my business needs, not the competition. I tell them I don’t even want to see their price list. It’s of no use to me. If I have to lower my prices to stay in business, then I will find another line of work, it’s that simple.”
If you lose this client, instead of losing money spend your time marketing to other potential clients. There are more appreciative designers out there who need workrooms. Investigate the possibilities before you approach other prospects (you don’t want another price-shopper) and prepare your sales pitch. Remember that educated, skilled and dependable workrooms are hard to find.
These are but a few of the problems that develop between workrooms and their designer clients, but they do have some lessons in common. You own your business and nobody has the right to tell you how to run it. It’s up to you to set the terms and prices by which you must do business.
These situations also point up the fact that every workroom needs a contract and a terms and conditions policy that it can go over with clients and on which it gets clients to sign. When you have your rules neatly organized and typed up in a professional format, it gives you much more credibility. Potential clients are less likely to protest.
Another lesson is that designers are like everyone else. If you give anyone an inch, they will want a mile . . . and then another one. With longtime loyal clients, you can sometimes bend the rules, but do not make it a habit!
Many of you find it difficult to communicate rules to your clients. You first must believe with all your heart that you are right. This will give you the confidence you need to do what you have to do. Ask yourself some questions. Is it necessary? Is it ethical? Whose fault is it? (Be honest!) How badly do you want to keep this client?
Remember, you should not have all your eggs in one basket. If it is necessary to keep a client—at least for the time being—then you may have to give more than your share to do it. However, every time you waste time and money to please a dissatisfied client, it adds to your cost of doing business, i.e. your productivity is lowered. That means eventually you will have to raise prices to compensate for it.
A very dear friend once told me, “You can say anything to anyone as long as you have a smile on your face!” It confuses and diffuses people. They don’t know exactly how to take it. It’s awfully hard to get mad at a smiling person. So make the rules and prices you must make to run an organized business and to reap a decent living. Then stand up straight, put those shoulders back so they know you mean business and smile sweetly as you explain the rules and prices you require. You are the only one who can take care of you and your business. Just do it with a smile and feel that power of control!
Finally, here is some more food for thought: the poet George Herbert once wrote, “Skill and confidence are an unconquered army.”
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
840 US. Hwy One Ste. 330
N. Palm Beach, FL 33408
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.