I have just returned from the International Window Coverings Expo in Baltimore, MD, and Iíve learned so much! The most valuable lessons I learned at this particular show were from the attendees. I found myself saying more than once, and thinking more times than that, that you need to educate your customers!
Educating yourself is extremely important, but donít keep it to yourself!
And, by all means, donít attend a show or ask a question on the Internet
forums and e-lists unless your mind is open to accepting and trying the
answers you get.
FEAR OF CHAIN COMPETITION
So many of the wonderful people with whom I consult, and so many of the
show attendees I meet, are so afraid of the Big Boxes or chain stores,
i.e. the ready-made business. The majority of those consumers are not
your customers! True, some of them are possible customers because they
are getting some higher quality options now. But your best defense is
Teach, train or educate every customer about the service you provide,
the time you save them, the quality of the merchandise you offer. Explain
to them about the safety issues involved with every product. Show them
samples of how a product is put together and why. Discuss the importance
of your guarantee and the vendor guarantee on every product. Explain mounting
requirements and the necessity of being precise in your measurements before
ordering and the precision required to install a treatment. Discuss the
care and cleaning of custom treatments and why they can or cannot be cleaned.
What you are doing is arming customers with information that will generate
questions when they visit chain stores. In general, the decorators at
the chain stores are not nearly as educated as you are and will not be
able to answer the questions satisfactorily. They even might give them
a completely different answer. In fact, this could be true of any of your
competition that does not continually educate herself and keep up with
trends and new fabrication techniques.
Now, whom will they trust? You who have made every effort to become their
friend as you truly do care that they buy only what they will be happy
with, or the clerk in the store who is only interested in the commission
or pay check? If there are problems down the road, that clerk could care
less as it likely will not come out of his or her pocket. You, on the
other hand, own your business and do not have time to correct mistakes
because you know it not only eats up the profits but leaves you with an
All of this is true whether you are a wholesale or retail workroom. Educating
your customers and looking out for their special needs are what make you
KEEP AN OPEN MIND
Attending shows and reading books and magazines are only good as long
as you are willing to learn new ways of doing things and are willing to
try new products. If you are not willing to change, then all of this is
a waste of time and money.
I remember that wonderful day I finally learned how to hide the seams
beside the pleats of pinch pleat draperies. As you know, it means that
not all of the pleats in each width of a panel will be the same size unless
you trim some fabric off one side. The latter was an option I didnít
know at the time. There I was with newfound knowledge but scared to death
to do it without explaining first to my designers what I was doing. I
sold them on the idea because the advantages far outweighed the disadvantages.
In the 16 years that I fabricated draperies this way, I had some pretty
distinct differences in the sizes of the pleats, but never a complaint
about it! In reality, it probably wasnít necessary to explain to
my clients, but it gave them more advantages to sell their customers.
From then on, new clients were always educated on the advantages of hiding
As another example, our workroom fabricated for a very high-end company.
I would say that the common belief in our industry is that hand-sewn hems
are trademarks of high-end work. Not with this company! They told us of
taking clients to decorator showhouses and showing them why they preferred
blindstitched hems! Itís all in how you present your beliefs, i.e.
knowing how to sell.
ROCKING THE BOAT
I recently read of an instance where a fabricator was faced with a situation
in which the client said, ďI want it exactly like the old one!Ē
Have you heard that one before? This particular fabricator gave the customer
the same look in the new window treatment, but with added features that
thrilled the customer. She did this by fabricating in a different way
than the original to save time, but she turned it into an advantage for
the customer. Her enthusiasm and thoughtfulness really impressed the customer.
Yes, she took a chance, but risk and creativity are why we own workrooms.
Sometimes fabricating a new way means a new look just because the technique
you used saved valuable time. Itís up to you to sell the benefits
to the customer, and it might only be that you say, ďThis is the
new look that is really catching on!Ē Itís at least catching
on in your workroom. If you can sell the wrinkles in real linen, then
you can sell anything!
BE AN ACTOR
Whether you are a veteran or a newbie, you will always have clients that
want something you have not done before. Thatís the challenge and
excitement of this business and why we do what we do. Of course we always
say, ďYes, I can do that!Ē The key is to say it with confidence
even if you donít have any idea where to begin with the project.
Do not ever admit that you are new or donít know how it can be done.
Just tell the customer you will need some time to work up an estimate.
There are so many resources for help today that you do not have to look
far to find what you need. If you donít believe me, check out our
Web site, www.workroomconcepts.com. Donít you dare tell me you donít
have a computer! What you invest in a computer and in learning how to
use it to search the Internet is more valuable than a four-year college
Donít tell me you donít have time for the computer and the Internet,
either. I often hear this excuse because too many of you are still working
too many hours. Raise your prices, lose a few customers, get educated
on the Internet or at shows and then you will be even more valuable! And
guess what, you can raise those prices again!
The only way to stay ahead of your competition and earn more money the
smart way is to stay ahead of them when it comes to educating yourself
and your customer. If you didnít go to the show, or even if you did,
you can educate yourself by reviewing all the ads in this magazine. Call
the companies and get educated.
Now, imagine yourself as Julia Roberts or Richard Gere and start telling
your customers whatís new!
Kitty Stein, CWP, WCAA past board member, is a 26-year veteran of the drapery
workroom industry. Having owned drapery workrooms as one person and as a
company of nine, she is now president of Workroom Concepts a consulting
firm offering educational resources to the industry on its Web site (www.workroomconcepts.com).
Her experience in both the retail and wholesale window covering arenas has
contributed to her success as a business consultant. A professional speaker
and writer, she has authored several industry products including Order in
the Workroom, The Price List, Workroom Specifications and Price Your Work
with Confidence, available through D&WC.