Some of you know that Workroom Concepts was a vendor at the Custom Home Furnishings Industry Educational Conference & Trade Show in Greenville, SC, in August. This was our first experience in being a real vendor at a trade show. I discovered that we had the same problems (or educational opportunities) that anyone has when starting a new business or a new phase of an existing business.
It was a marvelous experience, and I can’t tell you
how much I enjoyed meeting so many of you, especially those of you
who are just starting out in this industry. By far that joy lightened
the burden of the lessons I learned as a “newbie” at vendoring.
The lessons turned out to be quite universal, and for some I should
have known better!
It was time to refocus our business one more time, and this show
was an opportunity to offer new, helpful products to an audience
that probably was 90 percent or more our market. We could not ask
for a better reason to do something! I was ready for a new challenge,
and my wonderful husband was so willing to help that it seemed whatever
we did couldn’t help but return some benefits somewhere.
In planning for the show, I had to decide what I thought would be
important for my guests to learn. Is that not what every business
We believe in giving back, not just to this industry but to mankind
in general. Thus, we invested in a sign saying that five percent
of all our sales go to The Living Bank, a national non-profit entity
for education and registry of organ donors. This notice has been
on my Web site, which is my storefront, for quite a while. That
was only one facet of what our customers needed to know about Workroom
Concepts. They also needed to understand our business philosophy.
This is lengthy and thus best printed on something they could take
with them, which turned into a catalog.
What is your philosophy or mission statement? If you don’t
have one, it’s time to create one and be sure your customers
and your employees know what it is. It is essential that employees
know and understand why and how you (and they) serve your customers.
My husband is our devoted and part-time volunteer employee, and
he helped so much to do this show. On the long drive to South Carolina,
I told him what he already knew: “We’re there to help
people, not to sell them things they don’t need or want.”
My husband turned out to be the best PR person I could ever have.
Even when we were not together, he talked with anybody anywhere
who was with the show and very likely many who weren’t! As
always, he was honest and sincere in learning about these people.
True, he is my husband, but if your employees don’t show at
least close to the enthusiasm you display or believe in your business
nearly as much as you do, then you need to work on your philosophy
and get them educated! In fact, how would you rate yourself as a
COMPANY NAME AND IMAGE
Because we didn’t really have a special logo for our business
(that is about to change), I decided that the sign provided by the
trade show people would be enough. My thinking was that as long
as our guests knew what company we were, the sign did not need to
be anything special. This proved to be a wrong choice.
While I try my best to promote Workroom Concepts, I discovered that
too many people do not associate me with anything other than my
name. Consequently, the name on my booth did nothing for passersby
if they did not see me there.
Having once owned a company with my name on it and having read books
on business management and promotion, I do not believe my name should
be the name of my business. For one thing, my name in no way describes
what I do. (Sometimes I don’t even know what I do!) When I
decided on Workroom Concepts as the name of our business, it was
because I knew I always wanted to do something related to workrooms.
“Concepts” gave me the freedom to change directions and
still be covered.
When most business owners name their businesses, they are just getting
started and do not look way down the road to what the future might
bring. If it ever would become necessary to sell your business,
it would be very difficult to sell it with your name on it. As much
as you think that won’t happen, it never hurts to be prepared.
Also, if you happen to grow your business to the point you employ
others, your customers will only want to work with the person whose
name is on the business. I know you know how I know that!
I have heard and read much about marketing and promotion. There
is a difference of opinion as to whether a logo is necessary. Although
I had logos for my past businesses, I never thought it was necessary
for Workroom Concepts until now. This change has only come about
because I have rewritten my job description—again! I think
it is an individual matter.
I do know one thing that has brought me quicker recognition and
that is using my photograph with everything I write. Although my
booth did not have my photo, our catalogs do. If you are serious
about making your business professional, as you should be, then
consider hiring a professional to design and create your logo or
I remember an occasion in the not-too-distant past when I received
a correspondence from someone in the industry. Her envelope, stationary,
business card and even a bookmark were so well done that I had to
say “Wow!” even before reading anything. I complimented
this person on her professional presentation and she confided that
she had bartered with a professional graphic designer to create
it. She said it had really paid off, and I had no doubt that she
We needed to tell our guests about new products to get them to stop
at the booth. Because we have so many new products, it made sense
to invest in bright signs for Workroom Concepts’ own new products.
The signs didn’t do the job because I had not planned the layout
of the booth and products in the best way.
I mistakenly thought that having new products in the back of the
booth would draw our guests into the booth. In hindsight, all the
new products and higher-ticket products should have been in front
and then we could have guided our guests to other items further
into the booth. I also think we offered too many diverse products
for display and that was confusing to our guests.
Think about my observations in working with your clients. After
you have qualified them and their budgets on the phone, always keep
their wants and needs in mind. Prepare a presentation of what you
know would totally fulfill their needs and present the kind of statement
that would reflect them. Even if it’s a little above their
budgets, show it to them anyway, especially if it’s something
new. Of course, have a backup plan that would fit the budget, but
do not give them too many options. Unless you show them something
that you know would be perfect for what they want or need even if
it is over budget, you will never know if they would have bought
I decided against show discounts because it would be very confusing
and more work both in displaying special pricing and in writing
up the orders, and also because I don’t believe in discounting.
In the future, I will consider offering a gift of something not
in our line for a certain volume order. This would act like a coupon
with an expiration date.
If you have followed my articles for very long, you know how adamant
I am about never discounting. Instead of discounting, take something
away from the proposal to reduce the cost. Since most of this industry
relies so heavily on word-of-mouth advertising, you also can do
the reverse: give your customers a little something extra that they
did not expect. The size of the order can determine what you give.
You might want to give a particular item that will always be associated
with you and your company.
I didn’t do as well as I could have on this one. I decided
that for this first time paying for magazine ads or direct mail
was not possible, but I could have contacted all the e-mail lists
and forums of which I’m a member and told them I would be at
the show and give out my booth number. While I did notify at least
one list, it wouldn’t have taken that much time to notify all
of them. I did, however, notify all the members of the “OPT-in/What's
New” list on my Web site.
It is important to stay in touch with your existing customers. The
Internet offers so many ways to stay in touch with clients. If you
create an e-mail list of your customers, you can send all of them
a quick note about a new fabrication method, what you learned at
a trade show and new products they may be interested in.
While good newsletters seem to be greatly appreciated, they are
very time consuming to create, even if it is quarterly. You might
want to check www.cutEmers.com as they can generate a database and
a newsletter for you to send to your retail customers.
DON’T PUT IT OFF
I hope my first-time experiences have prompted you to do some serious
rethinking about your business. Maybe it’s time for you to
rewrite your job description. Or perhaps you just need to fine-tune
your current responsibilities.
Right now, scan over the topics I’ve covered and write down
one area that you know needs help. Determine what you can do today
or even tomorrow to get started on it. Then just do it!
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 the window covering arena 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.