A few days ago I had the pleasure of meeting with an excellent group of sew and sell window coverings specialists in Nashville, TN, called the Professional Design Association (PDA). One of our first discussions was the pros and cons of growing their businesses. It’s a dialogue I have exchanged with literally thousands of drapery specialists since 1960 when I first helped home-based seamstresses expand into sales with free sample books.
The same dialogue has continued right up to today at Window Covering
Association of America (WCAA) meetings and elsewhere. But this time,
a light bulb went on that I had missed before.
I have always heard these things loud and clear (and they haven’t
changed in 42 years):
• I started the business because I love sewing.
• I want to keep my business small and manageable.
• I have a six-week backlog and cannot handle more customers.
• I build my business by word-of-mouth because that’s the
TOO MANY CUSTOMERS?
What kind of business has too many customers? When I first heard this
lament, I asked myself, “What kind of business is this where
the customers love the service, the business owner loves to serve,
but no one wants to advertise and grow because they can’t produce
enough to meet demand?” In fact, that is why I started a franchise
business—great customer demand and an underserved market.
But this PDA meeting was different. These women have been working
together for years. They knew each other and were willing to be open
and candid. Debbie Green of Minutes Matter, who invited me, had the
largest business in the group—about five times the average. Green
was my “interpreter.” (Sometimes I talk about marketing
and sales in a way that frightens small business owners. Debbie helped
keep the dialogue productive.)
BOTTOM LINE: GROWTH IS SCARY
I have always known there are good, solid drapery operators who have
reached equilibrium—that magic balancing act between business
and family. Growing would upset that balance; growing would take away
from their creative satisfaction. But at this meeting—thanks
to its candid openness—I heard a second message from 30 percent
to 50 percent of attendees. Their message was fear.
Secretly, they wanted to grow, but they were afraid to risk doing
something that would lead down a blind alley. They feared losing money
and not getting the results they wanted. And there was another fear:
discomfort in meeting people and promoting their businesses at networking
groups and marketing activities.
IGNORANCE CREATES FEAR
As we all know, it is ignorance and not knowing what to do that causes
us to freeze in our tracks. But knowledge borne of training and experience
dispels fear. Knowledge gives us the confidence to move forward, to
budget our risk and set goals for results. But if a person were never
trained to do that, where would they learn?
Suddenly, I realized there are precious few places for drapery business
owners to learn how much to budget for advertising, what results to
expect, what goals to set and activities that will pay off!
As we talked, in less than an hour, fear was melting away. PDA members
got it—and they got it quickly. Intuitively, they already knew
what to do; they just needed reassurance and a little direction—just
like your customer!
Isn’t that just like your customer? She knows generally what
she wants. She just needs your assurance that her concept is right,
and she needs your professional experience to keep her from making
The same was true in that room in Nashville. It didn’t take much
to trigger change. We had some excited people ready to take sensible
risks to grow their businesses. The principles are easy. The devilish
details take more time to tell. But let’s start here:
You must desire to grow to the next level in your business. If it
is not important to you, there is no reason to change. Think of your
kids going to college, of you and hubby going on a cruise or taking
a Hawaiian vacation.
Change is required. If you want different results for the future,
you cannot do the same things as the past.
Risk is required. You may not succeed. So make the risk acceptable.
If you do not achieve your goals the first time, try again. (This
is one of the hardest things for women, who are taught all their lives
to play it safe and not to take a risk.)
Budget! Set a growth budget—that is called a goal. Set an expense
budget—an amount you can afford to risk to achieve your goal.
Explore your options and gather information. You have only two resources:
time and money. You want to spend them wisely to achieve your goal.
You need information to make good decisions.
Please send me an e-mail with your questions about marketing and growth.
We’ll give you the “Dr. Laura” two-minute business
answer that you might find helpful.
Steven C. Bursten, is the retired founder of Decorating Den Interiors,
author of Bootstrap Entrepre-neur, a how-to book on starting a new
business, and a columnist specializing in window coverings marketing
and management for many years. He is president of custEmers.com, specializing
in Internet marketing to homeowners. He welcomes your questions about
business management, marketing and technology as they impact the window
coverings industry today. You may request his free report: To Grow
Or Not To Grow for Sell & Sew Window Covering Professionals. E-mail: