The on-line world can give you access to more information, faster. And you know that with more information you and your business run better. WindowPro, DraperyPro and DesignerPro are three such on-line groups that can help those in the window coverings industry, and the benefits are many. Here are some real world examples:
Rick Smith runs a window coverings business in New York's Hudson Valley. He thought he knew just about all the curtain and drapery rods that were available. Well, the day came when a new client pushed his knowledge beyond its limit. Smith simply jumped onto the computer and posted a question to his fellow professionals on-line. Sure enough, in a day or two someone out there had information about the rod Smith was asking about and even directed him to the manufacturer. Smith was able to solve his problem, and the client was very impressed and happy.
Pam DeCuir, an interior designer and workroom owner in central New Jersey, had a client who was frightened by recent media reports about the lead content in blinds. DeCuir was able to collect information about it on-line and give it to her client. Now, who do you think the client will call for all her future window needs? It's noteworthy to mention that DeCuir did not have to expend much effort on her research. The lead content issue was one of the hottest, if not over-hyped, topics the "wired" gang of professionals had been following through the WindowPro group.
Another window coverings professional, let's call her Jane, will be taking that big plunge by starting her first workroom. She will travel halfway across the United States to attend the next session of industry seminars -- an expense anyone can appreciate. She can afford to take only two seminars this trip, but which two? Although she knows only top-notch courses are taught at these industry shows, there has to be some that are better for a "newbee" like herself, and she wants to spend her money wisely.
Her solution: get on-line and ask. Many of the window coverings professionals on-line have been to the seminars and know the benefits of each and at what point in her career Jane would gain the most from each. Actually, quite a few of the seminar leaders are on-line. With their help, Jane now can spend her money wisely and gain the most from her trip.
Each of these examples involves the greatest on-line feature of all: electronic mail. Using e-mail allows you to read and respond to correspondence when you decide to spend the time. It has the timeliness of a telephone call without the intrusion factor.
You may have a question to ask, but don't want to bother your associates. Simply write a note and e-mail it to them. Then they can answer it on their schedules. You can stay in touch with associates by dropping a line without all the hassle of letters, stationery and the post office. Many clients like the fact that you confirm an appointment or installation date via e-mail, some even expect it.
Gatherings: Virtual and Real
We all know how important it is to get together with fellow window coverings professionals. There are times when you wish to attend some of the professional meetings in your area, but:
• There are no industry groups in the area.
•The meeting is too far away.
•You don't want to share trade secrets with local competitors.
• You don't feel there is anyone around who could help.
•Insert any one of a million other excuses.
That's where electronic forums or on-line meetings come into play. These are real-time, live meetings such as DesignerPro every Monday night, DraperyPro every Tuesday night and WindowPro every Wednesday night, all on America Online.
So, fire-up your computer five minutes before the appointed time, and have your system make the call just in time for the gathering to start. It doesn't matter what you are wearing or what else you may be doing. The people in these meetings are from around the country and are in-the-know. You can learn a great deal at these meetings, and offer help, too. A new trend is starting in which guest speakers are featured on-line. When the meeting is over, you just walk away from the computer. There's no travel time home.
But remember, you reap what you sew (pun intended!). Computer monitors are not rose-tinted glasses. At times the fur can fly at these virtual meetings just as in real life. Once a designer caused quite a stir when she barged into the chat room and made some very disparaging remarks. But the group on-line got a chance to articulate how they felt about her remarks and their businesses. In the end, the designer was well rebuked.
How about fun? No, not a party at the keyboard. But at almost every industry trade show and convention the wired groups have a dinner gathering (with no computers in sight!). Many of them get to meet for the first time face-to-face. Great food and good conversation always abound at these congregations.
Special events are held just for the heck of it. In August, DeCuir hosted a wonderful picnic at her home in central New Jersey for the DraperyPro group. Your entrée into the party was that you knew about it from being on-line.
The crux of being on-line becomes a matter of working more effectively. There may be nothing new under the sun, but there are countless new ways to do it. Window coverings and interior fashion professionals should always be looking for ways to improve their effectiveness, be it in simple things like how to arrange fabric in a workroom to major marketing tricks.
The DraperyPro meetings have been "attended" by more than a dozen people each week and boasts a mailing list of almost 100 names. Each person on the list can get a logged copy of any weekly discussion. At last count, the WindowPro group had a list of nearly 500 people (many are in more than one group).
So what is the value of being on-line and how much does it cost? Its true value is priceless, but this wired kind can set you back about $10 to $20 a month for a membership to America Online or another similar service. Of course, you must have a computer. It's price depends on what else you intend to do with it. Many professionals not only have saved money by being connected, they have closed jobs by being on-line.
Often, we find ourselves in a balancing act between being a slave to our computers or using it as another tool to maximize our efforts. When things go wrong, it's awful. But when you're humming along with programs that help, there is almost no better way to work.
Desktop, laptop or palmtop are merely different ways of working while in the office, at home or in the airport waiting for a flight. It's a matter of what works best for you. Like so many things in this industry, you take a little from here and a little from there and make it your own.
Editor's Note: Draperies & Window Coverings magazine is now on-line. To access our home page on the World Wide Web with hypertext links to all news and feature articles beginning with the January 1996 issue, product information and Sponsor Showcase, connect to: www.dwcdesignet.com
Rob Garbarini is a free lance photojournalist based in Southern California. He can be reached at RGarbarini@aol.com. In future articles, Garbarini will discuss some of the many programs that are available for business use, and software specifically for the window coverings professional.