My boss keeps sending thought-provoking phone calls and e-mails to me. In the past, I have told you about designers wanting to start their own workrooms with no sewing knowledge. In a recent conversation, thanks to one of these phone calls, I ran into a worse case scenario. A designer called who had an existing business and thought window treatments would be a nice addition to her offerings. She knew a woman who was sewing for another company and was not happy there. She could hire this woman to sew for her. Sounded simple to her!
Then I found out she had no idea what I was talking about when I said workroom.
She did not realize she would be starting a workroom if she hired this woman.
Further, she had no idea that she could send orders to another local workroom.
She had no idea she likely could get a fabric vendor to fabricate for her! She
didn’t realize that she needed to have some understanding of fabrication,
measuring and installing even if she was not going to do these things herself.
So much terminology that we take for granted was totally a foreign language to
this person. Yes, there are terms like return and overlap that we all
must learn when we start out, but this lovely lady had no idea of the spectrum
of the window coverings industry. She thought she could take specific prescribed
classes and be able to sell window treatments, and her lady could simply make
them. She thought my online Window Coverings Institute classes could offer all
I explained that although I am writing the classes, what she needed would be
a long time in coming. I have to be realistic with my classes. I have to prepare
and present classes that will benefit both the new person in this industry and
the veteran. What this person needed was entirely for the novice, and what she
needed was a lot of information.
This reminded me that wholesale workrooms often complain that designers do not
understand window treatments. I’ve often heard laments that the designer
just doesn’t understand a treatment can’t be done with that fabric,
or installed in that way or made to look like that drawing!
There is enough friction in this area that it needs to be addressed. Of course
interior designers do not know window treatments! I only know of one four-year
degree program that begins to address the reality of window treatments. When
I was in business, whenever I interviewed a new client prospect, I always asked
about their education and specifically about their window treatment backgrounds.
I was fortunate in that most had some background in window treatments that was
a good foundation upon which to teach them.
Designers are trained and skilled in colors, paint, carpeting, furniture, space
planning, fire safety, handicap regulations and on and on. They just aren’t
trained in window coverings. With all the other important education they have,
they really have never had time to learn one more industry. This is also probably
why window treatments are glossed over, often with misinformation in the scholastic
programs. I’m sure all of you will admit that learning window treatments
is not a simple matter.
TOO LITTLE TO TOO MUCH!
You have chosen window treatments as your specialty. You have educated yourself
in this industry. When you started, you too did not know anything about window
treatments. You started out not knowing what you were getting into, which piece
of education should be learned first; and if what you were doing was truly professional.
In this new century we have gone from not having enough available education to
having too much to choose from.
Lately, the majority of the phone calls I receive are inquiries concerning education.
Where to start is indeed a difficult decision. Most of us veterans (and even
some of today’s freshmen) just jumped in and let it happen. It is truly
refreshing to know that today’s entrepreneurs are researching as much as
possible, before the jump, to ensure a greater chance at success.
PROFESSIONALS TEACHING PROFESSIONALS
Wholesale workrooms, like it or not, have to teach and train their clients. Designers
and consumers have no concept of the vast degree of knowledge it requires to
fabricate window treatments and to sell them. The custom industry is very detailed
and precise and that kind of education and experience is not easy or inexpensive
to come by. You, as the window treatment professional, know that. Do not keep
it to yourself!
You are a professional in this industry! Our predecessors were not as educated!
They couldn’t be because of the lack of education available. Designers
have no idea that has changed unless you tell them. Some of my former clients
did receive our trade magazines, but would never have considered attending a
show. They had no concept of what I and my associates learned by attending trade
shows. At the same time, some of my peer group fabricators never would have attended
a trade show either. They believed in “If it’s not broke, why fix
it?” By the way, there are still many of those out there.
So, where do you start to teach an interior designer? The answer to this is as
diverse as the number of designers needing this education.
When you start working with a new designer, it is your responsibility to teach
them how your workroom operates and what your terms and conditions are. Even
if they have worked with other workrooms, your procedures will be different.
The more documentation you use in your business, the more professional you will
appear. This is true with how you check in orders; what paperwork you require
for each job; what estimating process you use, i.e. a price list or per job quotes;
software used, etc. The more official the process appears, the more respect you
will receive. This phase is something every business must go through with new
Remember that first impressions are extremely important! If you hand a list of
terms and conditions to a new client and then allow them to break the rules,
you are setting yourself up for disaster. First, you have just lost any respect
you might have thought you had by presenting your terms. Professional paperwork
is only as good as the enforcement behind it. Second, the client learns that
there are one or two rules you will not enforce. Third, they will push you to
EDUCATION 102: QUALIFYING THE POTENTIAL CLIENT
This is the hard part. If your new client declares that she has lots of experience
in window treatments, you can only take her word for it and feel your way along.
How much they are willing to do and want to do is a good indicator of how much
they already might know and are willing to learn. Some may know what they are
doing, but would rather you do more for them because it is more economical. They
do what they do best and you do what you do best. Of course, they will pay a
Some might say right up front that they know little, and some might be quite
willing to learn. A fresh-from-college designer is likely to be a very good prospect
because they have a “clean mind” to educate. But it’s also
a situation in which you might have to require that they pay you for training.
It may be in the form of consultation by the hour, or perhaps required reading
and homework from materials you have. Even here, you must charge for your time.
You may be aware of my products: Workroom Specifications, The Price List and
Wholesale Contract, Terms and Conditions. Before I created these as separate
products, all that information was in one book, which I used when I owned a workroom.
That book was a tremendous education about the fabricating process as well as
how we did business. Because of the information in it, I started charging new
designers for our price book. Many companies charge for their catalogs and price
lists primarily to defray publishing costs, so charging for a product/price list
is not a new idea.
Suppose you had a potential client come in just like the one I mentioned. How
would you handle her? This particular person was “researching,” so
it was not a given that she would follow through with offering window treatments.
One thing I did know was that she could sell. Sewing or information about it
was not an option!
Another lesson I learned was that her research could end up taking a lot of my
time, or yours had it been you, with no monetary compensation. Therefore, beware
of the term “research.” Hear it or use it to determine if this person
warrants an extended amount of upfront, non-billable time.
In this particular case, I determined that the best way for this person to get
her feet wet was to invest in Karla Neilson’s book, “Window Treatments,” and
possibly the Window Coverings Association of America’s Certified Window
Treatment Consultant program. Because sales were her primary intent, this would
be a relatively minimal investment to determine if she even wanted to offer window
treatments. So many retailers in this industry refer to Karla’s book as
their bible. You even could require that those with no knowledge of the window
coverings industry read that book. Then you have to determine if they did read
the book and how much they absorbed. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could
just give a test!
YOU ARE THE WINDOW TREATMENT SPECIALIST!
Another recent e-mail comes to mind. An admitted new decorator wanted her workroom
to put wands on her draperies for opening and closing. Her workroom told her
she would have to tell them how to do it. Although I did not say this in my response
to her, I believe it was the workroom’s job to research that issue. It’s
a fabrication question. Professional workrooms must be able to answer such questions.
With all the information at our fingertips on the Internet there is no excuse
for workrooms not being able to find out such information.
The training of a designer is up to you. There are few or no instructors in colleges
that know as much as you do. Your knowledge of window treatments is far more
valuable than a four-year degree simply because you had the guts to create your
own educational program and you’ve succeeded! Do not resent that you must
take time to help the designers. Charge for your time and knowledge, just as
they do for theirs. But also look at it as a way to increase the overall professionalism
in the window coverings industry. Wow, the power of one individual!
Being a teacher takes patience and diplomacy, but look at the rewards. Not only
will you gain a low-maintenance client in the end, but you and she will become
more confident in all that you do. You also have the opportunity to nurture that
team spirit of “we’re all in this together” to make the client’s
Take your job as teacher seriously and convey the seriousness of it to your students.
Do this and they can’t help but respect you. As president of your company,
you now can call your class to order!
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