Someone once said, "If you find a job you love, then you will never work a day in your life." For most of us who operate our own workrooms, the reason we are doing what we're doing is because we love to sew. What we're doing is a hobby turned business. For us, sewing and creating beautiful window treatments is a labor of love, and it's a darn shame we have to charge money for it. Our love for our work is our biggest problem as business owners.
When you make the decision to become a "real business" you take on a big responsibility. Not only do you need to make enough money to support yourself, but it becomes your duty to be competitive with pricing. Even if you really don't have to support yourself with your business, Janie down the street may be a single mother who must support herself and her family. Severely undercutting her prices not only hurts her, but every other workroom in town and you as well. Why should you work harder for less money?
There is enough business out there for all of us. The fact that there are not that many drapery workrooms means we are an elite specialty group -- and it's getting smaller. You know how to sew. It is indeed an art, and it is dying. Did you know that sewing is not being taught in our public schools and colleges anymore? Those of us who have this skill are becoming an even more valuable commodity. We all know that when a frost hits Florida and damages the orange crop, the price of orange juice goes up. If the supply is limited and is needed, the value increases.
The Value of Education
Let's compare some other professions. Most towns have an abundance of mechanics. Our local mechanics charge anywhere from $30 to $40 an hour. Doctors charge anywhere from $40 and up for a 15-minute office visit depending on the specialty. The fewer there are in a specific field, the more they can charge. Blacksmithing as a profession is not just dying, it is almost extinct. Generally blacksmiths learn through an apprenticeship and trial and error. Sound familiar? I recently heard they now are making $40 an hour. One blacksmith made $140,000 a year.
These prices are the gross fees these professionals charge the customers. They are not what they pay themselves. For example, out of the $40 an hour must come overhead expenses, profit and salary. Just because you work out of your home does not mean you don't have overhead costs. They just don't happen to be as much as someone working out of a storefront.
In the workroom industry, the standard formula for pricing is based on the cost of labor. If you pay Sara to sew for you, then you should charge the customer from two to 3 1Ú2 times her hourly wage plus FICA, unemployment, etc. for the products she produces. If you do the sewing and produce the product yourself, then you must set a value for your hourly wage just as if you were an employee -- after all, you are -- then use the same formula. If you are in a storefront, then you must strive to multiply your labor by three times for the bulk of your business because of your higher overhead costs.
I realize that in most cases, we all know we are worth far more per hour than we realistically can charge. One of the reasons for this is because small businesses have routinely undervalued and underpriced their work for decades. That's not to say the situation can't be changed. It can be done if it's done slowly and methodically. As long as you have a high-quality product and have established a good business, don't be afraid to charge higher prices than your competitors.
Once I got my business established using somebody else's prices, I regularly evaluated what I charged and what I wanted to make. I then raised prices if I needed to, but usually by no more than 20 percent over the previous price. By the time my competitors caught up with me, I was ready to raise prices again. It's not unheard of to raise prices about 10 percent every year. After all, the fabric companies do.
As drapery workroom professionals, we are not just laborers. We are artists and craftspeople. The more creative we are, the more valuable is our product and the higher the price should be. Mostly, we are self-taught without the advantage of an apprenticeship program. Learning by experience is far more challenging and risky, and maybe even more costly, than a college education. We have acquired this valuable learning through discipline and tenacity.
We don't stop learning, either. We continually accept new challenges in fabrication and design. We automatically say, "Yes, I can do that," and then figure out how to do it. It never occurs to us that we can't find a solution. Many of us put forth the time and investment to attend trade shows to obtain more formal education. All of us should be doing that on a regular basis. I heard one attendee say that every time she attends a seminar or trade show she gives herself a raise. She knows the value of education.
Some of you are making more than a comfortable living in this business. I commend you and admire you because you have not been afraid to place a realistic value on yourself and your time. For the rest of you, it's time to catch up. No one else has your distinct set of abilities and knowledge. If you are offering outstanding quality products and services, and if you are regularly drawing on your special gift of creativity, then you and your time are very valuable and you deserve to be in a good income bracket. If you have any questions or comments about this article, previous articles or any topic of interest to workrooms, please contact me at:
Workroom Operations Draperies & Window Coverings 666 Dundee Rd., Ste. 807 Northbrook, IL 60062-7913. Fax: (847) 498-0231 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web site: www.workroomconcepts.com
Kitty Stein is a 19-year veteran of the drapery workroom field, having owned and operated her own business for 16 years and having taught classes on window treatment construction. Until 1990, Stein and a partner owned a workroom with nine employees. She since has opened her own smaller workroom, Workroom Concepts, that has just one employee. She also does workroom consulting, seminar speaking and is the author of Order in the Workroom available through Draperies & Window Coverings.