Most workrooms that dare to dream visualize succeeding to that highest point of success: Serving the high-end client. That might mean the ability to charge higher prices; larger jobs with lots of lucrative extras; more creative work bringing greater personal satisfaction; perhaps photographs of your work in leading magazines, e.g. Architectural Digest; or rubbing elbows with our society’s elite aristocracy.
Is that close to your dream? If so, how do you get there? Are you
really sure you want to get there? While we are addressing wholesale
workrooms specifically, those who are retailers must follow the
same general path.
A RESPONSE TO AN E-LIST QUESTION
The idea for this article initiated from a response to an e-list
question. A workroom owner in the group wanted to know how to get
to a higher level of clientele. This is an excellent question. On
many occasions, I have counseled people that raising prices is one
way to gradually work into the upper levels. However, there are
many issues to contend with should you reach for the larger piece
Here is a response from high-end workroom owner Laurie Eaton, who
gave us permission to print it.
Yes, you can move into a higher market share by raising your prices,
over time. But it takes a whole lot more than just raising your
prices. You have to be ready personally for the demands of the high-end
client, you have to have the attitude to work with them, and you
need the skills and experience to create the products they will
Think about the market share as a pyramid. Those on the bottom tiers
are clients and workrooms that are just entering the custom market.
Dollars, skills and experience are limited to industry minimums
and commercial pattern ideas. I’m thinking most of us spend
one to five years in this tier.
The middle of the pyramid is where most clients and workrooms are
the most comfortable. The
number of clients seeking your services fall off, but those that
you serve are spending more dollars with you. Taste is more sophisticated,
quality moves to high industry standards, designs are more tailored
to the individual client. Figure a minimum of three-plus years experience
gets you to this tier.
And where does every workroom who ever opened its door think they
want to be?? The top tier! These (retail) clients do not shop for
their own window specialist. They will not seek out a retail workroom.
These clients work through the top interior designers or architects.
They will not sit with you and select style and fabrics. They will
say yes or no to the choices made for them by their designers. And
yes, they do refer work to their friends and associates. As a wholesale
workroom to these designers, your service level goes up tenfold.
The quality of your work must be the top in the industry, you must
constantly think outside the box in terms of fabrication, design
and installation. This is not for everyone. The money’s good,
but the demands on the workroom are far greater than at any other
point on the pyramid. I started my business from ground zero. It
took me a solid nine years to reach this tier.
Why is the market share a pyramid? Two reasons, one is obvious:
the pyramid illustrates perfectly the decline in the quantity of
the population with real wealth and the number of experienced workrooms
serving those clients. The second is more philosophical. The sides
of the pyramid are very steep, only those workrooms with the attitude,
heart, experience and stamina will reach the top and manage to stay
there. It’s not an impossible adventure. It just requires time,
education and commitment. If you want to play at the top, you can,
but it will take a whole lot more than just increasing your price
schedule or charging a consultation fee.
Laurie knows what she is talking about, but there is one thing she
only alludes to: your comfort zone. Do you have the confidence to
work with high-end clients? Just as the retail customer says “Yes”
or “No” to what the designer presents, you also must say
“Yes” or “No” to what the designer presents
to you. The field of interior design is broad. Designers know a
lot about a lot of things, but generally window treatments are not
one of their strongest areas of knowledge. It’s up to you to
stand up and say what will and will not work and say it with conviction.
Yes, you can offer alternatives, but you must be able to stand your
ground when you need to.
You must be willing to put in the long tedious hours of handwork,
which seems to be the benchmark of high-end work. You must also
recognize that for many of these elite clients, you literally will
be designing the whole window treatment from conception to installation.
And, more importantly, you must charge what the extra labor, design
and knowledge are worth!
I recall from a pricing seminar I presented a few years ago, that
someone stated that she just could not bring herself to charge a
higher price. No one can make her charge a higher price, but there
is something that she can do to compromise—not offer the quality
and service that should get a higher price. This will protect her
from customers she should not be serving and insulate her from competition
that rightfully can and do charge what they deserve for the quality
Many people like this woman cannot even visualize talking coherently
to someone who lives in a multi-million dollar home or someone who
works for them using expensive fabrics and trims. They just can’t
grasp what these people are used to spending for their comfort and
enjoyment. If you are in this category, then you are not yet ready
for the next tier of the pyramid.
I know someone who decided to climb up the ladder in retail and
started showing higher-end products and charging higher prices.
Over a period of time, she suddenly realized she was making far
more money with much less work. She felt guilty! She was out of
her comfort zone and she didn’t know how to behave! This is
part of moving on up! It’s not only a matter of thinking outside
the box but moving outside the box!
Be prepared; not only will what you do and how you do it change,
but your feelings, your personality and your confidence will change
as well. It’s up to you to make sure they are all good changes.
PLANNING THE MOVE
Assuming you really want to get to the top, then you have some planning
to do. For most workrooms, there is so much work that you think
advertising is not essential. Quite the contrary! Most business
people recognize that they must advertise or market during the busy
season to be sure to have adequate work in the slow periods. The
thing that may not be so obvious is how you market to your target
What I mean is, you must begin acting like and presenting an appearance
of a workroom who does high-end work. Then actively look for the
high-end designers you would like to work with. While you are looking
around, prepare a high-end presentation of your workroom. Not only
create stylish paper materials, but hone your verbal presentation
A LOOK AT THE TOP
Some of you may know or know of Sherrie Horner. At one time, she
presented seminars to the industry and has also taught at her place
of business. Not long ago, I had the pleasure of talking with Sherrie.
Although we had not spoken in many years, we discovered that we
shared many of the same perceptions and concerns for the industry.
Sherrie’s business is Horner & Co. in San Francisco. Having
received her training in the United Kingdom, she is a master curtain
maker. In fact, we have Sherrie to thank for introducing bump into
the United States. When she moved here, she wanted to continue “curtain
making” the way she had been trained in the UK so she imported
bump and was a distributor for a while. Now, I suspect every distributor
of lining carries bump.
Sherrie was kind enough to send me her promotional folder. Let me
tell you, I received one phenomenal piece of marketing! Her folder
is atypical in design and color. Inside is a four-color booklet
on glossy stock. As you open the book, you have the feeling of reading
a fine, high-quality magazine that rests on the finest coffee table.
Then as you look over the pages, you experience a sense of the high-end.
I found myself thinking that this couldn’t be from a workroom
but from an interior designer! Then, as I read, I felt like I was
reading poetry. Sherrie has eloquently put into words what workroom
owners know and feel, although the newer ones may not be quite aware
of it yet. No offense, but just from the marketing material in my
hands, I couldn’t help but believe that this workroom was the
best! It also made me believe that whatever she charges will be
“One becomes a master curtain maker by intending to be one
and constantly practicing with that intention.” That’s
a quote from Sherry Horner’s material.
Take a look at www.hornerandcompany.com.
The Web site is still a work in progress, but most if not all of
the text from her booklet is there. Read it and get a taste of what
it takes to get to the top and stay there.
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