Here’s a situation: A designer you’ve worked with on several occasions enters your workroom on the 28th needing draperies for one of her good customers who has a dinner party on the 5th of next month. How do you handle it?
Karen Hardy, Accent Draperys, Richmond, VA, knows exactly what to do: First, Hardy needs verification from the workroom manager to see if she can get the job in. “It’s just not going to be automatically thrown in,” she says. “Work is done according to the time it comes in.” If it can be done, there is going to be an up-charge and—more importantly—the designer already knows that. Why? Because Accent Draperys has polices, standards and procedures . . . and adheres to them.
Karen and Ramon Hardy work mostly with designers—about 70 percent of the company’s total sales. It’s business they have targeted and want to grow. In order to make that possible, Accent Draperys works hard to develop workroom/designer relationships and to communicate with the 35 to 40 designers it works with.
To help it along, part of Accent Draperys’ 24,000-square-foot facility is set up as a design center. “Designers can come in and we can talk about projects, and they can look at fabrics and look at hardware and it’s going to be right here. Everything is going to be fabricated right here,” Karen Hardy says. “In order to cut down on any mistakes, we have to communicate. And it has to be a relationship. It can’t just be, ‘OK, I’m going to drop this off,’ or ‘I’m going to send this work order.’ There has to be some communication.”
What Hardy is trying to do is to get designers to come to think of it not as Karen’s workroom, but as their own. But everything has to be established upfront so everyone knows how it’s going to work. Hardy says, “As long as you follow everything that your company says you are going to do, and the designers hold up their end and you hold up your end, it’s a beautiful relationship.”
Hardy understands what designers are looking for. She knows they don’t like to commit completely to one workroom. They need to feel they have some control, some wiggle room. Designers also know that some workrooms are good at some jobs and not as good at others. “What they are really looking for is consistency in the service, consistency in quality they see. With communication and with a good workroom/designer relationship that can be obtained. They want to be assured that whatever they bring to you they are going to get the same quality, in the same timeframe, on time and within the budget [the workroom] estimated,” she says.
Accent Draperys has an earned reputation of providing that kind of work as a full-service, professional drapery workroom specializing in designing, fabricating and installing high-end custom interior fashions. Its large facility houses offices; a showroom with full-scale bedding, window treatments, valances and cornices; and, of course, the workroom.
“The workroom is broken up into top treatments, specialty top treatments, drapery panels, pillows and cushions,” Hardy explains. “Then we have another work space back there where we do headboards, cornices, lambrequins and things like that.”
Hardy also knows that designers today are not looking for your traditional pinch-pleated draperies. They want high-end, decorative panels in their residential designs, interlined or bump interlined with banding, cords and decorative trim on the leading edges. Accent Draperys provides all that with hand-sewn pleats and decorative valances, too.
It all speaks to the quality of the work Accent Draperys provides regardless of the size of the order. “It doesn’t matter if you come in here and spend $20 a yard on fabrics and I have another customer who comes in here and spends $220 a yard, the craftsmanship is going to remain the same,” Hardy says.
That craftsmanship is provided by nine seamstresses. When Karen and Ramon Hardy first began as a business, back in 1991, Karen did all the sewing herself. It has been a passion of hers since she was in middle school. But as the company grew, she knew she would have to spend time training others.
“You can’t hire people and expect them to know what you want them to know,” she explains. “All I want to know is can they run an industrial sewing machine, are they good at measurement, can they read a ruler, do they mind taking it apart and putting it back together until they can learn it? You really can’t hire seamstresses to come in and start fabricating window treatments. They have to go through three or four months training. You have to be able to put the time in with them so that they can produce the product that you want to stand behind.”
Karen Hardy’s main responsibilities now in addition to being that liaison between the business and the designer are to run the workroom and oversee the fabrication. She has a way of teaching her seamstresses while keeping them involved and motivated. After an installation, she takes photographs, has them enlarged to eight-by-tens and brings them to staff meetings for all to see. “I can say, ‘Look, see why we had to take a quarter of an inch off this side and a half-inch off this side?’ They may think something looks terrible on the table, but when it gets installed in the customer’s house, they get to see the whole picture. They take it personally. It’s their work, and they feel really good about it. Their eyes light up.”
WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT
There’s a division of labor at Accent Draperys. Ramon Hardy handles all of the hard treatments, a line of products that was added to the company’s services just earlier this year. He also handles installations as well as the marketing and most of the business management end of things.
It was Ramon who set out to target more designer clients working through design affiliated organizations, periodic mailings and the occasional referral. Most designers, however, seem to want to keep Accent Draperys their own secret, Karen admits.
Before the workroom, Ramon was a firefighter and he still is a battalion chief for the city of Richmond, although that only requires about eight to 10 days a month. But that training brings a very important element to Accent Draperys. “In his field he has to have guidelines, protocols and procedures for everything because someone’s life is on the line,” Karen Hardy explains. “He brings that to the workroom. He wants a manual for everything! He wants policies and procedures, so he keeps everything organized and everybody together on the same page. Then, he just has a natural talent for color and for design.”
Karen’s background is just as surprising. She was a registered nurse working in an intensive care unit with cardiac surgery patents. But here, too, that training comes to bear in her current work in the form of customer care. “You have to take care of your customers,” she states. “Quality is definitely on the list. You have to have a good staff, a good workroom, craftsmanship, attention to detail. But you don’t even get to that if you don’t have the customer. I can’t even show someone how wonderful my seamstresses are, the many years of experience they have, how they are dedicated, or let someone see the detail we’ve become known for if I don’t have the customer service to take care of my customers.
“I would tell anybody today in this industry it’s about customer service or it’s not about anything at all.”
Together, Karen and Ramon Hardy have landed a range of top-quality projects. Although mostly residential, they also have done some high-end commercial jobs, country clubs and the ballroom in the alumni center of a local university. They have installed vinyl drapery barriers to separate work areas in an industrial plant and even have worked on a few stage curtains.
When not in the workroom, the Hardys are involved in industry and community organizations. Accent Draperys is a member of the Window Coverings Association of American, and Karen is active in WCAA’s Richmond Chapter. They are an ASID Industry Partner and members of the International Furnishing and Design Association (IFDA). Accent Draperys is a member of the local Better Business Bureau and the Metropolitan Business League, and Karen is a member of Network Enterprising Women and Small Women- and Minority-Owned Businesses.
Karen also is an instructor in the design certificate program at the University of Richmond. She understands that many workrooms find it difficult working with designers, but she wants to be part of the solution. “I teach decorators and designers on window fashions, pillows, bedding—that’s not the fabrication end. That is how I educate my decorators and designers. We’re starting classes here at my facility talking about the details, what makes a window treatment truly custom. I believe the more you educate them on the high-end, custom window fashions and you show them, then the more they will make better decisions and sell what can be done and not what can’t be done.”
“I believe Accent’s mission is: No. 1, customer service. No. 2, quality. No. 3, ethics,” Karen says. “You’ve got to have some ethics behind what you do, what you stand for. We believe in doing it the right way, that’s treating everybody right. A large customer was once a small customer.”
“Our success comes from my dedicated employees,” she continues. “Without my employees and the dedication they have to their own work, we would not be Accent.”
Hardy also gives a shout out to Frank Price, her sales rep for Carole Fabrics. “He has really been my backbone, giving me advice and telling me to use it as I need it. He’s been with me since I worked out of my house! He used to own a workroom and he comes by and I ask him questions and he helps me and guides me about what will work and what won’t work. He has been a big inspiration over the years.”
And what inspires Karen and Ramon Hardy looking into the future? It’s their aim to be “the city’s premier drapery workroom offering comprehensive services to decorators, designers and retail customers,” Karen says. She wants Accent Draperys to be known among designers as the one spot where it is designed, fabricated and installed.
“This is where you come for everything. For your design consultation — if you need some help, if you get stuck on a project and you need some design ideas,” Karen says. “When a designer goes out to a project, she’s thinking about the flooring, the furniture, the wall color, the lighting, everything put together. When we go out, we’re looking at one thing and one thing only and that’s the window treatments—the proper treatment, how it’s going to be installed and the life of that treatment.”
When it comes to custom window treatments, Accent Draperys is a passion, not a job for Hardys. Is there anything Accent Draperys doesn’t want to do? Karen laughs, “Hmmm . . . no!”