How to Open a Successful Workroom
After months of learning and preparing, in the fall of 2006 I started a retail workroom.
In the last five years the Window Coverings Association of America (WCAA) has grown more than 100 percent and local chapters have increased from 12 to 28 in the same time period. I believe that not only shows the need (and value) of belonging to your industry’s organization, but also reflects the number of new workrooms opening each year.
Listed below are the 10 most important things I learned my first year in business.
IMPORTANT THINGS TO KNOW
1. Ask—I spent months researching this industry before I decided to open a retail workroom. One of the first things I did was look in the yellow pages under “Custom Window Treatments” and contacted business owners. This was harder than you’d think because I found out later that very few workroom owners advertise in the yellow pages.
I also went to my local Calico Corners and asked for business cards of people who sewed for the public. (The Florida Calico Corners operates differently in that they do not use Calico Corners’ corporate workrooms; they refer work to individual workroom owners.) I called each one and told them I was interested in opening a workroom and asked what advice could they give me. One person invited me to her business location. She became instrumental in many decisions I made and continues to influence me today.
2. Read, read, and read. I started poking around the Internet–now that I know to “Google” on workroom. That’s where I found Kitty Stein’s articles. I read every one I could get my hands on. I also found the Custom Home Furnishings Industry online and subscribed to its online forum. Since last year, CHF has changed ownership and the online forum has blossomed. Most of what I learned the first year about pricing and specific drapery techniques, I learned on the forum.
My favorite gift from the forum was when a reader responded to a thread I posted and sent me more than 20 back issues of Draperies & Window Coverings so I could read all of Kitty’s and Steve Bursten’s articles. I was in heaven! What wonderful resources for our industry! (Complete back issues dating to 1996 can be found online at: www.DWConline.com.)
3. Read some more. Don’t limit yourself to reading only about the interior fabrication industry. Read business and marketing books as well. You’ll get hooked. Believe me; I can’t be content to relax with Nora Roberts any longer when my mind is buzzing with how to grow my business. Some of my favorite books are:
• “The Little Red Book of Selling,” by Jeffrey Gitomer
• “Bootstrap Entrepreneur,” by Steve Bursten
• “Price Your Work with Confidence,” by Kitty Stein
• “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie
• “Designing Marketing Blitz,” by Niki Stewart
4. Join WCAA and get your certification. Don’t tell me that you cannot afford the annual membership. Don’t tell me there is not a local chapter in your area. There wasn’t a local chapter in my area either, but a friend and I started one. I challenge you to tell me where you can get advice, knowledge, assistance, leadership and support for your business from professionals in your business every single month (actually daily, if you consider I can e-mail or call any member of WCAA at any time and get the answers I need). Don’t believe me?
Ask Teresa Grsykerwicz who walked me through my first Hunter Douglas consultation.
Certification is important, too. You are neither too new nor too seasoned at this business not to have certification. This is your living. You are supporting your family on what you know, what you can do and the profit you make from this business, but it’s not important enough to you to be professionally certified? You’re overlooking more than your business. Doesn’t this industry mean something to you? Shouldn’t every workroom owner deserve to make more than minimum wage? Don’t you think you know more than the home sewer at JoAnn’s? Then why aren’t you making it important and impressive to be a workroom owner? Get certified. And, if you ever have to decide if certification should be a requirement for your industry, vote Yes. Your industry is worth it.
5. Attend a professional interior fabrication class. The Custom Home Furnishings Academy, Charlotte, NC, offers classes there and in and regional seminars, which I attended last year.
Additionally, I am fortunate to live near a local technical college that teaches interior fabrication daily. You can receive your certification from the Florida Department of Labor for three levels, each level requiring approximately three or four months to complete. The instruction is solid and as students we had an opportunity to interact with local designers and work on a variety of designs and construction techniques. The courses are designed for students entering a commercial workroom environment and are not necessarily geared toward owning your own business; however, don’t neglect what you could learn from your local colleges.
6. Buy commercial equipment. If you’re doing this for a living, then do it right. If you worked for a bank, do you think you would write the customer’s deposit amount down on a yellow sticky note, collect all the yellow stickys at the end of the day and post the amounts? No. You would enter the customer’s deposit on a terminal interfaced to the computer where the deposit is automatically recorded to the account, which takes a second. Why are you expecting less of yourself than what you expect from an employer?
Buy the right equipment. Commercial machines are faster, the stitches are better quality, and the life of the machines is longer. If owning a workroom is what you do for a living, then there is no reason not to buy. In today’s credit market you can get a credit card with zero percent interest for at least a year and a credit limit high enough to buy two, three or four machines, especially if you buy used machines.
7. Advertise. If you want to wait around and twiddle your thumbs then you can wait for your first customer, wait for the next referral and by the end of your first year in business you will ask yourself why am I in business? Or, you can pay for advertising. (Remember the zero percent interest credit card?) Pay for an advertising method that you will repeat each month, each quarter, etc. This will take some homework but, hey, you have lots of time because you’re sitting around waiting for your first customer.
Look in your neighborhood newsletters, local newspapers (try small newspapers–even Orlando has several regional newspapers that serve the surrounding cities/counties), magazines, and homeowners’ publications and Web sites. Who is advertising? Call them. Ask if their ads are working? Trust me. People love to share. People love to share negative as well as positive information. Take it all in and start making notes.
Once you’ve decided where to advertise, run that ad for at least six months. This establishes credibility and increases your chances of a phone call from those recipients who do not keep every single issue.
You’ll get a better rate for advertising when you sign up for multiple months anyway. I did similar research when determining whether to advertise in the yellow pages. After talking to numerous business owners I determined that advertising in the yellow pages does work, but you have to buy at least a one-inch by one-inch column box to get noticed. If I had acted without doing my research, I would have purchased less and wasted the money, resulting in a loss of approximately $600. Advertising is necessary, but do your homework first.
8. Don’t discount. When my phone wasn’t ringing frequently enough I got this bright idea that I needed customers instead of profitable customers, so I offered a 50 percent discount on the second room if they hired me to make window treatments for the first room. You know, buy one get the second half off.
What I didn’t realize is the companies that have those sales have lots and lots of the half-off stuff. I did get two sales this way and I learned a few positive things, but I could have learned those things and got paid the higher, full amount. In both cases, the customer was willing to buy regardless. Why did I feel the need to discount? Don’t. I know better after those two sales and do not discount myself any longer.
9. Network with other business owners. With all that time on your hands you might as well get outside and comb the bushes. Just keep at it. Talking about your business and looking for networking opportunities will pay off. I was interested in forming a goal-setting lunch group with three other women in different industries. We have our first lunch meeting this month. Through one of these women, I was introduced to a women’s group that is an offshoot of our local Chamber of Commerce. From there I met the vice president of marketing at the local bank and was asked to present a proposal on wood blinds for its new branch. I’m waiting to hear from the bank’s management. Never stop networking with others.
10. Always produce quality work. The first job I had outside of school was to make box pleated valances and draperies for my girlfriend. I had my first valance made and on the board when I met a lady who at the time lived near me. Prior to moving here she had started a WCAA chapter in St. Louis, MO. I went to see her workroom and brought my box-pleated valance. She was very nice, but did mention if I wanted to remake them, the box pleats should be at least three inches deep. I purchased additional fabric myself and remade the valance. Why start off second rate?
Recently I read the D&WC cover story on Scot Robbins (see D&WC, February 2005, page 22). The last thing mentioned in the article is never sacrifice on quality. Since then, I have been faced with lots of convenient opportunities to take short cuts on quality, but have passed up the temptation. I’m happier. Some day, like Scot, I want my work published in a book like “Window Dressings” by Coleman and Wright, and your work doesn’t get published if you sacrifice on quality (quality photographs, also). My clients may never know the difference, but I will. You know, it is my business and it’s all about me.
You need to make yourself happy. Each day I wake up excited that I have the opportunity to pursue my dreams, and pursue them the right way. I hope you have the same excitement.
Patty Indrunas is owner of Sew Define, Inc., a window treatment design firm in Oviedo, FL, specializing in designing and fabricating all types of window treatments, including draperies, valances, shades and cornices, as well as offering honeycomb and Roman shade window solutions and bedding ensembles such as comforters, bedspreads, bed skirts and all types of pillows.