Too often small businesses look only at the price tag of equipment, tools and new technology. They immediately put such purchases out of their minds, not realizing they actually could be damaging their businesses and greatly reducing their potential incomes by doing so.
Maybe you didn't have a dream at the very beginning because like some of us you just fell into this business. One morning we woke up and we were sewing for money. That was a great feeling and it was fun. Far too few people are blessed by being able to make a living at something they thoroughly enjoy. But a dream probably evolved at the point of realizing it could be possible to make some real money at this sewing business! And it is possible! But you not only have to keep dreaming, you must have faith and take the risks necessary to make it happen.
Dreams rarely come true by accident. I admit, a few people do win the lottery. Unfortunately you and I have not been among them! However, even winning the lottery can't give you that fantastic sense of accomplishment that comes from taking a risk, working hard and succeeding at something that is near and dear to your heart.
Dreams come true by planning, by risking and by hard work! Every drapery workroom owner I have met is either working hard, worrying hard or both! There have been very few who are truly planning their growth and taking the risks needed. The irony is that with comprehensive planning and researched risk-taking, the hard work and worrying can be reduced dramatically.
Bet on Equipment
If you are a small, even one-person, workroom, investing in professional equipment or tools can be quite intimidating and very risky. It can be, but it doesn't have to be. The risk can be greatly reduced if you do your homework.
If you are a one-person workroom and want to remain that way, you already realize that you can produce only a set amount of work and that's all that is humanly possible. But with proper equipment and tools, you wouldn't have to work as hard and you could produce more. That translates into more income. If you have employees, then the income is multiplied.
When considering investing in equipment, you first must have a good estimate of how often you would use it. This should be based on the volume of the particular product you are producing that requires the new equipment. What is your volume in a day, a week, a year? Know what volume you want to produce in a day, a week, a year, or five years.
As you evaluate a piece of equipment, think about how often it will be used as well as how much time it will save you to use it. Calculate out the time saved for a whole year. For example, if you purchased a machine that on average saved you 10 minutes every day or 50 minutes per week, then based on a 50 week year you would save 2,500 minutes or 41.67 hours. If you charge out your labor at $30/hour, then you would have made an additional $1,250 for the year! If your machine cost $1,000, then you would have made $250 extra the first year that you, by yourself, could not have done. For every year thereafter, you would make an additional $1,250 profit!
More than likely that figure will go up because as your volume increases you probably will use the machine more often. The beauty is that no matter how much you work that machine -- even 24 hours a day if you had to -- it doesn't cost you any more than your initial investment.
Many times you will see tools or machines and think "I can make that without the machine." You probably can, but at what cost? Your time is valuable. If you have more business than you can handle, can you really afford to make it yourself or do it yourself? If the value of your time to make something is greater than what it costs to purchase equipment to do it, then it is only good business sense to purchase the item.
Are you "in business" or "in hobby"? Many home-based business owners feel as if the public does not consider them as professionals. One of the reasons is there are many hobbyists out there who dabble in making window coverings and, of course, do not begin to charge a fair price for their work. This is an obstacle, but it's not insurmountable.
Your own feelings about yourself and your business and how you project them have a major bearing on the public's perception of you as a business person. Using professional tools and equipment greatly reinforces the impression that you are a serious business. When customers see professional machines, they immediately know you are not in it just for fun. They also assume you are quite successful or you couldn't afford such things. This perception leads to trust.
What professional equipment says to the customer is not just about you but, more importantly, it's about them. If you are able to produce a product faster, then your customers get their jobs faster. If you use more accurate equipment, then mistakes will be reduced and your customers will get better quality products. If you invest in the latest technology and fabrication procedures, then your customers will trust you more. Why?
First, it's an image thing. Your customer may think: She's not only "keeping up with the Joneses," she just might be getting ahead of them. Second, it reinforces her confidence in you because she can see you are keeping yourself educated and on top of the industry. Third, she knows you aren't just in this business to take her money and run. You are investing it back into your business. The customer realizes you believe in your business and plan to be around for a while. If she has any problems, she knows she can come to you for help.
What's in It for You?
More personal confidence will emanate from you whenever you have a personal encounter with customers. It's just like the wonderful story of "My Fair Lady." When Eliza learned the manners and persona of a lady and dressed like a lady, she became a lady. If she had not dressed like a lady, regardless of what she knew and how she executed her knowledge, she would not have been accepted as a lady on a first impression.
If Eliza was given time to convince people she was a lady, then she could have pulled it off without dressing the part. Too often you are not given a chance to sell your services beyond the first impression. Besides, the less time you have to spend selling your business, the more time you can spend producing products and making money.
But of course, there is more money in it for you beyond what the equipment can mechanically produce. Because of the perceived value of equipment and the trust customers feel, they more likely will pay a higher price without questioning it. And the more professional equipment you have, the more customers will be willing to pay for your services. Therefore, you can make more money not only from what is produced by the equipment but by just having it! And you don't have to work so hard selling your product or making it!
But It Takes Money!
Yes, it takes money, just like buying a house or a car or a college education for your children. If you worked for someone else, you would have to go into debt to buy a car just to get to work! That car would have nothing to do with your productivity or an increase in salary. And how much would that car cost? Doesn't it make more sense to invest in something that will directly increase your income for the life of the machine? And unlike a car, a good machine that is properly cared for will last your whole lifetime!
Besides conventional loans, leasing also is available. Another alternative is to get a second mortgage on your home, which is what I did.
"But suppose I can't pay it back?" Did you ask yourself that question before buying your house or your car? You bought it anyway, didn't you? Because you believed in your ability to pay for it! Do you believe in your business? Do you believe in yourself? Do you have the faith to know that you can make your business a success?
You know, there are hobbyists out there who don't think twice about spending $3,000 to $5,000 on a home machine to play with. They are even buying pressing machines to make their hobby more fun. Isn't your business far more deserving of that kind of investment?
Investing in proper tools and equipment can by risky. Doing the proper research will make that risk minimal as long as you have the main ingredient: belief in yourself. You have skills and talent few people have. You and your business definitely are worth the investment!
Kitty Stein is a 20-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.