"Where to go? Now that you have an idea of what you need, how do you get the window treatments you want? You can use a decorating store that sells fabric, hire an independent window treatment fabricator or interior designer, buy ready-made treatments, or purchase your fabric and stitch your own, or hire a seamstress."
Obviously this book is directed toward the consumer, but I was intrigued that Better Homes and Gardens was pointing out, somewhat indirectly, that there is a difference between a seamstress and a window treatment fabricator.
What Is a Seamstress?
I don't suggest you look up seamstress and fabricator in the dictionary. The definitions there are very limiting and I do not necessarily agree with them. In one sense these two terms are the same because each is an occupation that takes something and makes it into something else by sewing.
My definition of seamstress has come from the attitude I have seen and felt over the years. I consider seamstress to be a term that defines one who has the knowledge to sew. In other words, that person can make a variety of things out of fabric by using needle and thread and a sewing machine. That person also may be very dependent upon patterns or very specific instructions.
In my opinion, from the time I learned to sew as a child I have been a seamstress, but I have been a window treatment fabricator for only about 23 years. When I made the decision to specialize and concentrate my efforts and education in one particular area of sewing, I became a fabricator.
I am still a seamstress underneath because I can sew many other things if I so choose. However, I don't claim a great knowledge in other areas of sewing.
It has been my observation that the public (and some decorators and interior designers) does not place a very high value on the services offered by a seamstress. I want to say right here that I totally disagree with this attitude. In this generation, seamstresses are few and far between. For that reason alone, they should be highly valued. Many sewers who have been trying to make a living making clothes and doing alterations cross over to window treatment fabrication because the potential to reap a higher income is so much greater.
Notice in the above quote, the intimation is that using a seamstress is a less expensive avenue, whereas window treatment fabricator is grouped with interior designer. (I sure would like to see that done more often!) Unfortunately, because we sew, we are automatically put in the seamstress category first. It is up to each of us to re-educate our customers that we are professional window treatment fabricators and offer a very valuable service.
What Is a Fabricator?
My definition of a fabricator is someone who is highly educated in one particular area of sewing. A window treatment fabricator is creative; has professional tools and equipment; and is knowledgeable about sewing techniques, fabrics and the challenges, precautions and limitations of products, measuring, installation and any-thing else that is necessary to successfully manufacture a window treatment to a client's specification.
The important word here is knowledge. A truly successful window treatment fabricator will not be content with already acquired knowledge and experience, but will actively seek continued education in the industry.
However, you may be and do all the above, but still may not be a fabricator. If your clients do not see you as a fabricator, then you will remain a seamstress in their eyes. Along with that profile will likely be less income for the effort.
Your clients' perception of you can be changed if you project the right image and if you educate your clients. Here are some ideas for doing that:
• Confidence: One of the most important things to remember is to project confidence. Pretend if you have to, but be sure your client is seeing someone who believes in his or her abilities and skills and who is serious about his or her business.
Showing genuine care and concern for your clients' needs will reinforce this perception. If you are confident in yourself, then your client will be confident in you.
• Education: The best way to boost your confidence is to continually educate yourself. The more you know what your client doesn't, the more confidence you will have. This also will serve to elevate your value in the eyes of your client.
You must keep up on the latest tools and equipment, styles and techniques. It is important to attend industry shows, read books and trade magazines and become involved with trade groups. The Internet is a phenomenal source of information. This is how you can solve many problems before learning them the hard way!
Let your clients know that you keep yourself updated and educated and educate them about window treatments. Let them know you have resources such as e-mail lists and Internet access.
• Telephone: You must handle your business professionally and one of the first and most important places to start is with your telephone. Even if you are using your home phone for your business, answer the phone professionally. Use a greeting and your business name, e.g. "Good morning! This is Custom Fabricators." And remember to put a smile on your face when you say it. It does make a difference! (For more help on telephone techniques see "Dollars & Sense," D&WC, December 1998.)
I do recommend that you install a second telephone number so you can have one for home and one for business. It can be done using only one telephone line. There are a couple of reasons to have two numbers. First, your clients are very likely to call you at all hours and on any day of the week, including holidays. Even if your business is in your home, you deserve time away from it. Second, you will need a line for a fax machine and a computer connected to the Internet. If you don't have these now, you will find them quite necessary in the not-too-distant future.
You must have an answering machine, voice mail or an answering service. With an answering machine, you have the luxury of screening your calls when you are indeed present.
• Professional Tools: Generally a seamstress is expected to have a domestic sewing machine and the standard sewing tools. Invest in industrial sewing machines and special tools and equipment for window coverings.
Having an industrial iron, a professional padded worktable and a light to inspect fabric would be very impressive. However, the main reason for investing in this equipment it not for showing and making a good impression, it's to increase your production and the quality of your work. That foresight and investment speaks volumes for your dedication to supplying your clients with quality products and service.
• Contract: While most drapery workrooms do not ask their wholesale clients to sign a contract, many are taking this step. It's not just a protection against possible legal action, but it says you have a real business and you take it seriously.
You want your clients to know that you want to ensure complete understanding in all transactions with them so they won't be disappointed. A contract also will imply that you are not in this venture as a hobby, but that you are intent on making a good living just as your clients are.
The true meaning of seamstress versus window treatment fabricator is all in one's imagination, and each person will have his or her own ideas about it. The reality is that the title Window Treatment Fabricator sounds more important. Implement the ideas in this article and anything else you can do to make yourself be and appear more professional. By doing this, you can reinforce the image of success that commands a higher price tag for services rendered!
Kitty Stein, WCAA, is a 20-year veteran of the drapery workroom field, having owned and operated her own business for 18 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.