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I Have A Theory - "Political Correctness" Waves
I Have A Theory - "Courtesy" Customers Don't Understand
  Setting Policies

Setting Policies

added May 2007

 
I completely agree with you about the challenge and loving puzzles -- me too!  My biggest puzzle challenge to date was a favorite pair of faded black jeans a motorcycle rider had worn on his travels all over North America.  They were embroidered and embellished commemorating the places he'd been; names, designs, beads, all sorts of things.  He was in a very bad accident on his motorcycle and the jeans had to be cut off of him.  The paramedics cut the front from the hem all the way up through the waistband on the right and left legs and then straight across the center through the zipper.  He wanted them reassembled so he could wear them again.  He had taken them to 2 other seamstresses that laughed him right out the door.  I found the challenge irresistible and found another pair of jeans at a thrift store that had faded to the same sort of ashy charcoal color as his, and one step at a time began to reconstruct them, setting in the new sections with flat felled seams on each side.  When they were finished and he came to pick them up, he got tears in his eyes when he saw them.  He later told me he took the jeans to the other two seamstresses to show them what a "real seamstress" did.  He and his wife continue to be faithful clients.
 
I had grown so weary of people telling me how "easy" something was going to be when they didn't know what they were talking about, for a while I added a little sarcasm to the notice on my door that gives my policies; weekdays by appointment only, etc.  It said, " If you do not sew and you insist on telling me how simple a project is going to be, there will be no charge for that item.  You can take it home and do it yourself."  It helped some people keep their foot out of their mouth, others still couldn't help themselves, customers that know me well know my sense of humor and laughed along with me, it helped me vent a little and it felt good.  It's not on my current notice, but I still have customers comment about it from time to time -- with a smile.
 
I would LOVE to read the questions you can't put on your website -- they have to be priceless.  Here's one that made me laugh.  The phone rang, when I answered, the woman calling didn't say "Hello" or identify herself, she simply said, "How would you dress a man?"  Never able to resist a comedic straight line, I said, "I'd start with his underwear."  After some additional conversation she told me she was helping a male friend make a good impression in court and was trying to help him with his attire -- what color shirt, trousers, jacket, tie, was what she had in mind.  It was WAY more fun when I didn't know what she was talking about.
 
I also want to thank you for the pictures of your sewing space on your website and the transformations you've gone through.  I get frustrated sometimes because there is so much "stuff" involved in doing this kind of work.  You helped me see it isn't just me or that my house is small, it's a necessary part of the work.  Your newest configuration in the basement is fabulous!  Maybe someday, if I am very good and say my prayers every night.  Your keyboard on the exercise bicycle is a wonderful idea!
 
Thank you for your time and the huge boost you've given my spirits.  Our work is a very solitary pursuit.  It is inspiring to know while we work alone, we aren't alone in what we do.
 
I will send you an email when the Beautiful Bustles DVD arrives.  Can't wait to view it. 
 
Have a wonderful weekend. 
 
Sue

It's been a while since we last wrote, but I've been very busy with wedding things. I hope it will let up soon. I hate being too busy. I decided to start a "date of acceptence" policy. I set a date for accepting new work and I stick with it. Right now it's May 23. When someone calls I tell them my next available date for accepting new work is ___. They usually don't whine too much that way. I've even had a say, "Gee, you must be good to be so booked up". To that I say, "Yup".
 
I hope what you are working on now is fun and you have time for yourself too.
 
Keep in touch,

Customers Don't Understand

added January 2006

Leanna,

I absolutely love your website. I'm so happy I stumbled upon it!

I too am a seamstress who does alterations for a small dress shop in my area, and I'm always looking for help concerning sewing techniques, but I was surprised to also find 'issues and answers' on yours! This will help me if I ever need to address these problems myself. Thanks for being so honest and very thorough in your answers. I absolutely agree with you on pricing and I was so pleased that you explained 'firmly' to the woman who seemed to berate you for your right to charge appropriately for your hard earned dollar! I've had a few customers like that! They drop a huge bundle on a wedding gown and expect me to alter it for practically nothing!

Some don't understand, like that woman, why it isn't simpler to do these things than how I explain it to them. Moving beading without creating a domino effect IS tricky. Wondering if there will be stitching holes after 'letting out' a dress is not my doing! And like her, understanding how long it DOES take to create a good bustle that will HOLD while dancing and sitting and hugging and everything is a very diplomatic situation, without question.

I think the problem is that 'sewing' for many has become really nothing because of mass clothing production but it is still a valuable skill/trade, that they don't understand, because they just don't! Sewing a few seams for a potholder or skirt or what have you, is completley different than tailoring a garment to conform to a person's body. They don't realize all the techniques and terminology needed to do this skill. And of course we don't have the time to explain it to them.

I've sewn since I was 12, my mother sewed alot of my clothes, making me some of the newest, hottest fashions of the day, and my grandmother was also a seamstress, making clothes and ballgowns for famous people who vacationed in Southampton, NY in the 50's and 60's.

It's taken me a while to realize my true calling, since I've never actually done it for a living, but now that I am, I'm having so much fun and learning so much doing it! I'm feeling slightly intimidated, though, when it comes to telling people how much different 'jobs' cost, but I know that will eventually subside.

I look forward to reading more Q & A on your site and I enjoy seeing your pictures in the Bridal Studio, and I was wondering if you also alter 'prom gowns' and could show some of these, possibly. Gussets, creative ways to add length, making boleros, turning sleeveless gowns into 'temple-ready gowns( for LDS girls), etc are some of my current questions.
Thanks!
Sincerley, Susan

Thank you for your kind comments. Because I work alone, I often get to thinking I'm the only one on Earth that has to deal with these situations. It's nice to hear from others who see some of the same things is do.

I have many answers to letters sitting in a folder that I haven't put on the site yet. I try to put up things I think will be of interest to most folks. I get some realy goofy ones too that I don't put up because I don't want to embarrass the senders.

I don't get many requests to alter Prom gowns. The trend to simplier dresses in my town doesn't give much need for alterations, but now and then I do get the type of gown that needs hemming. There's not much difference in these and bride's maid's dresses. I don't get many requests for the other items you listed either. When I do there aren't many rules to go by. You have to do what the dress gives you options for and just be creative. Quite often I can get the client to get some creative ideas going that I can use to put into the finished product.

The pricing intimidation feelings won't go away. You may think it's getting easier, but then a real difficult customer will change your mind. In time you will learn how to stick to your guns and say, "no" to some customers. You'll loose work, but it will be the type of work that you don't need - stressful situations that you are better off without.

Folks often call to get price quotes. I do the best I can to give them a range of what I think their item will cost, but I make sure they understand that anything I say over the phone could change at the first fitting. If they forget this and give me a hastle at the fitting saying I quoted a lower price over the phone I give them the choice to take the price I quote now or find another person to do the job. I sometimes tell people on the phone that I am expensive, but worth it. This does not gain me much work, but it weeds out the ultra fussy customer that I don't want anyway. People who call and ask first about price don't care about quality, but when they get trash at a low price they complain. It's human nature and I don't get upset with them, but I can't let them rule me either. I reserve the right to say, "no" to any job I don't think will pay me enough to make it worth my time. It's just business.

Well, I have to get back to work. Thanks for writing and I hope you can find more useful information on my site in the future.
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Waves

added December 2005

I just found your site & love it ( only read a portion so far) _ I am not toooo far from you. As you can see below I am in Maryland & have been sewing bridal wear for the past 16, almost 17 yrs now. I just recently obtained a website to advertise my sewing business. That move was really great in drumming up customers. I already have a good word of mouth system going, and advertise freely in the high schools nearby to sew prom dresses. Then those girls years later get married & come back for wedding apparel !!
Sooo I just wanted to email you, say hello, and to tell you I like your site. I found it by searching sewing -- dealing with clients. I like to see what others do. Its strange, but I get this wave of customers than arent quite as nice as they could be then 2-3 yrs goes by before that happens again. I truly think the economy has something to do with it. Nothing bad, but you just feel it in the air you know? LOL The good thing is there are hundreds of great clients for those few that arent so um great...Anyways Hello! & God Bless Diana

www.MarylandSeamstress.com

Yes, I do know what you mean. Everything seems to come in clusters for me - zipper problems, difficult customers. Lately it's been car problems for me! Ough!!

I don't make dresses, I just alter - that cuts way down on the fussy clients. They still want to look great but it just seems to be less pressure when the garment is already made and the client knows the fitting problems weren't caused by you. What do you think?
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I Have A Theory - "Political Correctness"

An article written for the June 1995 issue of Tangled Threads

I used to not understand the need for Political Correctness, but several experiences have come together in my thoughts to make me rethink my position. Just this week I had a new customer request a fitting so that I could "stretch" the elastic in the dress she had bought. She wrote me a note that she had this "process" done elsewhere because she had surgery and elastic waistbands were always too tight. Before I called to set her appointment I took time to decide how to advise her. Of course the first thought that popped into my mind was, "If you know this is a problem, don't buy dresses with elastic waistbands." I dismissed that thought and waited for the next, hoping it would be more constructive or at least usable.

Here's another example. The owner of the Bridal Shop I worked for in North Carolina asked me not to use the words "let out". She thought it would make the customer think she was fat. I was asked to say I would "release the seems". Whether the customer could help her size or not wasn't the question. It was my job to make her "feel" beautiful in the wedding gown she chose. At the time I thought it was silly.

It also used to annoy me regularly when customers would complain that something did not "feel" right. What was that supposed to mean? Is it too tight, too big, too long, too short, too whatever. "It doesn't feel right" doesn't tell me anything. What I didn't realize at the time was that that says it all. My education about the "proper" way to do this and the "acceptable" way to do that had me confused about what was really important to the customer's comfort.

Try this ... visualize your favorite dress and ask yourself why it's your favorite. Is the color flattering? Does the style compliment your figure? Or do you just "feel good" wearing it? Maybe one or all of the above I would guess. It's been widely held in the business community that the right clothing will boost a person's self esteem, and therefore make them more productive. So it's not that expensive fabric, or the intricate construction, or even the proper hem length that makes that certain garment special... its how the garment makes us feel that counts.

So, I've learned to "release seams", "stretch elastic", and even ask my customer how they "feel". Besides, I have a theory that when you show your customer that you are concerned with "her in the dress" as much as the "dress on her", she can relax and start to trust your judgment which will make her less likely to be nit picky.

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I Have A Theory - "Courtesy"

An article written for the April 1995 issue of Tangled Threads

Courtesy, like beauty is in to eye of the beholder. Don't believe it? Well, have you ever let your temper get the best of you because some store clerk just wasn't handling your complaint properly? How did you relate the situation to a friend? I bet you said that if the clerk had only been more "courteous" you would have gotten your way. In your eyes she was being rude.

I find it curious that we often view it like this even though the truth is that other people in the store were probably muttering under their breath. "That poor clerk, she's doing her best to be courteous to that irate lady."

I've been fortunate to be able to watch some real pros at the customer relations game. I don't see how they stay calm in the face of an irrational customer. When it happens to me I fall apart. My stomach turns, my mind goes bank and my mouth refuses to say the right things. I asked one lady what her secret was as her customer was storming out the door determined to write a complaint letter to the company. She said that it used to bother her until she realized that if you can't appease them by pouring on the kindness, they aren't after fairness. They are trying to cheat you and it's better to lose the customer at that point.

That's so true But what if the customer is worth keeping? I find it near impossible to properly serve a customer that has lost it on me. Pouring on the kindness is a simple solution but very hard to do once you have developed bad feelings about that person. And telling yourself, "The customer is always right" doesn't work either. Most times they are not right. In these cases it doesn't seem to matter how courteous I try to be. If I manage to finish the job satisfactorily, the customer won't return anyway.

The only conciliation I have is to be as courteous as I can be no matter what my customer does. My good customers know me better and are loyal. So if I lose one now and then, it's OK. I'd rather keep my sanity.

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