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Table of Contents

Articles Q&A
Leah's Notions- Counting the Cost Pictures and Organizations
Leah's Notions - "Your Paper Image"
Neat Marketing Idea
 

Tough Situation

added May 2004

I can't believe I ran onto this site. It has been a wonderful afternoon going thru it. Although, I should have been making those 3 skirts for my customer.

I have added this site to my favorites and will return often I am sure.

I started my own home based sewing business a year ago and dearly love it. I am in the process of redoing our basement to move it down there. The family room is just to crowded now.

I was wondering how you would handle this situation. Last month I took a little job in a small quilt/sewing shop here in town. The woman is a fruit cake...but, I thought I could gather some information about business etc. I was upfront with her as to what I did at home. She hired me because I know how to sew, I recently took up quilting and due to my prior retail management experience. Her business is basically selling Pfaff and Bernina sewing machines, teaching classes (which she also wants me to do) and she sells quilting supplies, fabrics, notions....etc. The sewing machines and classes are her real thing. She takes in alterations just because she feels she has to being a sewing shop. She has an alteration lady. If you want to call her that. During Christmas her alteration business was reallly a booming. And, she then ask me to help out. But, NOT for anymore money. And, she would not allow me to bring the alterations home with me like the alteration lady does. I did them while there at the shop on the min wage job. She sometimes still asks me to do this. How should I handle it? There was one customer I shall we say stole from the shop. She had brought in beautiful pants she had purchased on a shopping spree to NYC and then needed altered. I didn't want the alteration lady touching them ... she is an older woman and doesn't always use the correct way to do this and I have had to fix some of her boo boo's. I secretly told the girl to call me and bring me the pants so they could get done right. I felt bad...but, those pants cost a fortune and to have Connie screw them up would have been a waste. So, how would you handle this situation I am in?

Again...your site is awesome and I thank you for sharing your ideas with the rest of us.

Love and Peace,
Rita

That's a sticky situation. It's hard to see someone else sewing in a manor that you would not, and it's ok to feel that it's an injustice to the customer, but you have to realize that these are not your customers. They are the store's customers and you are not responsible for the store's quality, only your own. If you were the owner it would be a different matter. It is her reputation that is on the line. Because your quality standards are higher than hers it creates for you a problem. Personally I would not work under this situation if I could help it. Having your own place where you have the say over the quality is a much better situation.

If you choose to stay it's my opinion that you have to also learn to be quiet about what you object to. You can discuss things with the owner privately, but that's hard to do and she probably won't or can't change. Some sewing professionals just can't see that their work is bad. They think they are doing the best they can and that's all they have to do. It's hard to keep your own personal standards when the workers around you are not. It's part of any job where you have co-workers.

I would also strongly check my desire to "steel" customers from the store. Yah, it's the right thing for the customer, but it could seriously hurt your reputation if the store owner makes a big deal out of it. If your co-worker ruins some one's item, than it's the store owner's responsibility to make it good. Do not fall into the trap of thinking it is your responsibility. Sure, you want the reputation of the shop you work for to be the best it can be, but you can't get there by steeling customers. All you can do is the best job on your given items.

If you do not want to be doing alterations you need to tell the owner. Having one's job tasks change over the time of employment is not odd, but if you don't want it that way you have to tell her. If she does not agree than you will have to decide if you are willing to live with it or leave. If you don't really need this job for financial reasons than this decision will be easier. If you do need the money I'm sure there are other places in your town where you could get another job in a situation you like better.

Best of Luck,

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Posting to SewBiz - Don't ask, don't tell?

added October 2001

I had an interesting experience yesterday that I thought might make a nice discussion here. I had a bride scheduled to pick up her gown at 3:00 for her wedding today. I needed to sew a little lace to cover a seam on the petticoat and then get the gown and veil pressed. The Mom's dress and one bride's maid dress was ready to be picked up at the same time.

A little background: The bride bought the gown off the rack and took it to a cleaners to try to get a few spots treated. Three months and $75 later she got the dress back in no better shape then before. When she came for her first fitting we discussed the spots and I promised to try some spot remover when I was ready to stream it and maybe I could get the spots to look better.

So, yesterday before I steamed the gown I did treat the spots and got them to fade a good amount. I was pleased and went on to steam the gown. I put the finished gown on a form for pick-up. (It's a neat presentation for the bride to have it on a form when she arrives. And as I sometimes do, she was borrowing my form to keep the gown on during the night so it wouldn't get rewrinkled.)

I proceeded to press the veil, which her Aunt made for her. It was very simple with ribbon around the edge and just a comb to attach. The headpiece was totally separate so the veil could be easily removed for the reception.

The ribbon was sewn on a bit ripply. the bride (the bride) had commented that her Aunt had trouble sewing it on flat. I did what I could to steam well around the edge to try to flatten it some. At one place the ribbon was sewn so close to the edge that it slipped off. I figured I could just sew that section back with no trouble and proceeded to press the rest. Than, as things tend to happen, I had a power serge and the iron got a bit hot, and you guessed it - my iron ate a hole in the veil. Oddly enough, I did not panic. I still had 3 hours before she was due, so I ran down to the fabric store and bought some tulle. I picked out some ribbon out of my store, used the comb off the ruined veil, and had a new veil finished when the bride called to check that I was ready for her. Potential tragedy prevented, yes?

The ribbon I had was 2 sided satin and a touch darker ivory than the ribbon the Aunt used, which was 1 sided satin. The only person that I figured could tell was the Aunt if she looked close enough.

Well, I had every intention to tell the bride what happened, but when she arrived I changed my mind. She was in an odd mood, not her normal cherry self. I figured the last minute pressures were getting to her. As, most brides, she was very pleased to see her gown on the form. It's a view they don't ever get, very different from looking in a mirror. Anyway, she started looking for how well I was able to fade the spots than stopped herself. I said I did not mind her inspecting and I was hoping she would be as pleased as I was. She said she would rather not know if they still showed.

I decided then not to tell her. It was hard to bag up the veil when the bride was telling the story of her Aunt to the 2 friends she brought along, but the bride did not notice any difference at all. I again felt it was right to let her remain blithely uninformed.

After they left my Mom got home and when I told her the story and showed her the old veil, she said she thought I should have told her. "This one's gonna bite you in the butt", she said. She figured the Aunt would see the difference and make a fuss. I don't think she will get that close to it since it will be removed for the reception. Hummmm.

So, what do you think? Should I have told her or not? What policies do you have about mishaps? Should everything be disclosed to a customer? Where does their right to know end and your right to your sewing secrets start? How could you professionally get this agreed upon up front without having a client think you are planning on making mistakes?

I'll let you know if I do get my butt bit when the bride returns my form sometime next week.

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Odd Hour Phone Calls

added September 2000

Many of you are suggesting that customers that bug you at odd hours do so because of your scheduling practices or your phone usage. This is often true but there are many more factors why customers don't treat us professionally. I have regular hours that include 2 late evenings a week. I use both a separate business line and voicemail/caller ID to screen calls on my off hours. But I think the total answer is deeper than that.

Your manner about how you do business rubs off on your customers. How do you answer your telephone? With your business name or just Hello? Do you have things like preprinted, carbon less invoices to write out the work a customers needs or do you simply use scratch paper? Do you have a price list printed out nicely on letterhead to give your customer? Do you put their finished garment in a plastic bag for pick up? Is your workspace your kitchen table? All these things give you the air of professionalism that you need to be taken seriously even though you work in your home.

I feel it is most essential to have a set aside room for your business. This shows the customer immediately that you are serious. When a new customer sees my studio for the first time, they usually say, "You era serious about sewing." I've heard it many times.

I hardly ever get taken for granted or called up on Sunday evenings. This leads me to believe that it is the whole package you present to your customers that matters. My customers know that I will do whatever it takes to get their garment right, (doing items over, staying up late to meet a deadline, and meeting with them at inconvenient times when I offer it) but I never feel used or abused by them because I have set the professional atmosphere that they respect.

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Neat Marketing Idea

I have been sewing from my home for over 5 years now and have decided to rent space.  I really can't wait to move in and get sewing.  I have decided that since my rates will go up some, that I will offer a punch card for pant hems.  10 hems, 1 free.  Have you heard of other people doing anything like this?  Pant hems go so fast for me that I figured that it would be a good gimmick for me to use.  I also noticed that you have a blind hemmer in your shop.  I don't have one, and I wondered if they are worth the investment?  I sew with Berninas and I love their blind hem stitch and have been using that with no complaints.

I love your punch card idea. And yes, doing it for pant hems is the ticket! Hems in general are one of those things you can charge more per hour for then the other more time consuming items. This way your cash flow evens out because people just don't realize the time anything takes to do. A simple pant hem taking 10 minutes can go for $10, that's $60 per hour. Where something taking 3 hours to do will be difficult to charge more than $60 for.

A blindstitching machine is well worth the investment. It does a much nicer job of stitching invisibly on finer fabrics and it's very fast, saving you time. I'm actually trying to sell mine because I have moved and my sewing room is much smaller than the one pictured on the site. I'll be replacing it with a portable machine that I can sit on a shelf when not in use. If you happen to see any good deals on one while you are searching for a tabletop model for yourself, please let me know.

This kind of machine is very sturdy and durable, so buying a used one is a very good idea. Besides, the new ones are very expensive. I bought mine used for $400 in South Carolina. The same machine new is about $1200.

Good luck with your new venture!
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Counting the Cost

An article written for the December 1997 issue of Tangled Threads

This week I've been trying to define that fine line between "the customer is always right" and I went into business so I could be my own
boss and make my own rules.

That is pretty much why I went into business for myself. I am egotistical enough to want to call my own shots. Besides, I work better
without someone watching over my shoulder to check up on my diligence. I like my sense of self-enterprise and think I should be let alone to do
my job to the best of my ability because I wish it, not because some employer tells me to.

So instead of one boss, I have many- all my customers. That is what we Sewing Professionals do, yes? We sew what the customer wants and that technically makes them the "boss". Or does it?

 I have had customers in the past chide me for following their wishes and ending up with a garment that I as a professional should have know
better and done differently. Some customers just don't listen when you try to educate them on certain points and insist that they want it
"their way" and when it ends up not quite right, of course they are not the ones that admit it.

There's also the question of quality. How far are you willing to you lower your standards to give the customer what she wants? And where are
you willing to break your rules to please her. Do you answer the phone anytime, day or night? Do you drop personal plans to hem an item because the customer didn't take the time to plan her time better? Do you do these things only for a raised price? Or is it sometimes more important for your business reputation or your own sanity to say "No" and risk loosing a valued repeat customer?

I've asked myself all these and more as I've struggled between loosing a store I've serviced for 7 years and holding my own standards and rules
of how I want my business and personal life to run. I am the boss, and need to be. That means hard choices and difficult stands at times. For
each Sewing Professional the choices will be different depending on where you view yourself on that fine line between your rules and the
customer's rights.
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Leah's Notions - "Your Paper Image"

An article written for the June 1996 issue of Tangled Threads

Visit a printer. Get some nice embossed business cards, color letterhead, and carbonless invoices. You won't use the letterhead much, but when you need to it will make the right impression. You could make your own business cards if you have a nice printer on your computer but embossed ones show that extra care you want your customer to think you will take with your work. And pass them out two at a time (people will always lose one). The invoices should be customized with your business name and maybe a logo. Don't buy stock invoice pads. The carbon is messy and you wouldn't want it to accidentally get on the customer's clothes. I use three colored, the first is given to the customer when I take their item, the second is for my records, and the third is for a pay receipt.

After you've gotten these three printed items, you'll want to customize other paper products you use. Like size charts to record measurements instead of a piece of scratch paper. A progress form to record work on long projects. Phone messages forms to return those calls left after hours. You may even benefit from a file system to keep track of your projects-in-progress.

These things have nothing to do with your sewing but they do have everything to do with how a potential customer will perceive your professionalism. Remember, in our line reputation is everything.

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Pictures and Organizations

I have a small sewing business in my home. I have been in business for 4 years and don't seem to be getting anywhere.

Four years isn't very long to build up a reputation. It will take a few more years before you can truly demand a high price. Reputation is really all we sewing pros have. It makes or breaks you. Not even a great education will help.

Do you keep pictures of your work? A nice professional looking album will do much to bolster you reputation. When a potential customer comes to you they usually want to see some work. If all your examples are walking around town, you don't have anything to show, and you will lose that important reputation factor right off. I used to go to the weddings I worked on and ordered pictures from whatever professional photographer was doing the job. (you can't trust the bride to remember you) After awhile they got to know me and gave me prints as advertising potential for them. I got a fantastic album for very little.

Another thing you can do is join some professional organizations. The Local Chamber of Commerce if your town has one. There are also some professional sewing organizations around. Check with your local library to find those in your area. PACC is one (Professional Association of Custom Clothiers) Also join ASG. (American Sewing Guild National Headquarters, PO Box 8476, Medford, OR 97504-0476 phone:(503)772-4059)

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