An embroiderers confessions

An Embroiderer’s Confession

jennifer cox

Jennifer Cox operated a family embroidery business beginning in 1990. She is one of the founders of the National Network of Embroidery Professionals (NNEP), a national organization that supports embroidery and apparel decoration professionals with programs and services designed to increase profitability and production. Cox is currently the president of NNEP.

In every industry, annoyances happen day after day. Here at the National Network of Embroidery Professionals, we’re in a unique position to hear about our industry’s annoyances—from owners of part-time, home-based businesses to owners of 400-plus head shops. What’s most surprising is our gripes are consistent, no matter the kind or size of business.

Here’s a list of the top pet peeves of embroidery and apparel decoration business owners as well as some suggestions on tweaking your universe to reduce or eliminate these frustrations.

‘Just make it look good’

How many times have we heard that exact phrase from our customers? I’d say far too many to count. This rates at the top of the pet peeve list because it leaves us hanging. The customer is essentially asking us to read his or her mind to decipher expectations and somehow make those unknown expectations appear in thread and fibers.

To get the information you need to meet and exceed expectations, you must be proactive and ask questions. In fact, here is a sign we posted in our sales area to show customers all of the information we need.

To “JMILG,” we need the following information:
What product? Style, size, color, and quantity?
What design?
Where does the design go?
What size is the design?
What are the thread or appliqué colors?
When do you need it?

We cannot begin the order until we have all the information. If we have to guess, and you are not pleased with the result, there are no refunds.

All JMILG orders must be paid in advance in full.

Once customers know what information is required to successfully meet their expectations, it’s not hard to get those answers. It’s simply a matter of getting the customer to think about it for a moment with us.

We also keep a binder at the sales counter with examples of our six most-popular fonts embroidered on fabric that are presented in sheet protectors. Each page has one line of text in the following sizes: 1/4", 1/2", 3/4", 1", 2", and 3". We had a few pages of sew outs of different sizes and shapes of left-chest designs, ranging from small designs to a few oversized designs.

Customers often request a design size that runs on the larger side, which increases costs and doesn’t always look good. When this happens, I find the business card trick is effective for establishing the ideal design size. If the customer is wearing a left-chest design, ask him or her to hold the business card over the design, and if the customer is not wearing a left-chest design, our staff always is. Most of the time, the card covers the majority of the design and looks right on the shirt—not too small and not too large. Now you and the customer can agree that a left-chest design should fall in the 2-1/2" X 3" range, depending on the proportions of the design’s shape.

For Sharon Commerford of Embroidery On Demand, she agrees that being told to simply use her judgment is her biggest pet peeve. In a given week, Commerford says that she hears this as often as four times.

“How am I supposed to know what they have pictured in their head?” Commerford says. “I usually have to then drag it out of them by asking a lot of questions.”

Last-minute Louies

The next most-common pet peeve is customers who leave jobs for the last minute or push for quick turnarounds. The customer needs it tomorrow, never responds to sign off on an order, and then gets upset when the order isn’t ready by the end of the day. These customers often ask why you can’t complete the order now or show up before the promised deadline and get frustrated if the order isn’t ready.

Educating your customers is one way to handle this situation. Your customers have no idea how many steps are involved in creating an embroidered product. This is not their industry. When pressed as to why you cannot complete an order while the customer waits, we find that making an analogy to cooking gives customers a better appreciation of all the steps in the process.

Try this response: “It’s like cooking a nice meal. First, we have to figure out exactly what you want, like you would find a recipe. Next, we get the products, just like you would need to go to the grocery store. Then, we have to create your design, which is like prepping all the ingredients. Finally, we bring everything together to create the finished products for you. It takes a bit of time, and we have several orders already in line before we get to this one.”

In the experience of Cindy Proctor of Busy Bee Embroidery, this is particularly an issue during the holiday season when small custom orders are popular. While the order may be small, it’s still a time-consuming process, especially during this busy time of year.

“All the time we hear, it’s only one name on one stocking,” Proctor says. “I politely show them the wall full of one-name-on-one-stocking orders that are ahead of them.”

Cheap, Cheap

We’ve all had customers tell us they can get the job done for less from the competitor down the street. That’s definitely a stopper, isn’t it? At this point, you can politely indicate that’s perhaps where the customer should do business. Surprisingly enough, the customer often comments that the competitor can’t finish the job in time.

When that happens, the competitor’s price no longer has any bearing on the conversation. If you can meet the timetable, you have the inside track on this customer, and meeting or beating that price is unnecessary as well as unwise. If the job requires a quick turnaround, it may even be appropriate to tack on a rush fee on top of your normal rates to make the customer more attention to the timing of future orders.

For some reason, our industry tends to allow customers to interact with us in ways that would be inappropriate or even downright ridiculous in many other business settings. Would you go into a restaurant with a hunk of raw steak and ask the chef to prepare it? Yet how often do our customers walk in with their own goods, expecting us to embroider them? Our customers give us lousy, unusable art and expect top-quality embroidered goods. If a customer were to take that art to a paper print provider, he or she would face fees to finish the design and turn it into something useful. Despite this, we let customers balk at paying for digitizing, never even charging them for any prep work that goes into generating that art.

If your customer bothers you, step back and look at the bigger picture. What, specifically, is it about that interaction that bothers you? What can you tweak about your interaction with that customer and others who share this situation to reduce the frustration? How can you help customers and orders become more inline with how your business functions? Any steps you can take to create the ideal customer improves your entire experience, and that is better for everyone.