Getting New Customers

I recently received this question from a quilter who is starting her new, machine quilting business.

I wish I could find information about how to find longarm customers…outside the usual guild memberships.

I thought that this is an excellent question and it is important to those beginning their machine quilting business and to those “experienced” quilters wishing to expand their customer base.

The quilter asking the question lives in central Pennsylvania, and, according to MapQuest is 20 miles for Harrisburg (the State Capitol), 55 miles from Gettysburg, 90 miles from Baltimore, and about 120 miles from Philadelphia. (You can probably see where I am going with the location!)

So let’s help her, and ourselves. Write a comment on how you find YOUR customers for your machine quilting business.

To leave a Comment – at the top of this post, next to the date, click on the “Leave a Comment” button. Then type your comment or suggestion in the space provided.

I know that we are all looking forward to viewing the comments and suggestions.

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About Cindy Roth
mother of 3, grandmother of 8 and quilting forever!

18 Responses to Getting New Customers

  1. Ginny says:

    I am fortunate to be able to “rent” space in a quilt shop, being in a store front has produced a TON of business for me. I pay my rent buy bringing in a ton of business for the store as I teach longarm and piecing classes. It is a great situation

    . As for advertising one of the best things I have done is gone to Vista Print and made up post cards to hand out. I run this same special every year, basicly it goes like this. “bring in this card during the month of ______ and recieve FREE* batting in one quilt. At the bottom is says….* free batting is customers choice of poly or warm and white. Batting to measure no larger than 90 by 90 inches. One free batting per customer. This is a great promotion and I get a TON of business from it. The nice thing is when you calculate out how much 2.5 yards of warm and white or poly batting is per yard at whole sale pricing… it is less than 15 dollars per quilt for the largest size.

    I typically manage to run the promotion the month after our qulit show, yes I leave cards out on the main table and advertise the special in the show program. I so far this year I have gotten at least 20 quilts in with my postcards attached.

  2. Linda Morris says:

    I have been in business since 2007. My work comes from the LQS, who I give a 30% discount to (covers the shop and all the employees). The rest is word of mouth and referrals.

    • Megan Z says:

      So, do you mean you leave a card out at your LQS with the 30% discount or do you just do this for the employees? How do you know which customers are regulars and which aren’t? Can they use it multiple times?

  3. Barbara Stephens says:

    For me, it has been work of mouth. When I first started, about 13 years ago, I placed an ad in the local paper, left my cards at the local quilt shop, and joined a guild to show my work. I quilted several free tops for charity for the guild. I received 1 top from the paper ad (and that top came from out of state). My cards at the local quilt shop did not bring in any work. The guild loved my charity quilts, but no one brought me any quilts for money. Then one day a lady, living in the next county, called and wanted to know if I would give a program on machine quilting at her quilting group. I did, and I took several of my quilts to show. That is when my business took off. I now keep booked about 2 years ahead, and 90% of my customers are from the next county.

  4. Judi says:

    I live in a resort area s o I put a sign out bythe road and iget a lot of calls that way.

  5. Leonie Gttins says:

    I was getting a fair bit if work from the quilt group that I have been attending for many years. I introduced a friend to the group. She has a longarm, only for her own use at that stage. ( she does not need extra income, I do).

    Funny thing is that she does club members quilts now, for free! And I am not getting any work at all from the club. Fortunately I have plenty of work from elsewhere and I find it all rather amusing.
    Leonie in Australia

  6. I work with an interior designer as well as doing a lot of charity projects and a lot of UFOs (yes, even {especially??} after quilting for a lot of years and LA’ing for four years. I sell a lot, tried ETSY and didn’t sell a thing….also do local craft shows and depend a lot on word of mouth. Don’t worry…if you do a good job at a reasonable price, “they will come”! (Having a large family to sing your praises works, too! LOL!)

  7. I have been in business for about 6 months. At first all of my quilts came from my own stitch group. They are starting to do “show and tell” with them at the local guild meetings and so word of mouth is starting, but that has been slow. I have left cards at all of the local shops, but haven’t had much response there. (There are more than a couple of longarmers in the area)

    I decided early on to do t-shirt quilts based on advice from a very experienced quilter and this has provided several new customers.

    I also use social media (blog, web site (free on weebly), hot frog profile (free), Facebook, etc). I think the hot frog and web site have brought in several leads. I have had zero response from ETSY. I have donated a t-shirt quilt to a local school for their silent auction, so I was able to put fliers in the bags for over 150 couples. I have gotten zero response from that effort, not even the auction winner has contacted me.

    Networking in the guild has been beneficial, but slow. I think in the long run this will be my best effort.

    Thanks for starting this discussion. I am getting good information from everyone.

    • H Davis says:

      I suggest you focus more closely on where the Tee shirt business comes from. For us it’s graduation gifts particularly high school kids going to college. Find a place you can advertise or make yourself known to the mothers (forget dad) of high school graduates, especially those that participated in sports or clubs.

      If you don’t make the Tee quilt find someone that can make them. You then quilt them. We have such an arrangement with a woman that makes the Tee’s, sends them directly to us for (rapid) quilting. When returned she binds them and the customer doesn’t have to run around getting the various operations done herself.

      Remember, most of your Tee customers don’t sew themselves so to solve their problem you must somehow offer to do the whole project from start to finish. There’s good money in it if you standardize on a few designs and become efficient at it.

      H Davis

  8. H Davis says:

    We’re also in Pennsylvania but in heavily populated suburban Philadelphia. There is no substitute for population density when looking for new customers. Our county, Bucks, has more people than North Dakota and they’re much closer together. If you’re in a low population area you’re at a decided disadvantage and may have to concentrate on a mail/internet business.

    For us quilting is a full time business. It pays the bills. Two of us work about 40 hours a week but only one of us quilts. We do mostly custom work with a little edge to edge; no pantos, no computers. We do about 400 quilts a year. It used to be more but we’re getting older. The only advertising we do is business cards and a web site. We don’t offer any price discounts although we do an occasional freebie for a charity we support.

    A decision you have to make before searching for new customers is what kind of longarmer are you. Do you quilt because you like to quilt or do you quilt to make money? If your style is to make detailed, dense quilting then there are going to be relatively few customers out there for you because there aren’t very many folks that make really good quilts that would benefit from your efforts and few customers that will pay for that kind of quilting. If you take a week to do a quilt there are few customers that will pay for that effort. If your style is more open, less dense and you can do a queen quilt in 5-6 hours then there’s hope. You have to figure out where the market is and adapt to it. If you will do only top rated show quilts that’s fine but there are only a couple of customers in your area available to you.

    As some other commenters have mentioned an arrangement with a local sewing/quilting store (LQS) is extremely valuable. It’s probably the single most important thing you can do. About 50% of our business comes from the LQS. It used to be more before word of mouth brought in more customers. We have built up a good friendly relationship with the owner. The owner actually came to us with the idea. She had a resident longarmer, with her machine, on the premises who wasn’t too reliable or fast. She wanted to recover the space and when that person left she didn’t replace her but started recommending us.

    Simply leaving your card is not enough. You have to find a way to distinguish yourself from all the other faceless business cards. While a half dozen longarmers have their cards at the LQS the staff and owner recommend us when asked. I think this is because we were a known quantity. One of us worked in the store part time for a while and also still gives occasional classes at the store to maintain visibility. Establishing a good relationship with a store owner is a long term project but definitely worthwhile. By working in the store you establish a relationship with the other staff who can recommend you in the future and you’ll get to know the customers. People trust those they know more than those represented only by a business card. The owner and staff knew we were reliable, affordable and fast.

    The store owner wants to offer this service because it gets customers to come in twice; once to drop off the quilt and again to pick it up. Also, she can sell more batting, fabric, thread, etc if her customers can quickly and reliably get their project completed. She doesn’t want problems. Customers will likely hold her responsible if we don’t perform so we work hard to make sure we keep our (and her) customers happy. Customers pay us directly by leaving a check at the store. Our charges don’t go through the store’s cash register and the owner doesn’t charge us anything for the use of a couple of shelves in the back to store the quilts waiting to be picked up.

    We do most of the store samples for her classes. The owner is not someone that plans ahead. We often get the sample shortly before the classes are to be advertised. She, of course, would like the sample in the store when her newsletter goes out. You can bet that her sample quilts get back to her within a week. We’re not stupid. This woman is an important part of our business and it’s important to keep her happy. She pays the same price as everyone else but get fast, even emergency service. It also enhances our reliability reputation in her mind.

    Since the store gives a lot of quilting classes including the usual BOM project we get a lot of beginner or near beginner quilts. And when I say a lot I mean we’ve seen 30 of the same BOM quilt over about a 3 year span. We have never met or talked to most of the customers that come to us through the LQS. They just put their vital information on a note with their quilt and we do the rest. They almost never request anything specific; not even thread color. We love these people. They are very low maintenance in that respect but sometimes the quilts are difficult because they are not well constructed. Not every longarmer wants to be in the beginner quilt business but we see a lot of demand for this niche in our area. Any place that gives beginner quilting classes if fertile ground for finding this kind of new customer.

    About 40% of our business comes from word of mouth. A lot of quilts we do get shown at show and tell events at other LQS’s, local quilt groups or just to friends. And all the samples hanging in the LQS are free advertising. All of this has sent us quite a bit of new business. Most of your customers have a mother, sister, daughter or daughter in law that quilts. All represent an opportunity to get a new customer. Women travel in groups. Of those that actually come to our house with their quilts most initially come with a friend and that group tends to increase and morph over the years. Some drop out and others get added. These customers seem to be more skilled and make good quilts that are more interesting to do and have fewer construction problem.

    We had a couple of customers in north New Jersey, about an hour from us, who knew us from the LQS but had been coming to our house because it was closer. Somehow they got the idea we didn’t want new customers and so were not telling anyone about us. This came out in a casual conversation and when we corrected their impression they began talking to others. There is a nice sewing store in their area where quilters congregate. They gives a lot of classes. There is also a local quilting group so we quickly gained about a dozen new customers. That original group has dwindled but new folks have more than replaced the dropouts so we still have about 18 or so people that see us from that area. Considering it’s an hour or more drive for these folks to see us we feel fortunate. They almost always car pool when coming to our house so we see 2 or 3 at a time. Usually when they come to pick up they drop something off.

    Word of mouth works both ways. If you don’t treat your customers well a lot of people will hear about it. We go to great lengths to treat our customers well. We give away a few things free like small pieces of batting from our remnant pile for place mats or runners. We also accommodate almost any reasonable deadline. If they need it by a certain date we’re not going to miss their date by a day or a week because we didn’t get to their quilt in the line up. We’ll work weekends and get it done. More than one new customer has found us because they inquired at the LQS and were told we could do their quilt quickly. Slow turn around seems to be the norm for longarmers. We advertise 4-6 weeks but except for Christmas we’re usually at 3-4 weeks. If you can get your customers into a rapid turn around cycle you’ll get more business from your existing customers.

    The last 10% of our business comes from the internet. We have a web site that ranks high on Google (listed 2nd the last time I looked for the term longarm quilters). The site doesn’t turn up a lot of business but it’s worthwhile. About half of these folks are higher maintenance because they are often beginners and need a lot of on line hand holding. That usually involves several e-mails back and forth answering questions. Some of the questions are really just probing on their part to see if we seem reliable. I spend a lot of time answering questions that are answered on our web site but that’s what it takes to reassure them.

    Some of the online customers are one time only. They have a quilt grandma made long ago and want to get it finished. They’re not quilters or even sewers so once they assure themselves that we can do the job we get their quilt but we’ll never see them again. Our web site offers a lot of advice for beginners about how to avoid problems rather than how to correct them. Rather than tell them how great we are we tell them how to solve their problem.

    There are other on line customer that are proficient quilters who, for one reason or another, are looking for a new longarmer. In that case I think the fact that our web site is informative and instructive helps reassure them that we know what we’re doing and that they can entrust their work to us. It always amazes me how many of these folks send us a large, complex, obviously important quilt as a first project rather than something small to try us out.

    We have stitch samples, tips, preparation instructions and, I think importantly, a price estimator on our web site. We try to be up front, specific and as simple as possible with our pricing. Folks can just enter the dimensions of their top and we’ll give them a price to quilt it; a price for our batting and a price to bind it along with a description of what the pricing includes and doesn’t include. I think this clarity is reassuring to a potential customer. New quilters don’t know what it costs to quilt their top. Help them out by communicating some pricing information so they won’t be surprised.

    As quilters we have a certain style and like to do certain types of projects. You have to determine if what your potential customers want is what you want to do. Are you willing to do what they need or are you going to try to get them to conform to what you want. The latter won’t work by the way.

    Originally our customers were mostly new or nearly new quilters. Their quilts had some problems so the issue was do we quilt what we have or get them to correct the problems. We decided to just quilt what we get most of the time. These folks have probably been struggling with their quilt for months and have done the best they could. Sending it back says to them it still wasn’t good enough. We felt that was the wrong message. These people are so happy to get their finished quilt back. They never see the issues we do. Over time some improve some don’t. Many will do a few quilts and drop out. Others will continue to make quilts but only a few will improve a lot. We have decided that we’re not the quilt police. If the customer is happy with their skill level then so are we. We do offer some suggestions if we think the customer is receptive or that they won’t be happy with something they’ve sent us but that is rare.

    Over time, particularly through our word of mouth customers, we’ve acquired a significant group of more skilled customers. They send quilts that are more fun to do and they are open to suggestions of a more subtle nature about how to avoid some problems that are not obvious if you’re not a longarmer. So we slowly make suggestions to these folks if they seem receptive; but, again, we generally quilt what we get.

    Good luck. If it was easy everyone would be doing it.

    H Davis

  9. Kay says:

    I placed my name on a list of quilters at my dealer. From that I got a start and then it was by word of mouth.

  10. Vicki R says:

    In my rural area I joined the Chamber of Commerce, they will promote my business through facebook and the CofC website. I also do craft shows with a friend, decorator items not quilts, and I can promote my business to other crafters. I offer a discount also.

  11. Cindy Roth says:

    I received the following from a quilter, with her permission to post it. She wishes to remain anonymous-

    “When you are just getting started, offering to quilt a sample for free or reduced rate might be a good idea and hopefully, it would result in additional business. However, you can also be taken advantage of. Years ago, I stopped at a shop with a clothing project I had done which I was delivering to the recipient. The store owner had seen my work numerous other times and could see the quality of the work in my hands which I just wanted to share with another quilter (you know that feeling when as a longarm quilter you do not finish as many personal projects as you would like…..) I was invited to quilt something for the shop (for free.) I declined. I was annoyed and felt that I was being taken advantage of. Maybe I was overly sensitive, but I felt my work was known and I did not need to give it away. This invitation did not seem to benefit me as much as it would the shop owner and I wondered what future dealings would be like.” I would like to add that I already had a wonderful relationship with another quilt shop and still do to this day.”

  12. Julianne says:

    I offered my clients a small gift for referrals for a short time. I also did a reduced price
    E T E..of my choice..only one pattern. Only for one month…I picked a month that I did not have any bookings. Word of mouth has been the best advertisement tho.

  13. Debi R. says:

    My LQS has her own longarm in the shoppe. Now what do I do?

  14. Sandy S says:

    I agree…the LQS is one of the best places…also, attending local retreats are a good advertiser. They usually have a show and share. If you have the time to finish some of your own quilts, bring them along to show. Offer to quilt a shop sample for the owner of the LQS. She will see your skill and benefit from your service…

  15. I enter my quilts in local quilt shows. I also ask local quilt shops if I can give them my card. I’ve found one shop who favors me pretty good. I also post pics of quilts on a blog and all the machine quilting forums I can find. Basically, the objective is to get your name out there.

  16. Dar in MO says:

    One good place to find customers is your LQS. Ask to put your name/cord at their checkout. Of course the usual quilt guilds and by word of mouth or referrals. You could run an add in the local Craig’s List, but it’s not my preferred way.

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