An Intriguing Email

A while back I received this email from a fellow quilter – (Note, some information has been changed to protect the identity of the writer)

I am a Longarm quilter from an East Coast state. I was looking at your prices and was wondering if every quilt you do is custom quilted? Where I am, they want the cheapest thing I do which is meandering. They make a beautiful quilt (or not) but want it quilted as cheaply as possible.

It is very seldom I custom quilt a customer’s quilt or a even do a pantograph. I know I am much cheaper than other quilters in my area but figure this is a fair price since meandering (a big stipple) takes very little time compared to pantographs. (Sometimes that is all I can do to a quilt because it is so out of kilter.) Was wondering how you get them to want something besides the cheapest thing. I have been doing this (longarm quilting) for about 8 years now and as a part time business for about 6 years. There are so many longarmer’s in this area, it is not a full time business option. Thanks for your help.

I did write back to this person and told her to call me and we could talk about this. At this time, I have not heard anything from her. The more I thought about this email, the more I felt that the answers I would give to her are valuable information for other quilters. This one email is going to be the basis for a series of blog posts.

If you are the person who wrote this email, please call me. I included my phone number in my email back to you.

To answer the questions about my quilting business – Yes, most of the quilts I do for my customers are custom quilted. (Here is my brochure in a pdf file Cindy Roth Quilter Brochure 2013)  I occasionally do a pantograph although I do prefer all over free hand designs (AOFHD). The AOFHD many times are much easier and quicker to do than pantographs, which means I can make more $$ for the time I am working on a quilt.

An important thing to remember is, even though AOFHD’s and pantographs may be relatively easy and fairly quick to do, I DO NOT price them significantly LOWER than my custom quilting prices. In fact, I price them the SAME as my lower end custom quilting prices.

There is just as much skill involved in quilting all over designs and pantographs as there is in custom quilting! In my very un-humble opinion, a well done pantograph is better than poorly done custom quilting. And, not all quilts require custom quilting.

Personally, I don’t do “meander” – all over or otherwise – and I don’t do “regular” stippling. There is SO much more “out there” that can be done on a quilt top. I do several variations of stippling, including Ribbon Stipple and Landscape Stipple. (For a free video class on how I do these patterns Click Here) If a customer came to me and insisted that I ONLY do all over meandering on their quilt, I would probably refuse the job. Nicely, of course.

Then first the question becomes, “If I don’t want to meander, how I get the customer to change their mind?” Then the second question is, “How do I get paid more $$ to NOT meander?”

To answer the first question – When a customer comes to me with their quilt I usually ask “What is your vision? What do you see quilted on your quilt?” If they answer with – all over meander, stitch in the ditch, big stipple, etc., etc., I ask them “Why?” Their answer usually is something like “I don’t know why” or “It’s what everyone else is doing” or even occasionally someone will answer “I thought that is all you can do?”

Then I look at my customer and say very sweetly, “Let me show you something that I can do that will make your quilt look SO much better!” Sometimes, depending on the situation, I may even say something like, “Don’t you want your quilt to look different than everyone else’s? How about using this different pattern?”

Then, I show them either with other sample quilts (I believe in a LOT of sample quilts – which you should have hanging in your studio) or I pull out the Plexiglas, put it on top of their quilt, and begin drawing quilting designs on the Plexiglas. The goal here is to show them something DIFFERENT than what they have been used to. (To view a video tutorial on how to use Plexiglas Click Here)

Then this leads to the second question – How can I charge more? The easy answer is – because you are doing something DIFFERENT, you can charge differently! By that, I mean charge more $$!!

In the original email from this quilter she included her pricing which was

*Meander – .01 cents per square inch
*Overall design is quilted free hand all over the quilt.

**Pantograph – .02 – .04 cents per square inch, depending on complexity of design.
** Overall design from pantograph from border to border

Here is another question for you – If you are not going to do meandering any more, or on a very, very limited basis, why have it on your price list?

I would recommend TOTALLY ELIMINATING the lowest price you charge. (Has anyone fainted yet?) If the lowest price is NOT seen or posted, then how can you charge it or have your customers ask for it?

I would also change the wording of the above prices. For “Pantograph” I would change it to “All Over Quilting – either free hand or from pantographs, starting at 2 ½ (or better yet) 3 cents per square inch.” Don’t specify if the pattern is free hand or from a paper pattern. The customer usually doesn’t know the difference and really doesn’t care.

In one fell swoop, you have eliminated the meander and raised your prices. This is a win, win for you, and ultimately, for your customer.

If a customer absolutely insisted on all over meander, (and if I accepted the job) I would still charge it at my new “all over” price. If they resist, then I would highly recommend/insist they have a different pattern than meander or refuse the job.

I know, that is a lot easier said than done, but, believe me, I have “been there and done that.” It does take some (a lot of)  backbone and a couple of deep breaths and to do this the first time or two, but, with practice, it DOES become easier. You will begin to see that your quilting is looking much better on your customer’s quilts (not to mention eliminating the boredom factor) and you are beginning to see more $$$ for your quilting. And that’s a very good thing!

Soon I’ll write more about the other things in this email.

Your thoughts and comments are welcomed and appreciated. Leave a comment, I know that we all want to know what you are thinking!

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About Cindy Roth
Mother of 3, Grandmother of 11 and quilting forever!

5 Responses to An Intriguing Email

  1. Barbara says:

    I am new to marketing my work and often gave it away to charity and friends in the past. I had no idea how much my creativity was worth. You blog is eye-opening!

  2. Jans Quilt says:

    THANK YOU FOR THE GREAT INFO.

  3. gail says:

    Great topic Cindy!
    I would never give my time away for 1 cent / sq in. And what about a minimum price for a quilt? there comes a time when even a very small quilt still takes time to prepare and load on the frame.
    There are a lot of excellent long arm quilters in my area and I am relatively new at this. But I work hard to practice and improve my skills so I feel very comfortable charging a competitive rate.
    I never do an over all stipple. I charge $.015 to $.025/sq in for an over all design. And because I do all freehand work, even something that is more tailored to the top is still pretty fast to do.
    When I first started and someone wanted an over all design on a really nice top, and they gave me the freedom to choose what ever design I like, I would do what ever I felt would show off the quilt best. I would then when the customer was wowed, I would present the bill for the agreed price and also show them the price for the custom work that they actually got. And of course I explained that this was a one time special so they could see the possibilities.
    Now that my work has been seen at local guild meetings and local shows, I no longer have to give the custom work away. People know what I can do.
    I still get lots of people who want an over all design and that’s fine. I know what I want to make per hour and I price the quilting to fit that. No matter what I quilt, I just make sure I can get it done in the time that will give me what I need to earn for the time spent.
    I have charge up to $.045/sq inch for custom work and the clients loved it!
    Gail in CO

  4. Great article. I have my price list really similar to yours. I have lost a few customers to others who will quilt cheaper, but I have a loyal customer base who are willing to pay my prices. It helps if your quilts and your customer quilts win ribbons too. That automatically places an extra value on your quilting.

    • Julianne says:

      Great topic… I would like to add one thing.

      The machine quilter must feel like their work is worth the price. I am not saying this very well but.. I find that for myself.. I tend to underestimate both my time and my worth. I began to value my worth and my time. I made some changes to my pricing and a couple other areas of my part time business. Yes I lost a few clients . I am quilting fewer quilts but they are quality quilts that I can be proud of. The clients I lost may come back in time.. if not then all they wanted was cheap quilting any way…. not what I want my name attached to so no big loss in my view.

      I am in a area where I can not get the same prices that can be made other areas.. I am restricked to what the market will bear in my area. But I find that when my clients start to hesitate when they get the estimate… then that is what my market will bear and the price I can receive. I hope I have. Said this clearly and not added confusion.

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