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!

In Three Months ……

In three months ……. it’s Christmas!!! Three months from September 25 is December 25. I know that many of us (myself included) have a hard time planning for next week, let alone three months in advance!

If you have a hard time planning in advance, do you think that maybe your customers may have the same issue? Do you think that maybe your customers need a gentle reminder that Christmas is coming? Do you think that they should be reminded to get their quilts to you EARLY so you can get them done in a reasonable amount of time? Do you want to get through your “Christmas Crunch” with a reasonable amount of sanity? NOW is the time to do this! But, HOW?

Start by creating a post card or a note card. I know that many of you are scrapbookers and you can create something unique but not too complicated. If you are not a scrapbooker, then a simple card created in Publisher, Word or any other program would work.

You could write something like –

———————–

Hi Customer First Name,

Do you realize that three months from now is Christmas! Let’s work together and get started early this year on your Christmas quilts. Now is a great time to make an appointment to bring your quilts for quilting.  Bring your quilts to me before ( *specified date) and you will receive a special offer of (*to be specified). 

By bringing your quilts to me now, you will have your Christmas gift giving started, you won’t have to worry about the last minute rush. And, I will have plenty of time to get your quilting done for you! This is a win-win for both of us. 

If you have quilting friends who want to have their quilts quilted, for Christmas or any time during the year, please be sure to tell them about my quilting services. 

I am looking forward to working with you and quilting your quilts. To schedule an appointment ,or if you have any questions, please call me at 123-456-7890.

Sincerely

*Jane Doe
Business Name
Machine Quilter

————————————–

Of course, you can write whatever you would like on your post cards or note cards.

Here are the details of the *’s

I would recommend having a special offer of some kind. I am NOT a fan of discounts – you loose too much $$ with discounts. (I will write about that in the future.) You can offer something else that won’t cost you a lot of $$. If you have a thread charge, maybe you can waive it for this special offer. If you have other fees, maybe you could waive or reduce them for this offer. Maybe you could offer an “upgrade” of some of your services. If you have multi-levels of patterns and techniques, maybe you could offer an upgrade to the next pattern level for a (slightly) reduced fee. Think about what you offer in your business as “extras” and think about how you can work that into a special offer that won’t cost you too much $$.

You also need to specify a date when this special offer is good for. Being that Christmas is only three months away, I would date this special offer to the middle of October or, at the latest, early November. That gives your customers 4 – 6 weeks to take you up on this offer. Personally, a one month time frame, in this situation, would be all that I would offer.

If you create your postcard/ note card on a computer and print it out, make sure you hand sign your name. If you would like, you could write (by hand) a brief note to your customer to make the card more personal.

Once your cards are completed, address them and send them to your customer via USPS. Yes, this will take a little bit more time and a few more $$ (which is business related expenses and deductible.)

Your goal is to get this information to your customer and have them OPEN, READ and ACT on the information. An email is great, but it gets into a SPAM folder, it gets deleted or it sits in the inbox and gets forgotten.  Also remember, many of our customers, especially the older ones, are NOT tech savvy and may not even have an email address!

Start planning NOW to communicate with your customers so that you can have a happy and relaxed Holiday Season!

Let me know your thoughts and comments. Let all of us know what your special offer is and let us know how sending out this type of card works for your business.

All comments are greatly appreciated!

Getting New Customers – Follow Up

In the last post, I had a new quilter asking how to get customers for her business, other than joining the local quilt guild. I asked for comments from you all on how you get customers and there were many excellent responses. Thank you all so much for your suggestions and input!

Here are some of my thoughts about getting new customers.

Join several quilt guilds – you may need to travel a bit to a new area, part of the city, county, etc. (Remember, travel expenses, including gas, are legitimate business deductions. Talk to your CPA/accountant about this.)

If your guild has a quilt show, see if you can rent a vendor booth so you can show your quilting skills to other quilters who are visiting the show. You may even have a “prize” of a big quilting discount, free batting, fat quarters, etc., if they leave their name and contact information – which you can use in your future business mailings.

Talk to the local piecing teachers.  Contact the (piecing) teachers directly about quilting their quilts. You may want to offer a special discount to the teachers. Remember, most teachers teach at several different quilt shops and show their quilts (that you quilted) to many different people in different areas. You can mail a flyer and/or coupons to the teacher if you know their address or possibly call or email them –  again, if you have their contact information. You may even want to think about taking some piecing classes. You can talk directly with the teacher and the other students in the class. Don’t do a “hard sell” but bring some of your quilting to the class for Show & Tell.

Join a Block of the Month (or similar) at your local quilt shop. Many quilt shops have a “Free” or a “$5 Quilt” program where, once a month, you come to the shop for a quilt block pattern. There is usually a free class you must attend and then you pick up your the next month’s pattern. Even if you don’t like the quilt that is being offered, bring a completed small project – tote bag, baby quilt, quilted vest, etc. – of course quilted and bound, using the previous months pattern provided by the shop. Bring business cards/brochures, but again, don’t do the hard sell. Just show your “stuff” and leave some business cards. When you get business from your class mates, you can offer to bring the competed (customer) quilts to the class to be picked up – and shown it off to the class!

Think outside your box/area – You may have to look further than your local area for new customers. (Where is it written that we MUST only get customers from our local area?)

If you live near a tourist/recreation/special event area, try contacting the quilters who may be coming to your area.  Let’s say you live near a tourist area and many people come to your area for vacations.  There are three things you may be able to do –

  1. Have your customer drop off their quilt during their vacation and then send it back to them after it is completed. Make sure to add return shipping charges to your fee.
  2. Have your customer send their quilt to you before their vacation. You can quilt it and have it ready to pick  up during their vacation.
  3. Have your customer drop off their quilt at the beginning of their vacation and you quilt it while they are on vacation. They can pick it up when their vacation is over. (Because this is a “sort of rush” quilting, I may charge a little bit extra for this service. ) This may add extra pressure to you, but, think of the convenience for the customer. If you were the customer, would you tell your friends about how quickly the quilt was finished? I sure would!

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you exactly how to contact the “out of area” quilters. I am sure that, with a bit of thought, you can figure out how to do this.

Market to quilters who are a (farther) distance from you. You may want to think of going to quilt shops, guilds, etc., in other cities/towns in your area. Again, you are going to have to figure out how to do this, but, with the shipping resources available (USPS, UPS, Fed Ex, etc.) quilts can come to you from all over!

If you can think of more ideas on how to get new customers, please leave a comment. Click on the “Leave a Comment” button at the top of this post.

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.