SewForward is a cut and sew studio providing high quality small batch manufacturing, while providing job training and employment opportunities for people facing difficulty in the workforce. SewForward is part of the East End Cooperative Ministry.
SewForward loves to help small businesses grow. Our monthly newsletter, Creative Crossroads, provides tips to help you improve your business.
In This Issue We Explore:
What's the Right Time to Buy New Equipment
How do you know when it's the right time to buy equipment for your business. Part 2 of our 4-part series about equipment upgrades.
Sewing supplies in home improvement stores.
Beating the Competition
Get customers to buy from YOU not your competitors.
What's the Right Time to Buy New Equipment
When I first started my drapery business, I was sewing on my mother’s 30-year-old Kenmore machine. When it stopped working correctly, I upgraded to a better home machine. Finally, I took the plunge and purchased several industrial sewing machines. My business product changed from home sewer to professional almost overnight. It was a great decision, and even now, I still use a couple of the machines for my sewing hobby.
Many small businesses think they are ready to invest in new equipment. If they just have this one new thing, their product will sell itself. My business was growing enough that it was the right decision to buy, but not everyone is in the right place – right now. Here are 5 questions you should ask yourself before you invest in a large equipment upgrade.
Can you afford the investment? In business, it always comes back to money. If you have been saving for this new purchase and it won’t set you back financially then go for it. If you are going to borrow financing or put it on a credit card, ensure you have enough work coming in to cover the cost.
How quickly do you need the equipment? Can it wait a couple months or do you need it right now. Is your business suffering without this upgrade or is it something that is part of your long-term growth goals.
What do you need this for? Is it going to be your primary equipment or is it just a backup if something breaks? Does it have multiple uses and if not, can you still do your production without it? Will it really improve your product and production speed or is just something nice to have?
How many times will you use it? Will it be part of everyday production, or are you purchasing it for just one job. There is nothing wrong with buying the equipment for a single job if it will not be a financial burden, but you at least want this single job to cover the cost of the new equipment. If you can’t raise the price of the job to cover the cost, find out if you can sell it to recoup some profit. Alternatively, maybe you can now promote your new production capability and bring in a new type of client.
Can you try using it before you buy? Is it returnable if you don’t like it? If you’ve never used this type of equipment before, do you know someone who will let you try out their equipment. Maybe it’s more work to use than you thought or won’t accomplish what you are hoping it will.
You should never just jump into buying new equipment. Take the time to answer the above questions and if you’re ready to buy, go for it. Then purchase the best equipment you can afford. This is your business; it’s time to invest in its future.
Sewing Tip: Sewing Supplies in Home Improvement Stores
All sewers are problem solvers. Working out a difficult pattern issue or creating a new way to sew something. Those same problem-solving skills lead us to look outside the typical sewing stores when looking for supplies. Your local home improvement store is a fantastic resource for items for your sewing room.
Extra-Long Metal Rulers: There’s something so satisfying about being able to stretch a ruler across the full length of your fabric. Lowe’s sells metal rulers in 3 ft., 4 ft., and 6 ft. lengths. With each priced under $12.00 why not get them all.
Magnetic Bowls: Don’t you hate it when you drop a bowl full of pins and they scatter? Large magnetic bowls for screws are fantastic for storing pins. They come in different sizes and shapes, but the 5 ½” one will easily hold two boxes of pins. The best part; when you knock the bowl over, the bulk of the pins stay in the bowl.
Magnetic Telescoping Tools: If you do drop your pin bowl, a magnetic telescoping pick up tool is a back saver. Get a little one to pick up individual pins and a big one to get them all at once.
Electric Conduit Piping and Closet Rod Hangers: Build your own fabric rack with extra strong metal conduit piping and closet rod holders. The piping is strong enough to hold a 100-yard roll of fabric.
Homasote® for Cutting Tables: Homasote® is the brand name for sound barrier boards. Sized 4 ft. x 8 ft. It makes an excellent base layer for cutting and pressing tables.
Beating the Competition
I once knew a landscape designer who was aggressive in her sales. She told me a story about a potential client she was supposed to meet with. The prospect called her to reschedule her appointment, because she was meeting with another landscape designer around the same time. Instead of changing the appointment, the landscaper pretended she didn’t get the message, and showed up at her allotted time, which was right before the competitor’s. She made the sale. This may be a little over the top when it comes to beating the competition, but she got herself a client.
Far too often, I hear comments from small business owners that sound like this, “Well if she wanted to work with me she wouldn’t be talking to anyone else.” “My prices are reasonable. Why is my client questioning them.” “I don’t even want to meet with her if she’s meeting with anyone else.” “I can’t believe they went with that franchise, my work is so much better.” My response to these types of comments is “Please! Give me a break!” Okay, maybe that’s my 14-year-old daughter talking, but you get the idea.
Let's be blunt. You are not in the only person in business. There is a lot of competition out there, other small businesses, retail stores, and large companies. You aren’t selling in a vacuum and the competition won’t be going away. Why shouldn’t a client shop around and look at multiple options. If you were buying something that wasn’t an impulse purchase, you’d look for the best product for your money.
First you have to find out why customers are even talking to the competition. All clients are looking to get the best deal they can, but that doesn't always mean the cheapest. They may be looking for the best price, or the best service, or the best design, or the best product for their budget. Maybe they are looking for the sales person they like the best, or someone who can best handle all aspects of the job for them. No matter what it is they want, it’s up to you to find out, and service them better than your competitors. If you want to sell your product or service, you have to know the competition and how to you can get the sale instead.
How do you find out what prospects are looking for? ASK. In your initial contact, ask them, “What’s most important to you? If you don’t get a straight answer, you can still figure it out by following their verbal clues. If the client starts asking if they can purchase the supplies themselves, they are most likely budget conscious. If the conversation steers towards how they had work done before, but weren’t crazy about the design, fabric or trim, they are looking for someone to help them find the perfect design. If they tell you a story about how they purchased a product that broke and the company wouldn’t fix it, they are interested in service. By finding out what’s most important to the prospect you can tailor your sales to their needs, beating a competitor who may be only selling based on price.
Know your competition. At a bare minimum, you should be aware of who else is selling the same products/services in your area and who the online competition is. Find out what your competitors are selling. Is it the exact same product or is it a variation? If it’s a retail store, visit it and see how things are arranged, what the customer service is like, and how the product is being promoted. Ask people what they think of the store and read online reviews. Now, do the same for your online competition. By knowing what your competitors are selling you easily address potential questions by prospects.
When you talk with a prospect for the first time, don’t be afraid to ask if they are talking with someone else. If you’re lucky they will give you an honest answer, and if you’re really lucky, they will tell you who. But, it’s crucial to never bad mouth the competition. Sell your product and service by what it can do for the customer, not how it’s so much better than the competition. Badmouthing, makes YOU look bad, not your competitors. If the customer asks you about the competition, be very neutral in your responses saying, “I don’t know them well enough to comment on it.” Or, “There are a hundred different ways to do this, none of them are wrong.”
Some customers will ask you to compare your prices to someone else. If you know your prices are higher, be prepared to explain what sets your product/service apart. If your prices are actually lower, still explain the value you are providing.
Know your product and be able to answer the client’s questions. Educate yourself on all your supplies and products and stay abreast of new techniques. Be able to confidentially talk about solutions for customer’s needs. If you can’t answer a question say, “let me get back to you.” Then, do so as soon as you can. By being knowledgeable about your industry and new ideas, you may be able to take on a challenging job that a competitor may have turned down.
Have business policies and stick to them. By creating and sticking to business policies, you show professionalism and organization. If you sell a service always, have a contract or terms and conditions you have the client sign. If you sell a product, know what your return policies are, and how you handle damaged items.
Don’t’ say no. If a client asks you if you can make something you’ve never done before, don’t say, “No I can’t do that, or I’ve never made that before.” By saying “No.”, you are giving your competition a chance to say “Yes.” If it’s something you really won’t make or sell, you can still help the client by saying, “I don’t offer, but I know someone who does. I’ll get you their contact info.” Then follow up immediately with the information.
Be upbeat and friendly. No one wants to meet with Downer Debbie. The competitor in a good mood is most likely to win the job. I once went out on a sales call in the evening. At the time I was tired, it was raining, and I had a lot of work back at home to do. I really wasn’t in the mood to make the sale and I wasn’t nearly as friendly or upbeat as I could have been. It showed. I never clicked with the clients and didn’t get the job.
If you don’t make the sale don’t be afraid to ask why. Think of it as a job interview. If you didn’t get hired for a job, you’d ask the employer for feedback for your next interview. Selling should be no different. Customer feedback, good or bad, can only help improve your business. End the conversation by saying “Thank you, if I can help you out in the future feel free to give me a call.” Who knows that sentence could get you a future job or a referral from the prospect.
If you are in business, competitors will always exist. It’s up to you to know who they are, know your own business, and learn how to close the sale, so you can grow your business, not your competitors.
About the Author:
Sydney Hardiman is the Sewing Program Manager for SewForward, EECM's Cut and Sew Studio and workforce development program. She has over 20 years of experience in the design industry and is the author of over 50 articles about interior design.
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