You’ve made the decision to buy the machine and it’s now taking up half the square footage in your home. You’ve practiced til you think you could win Best of Show. You have all the necessary neighborhood, city, county, state and federal authorities satisfied and you now see why American businesses have moved to China! Too many rules and regulations and we’re just small fish in this big “business pond”.
You’re ready to start quilting. How do you bring in customers? Again, it will work differently for everyone and these are just a few methods to attract customers. Chances are almost every quilt maker out there has used a longarmer in the past. What is it about you personally and your work that is going to make all those top makers want to use your services instead of a longarmer they’ve used in the past?
Don’t ever forget that YOU are the most important aspect of your business. Always be enthusiastic, confident, and knowledgeable about the quilting industry. Keep up with what’s new. Know what you’re talking about! If there’s a batting or a thread or a design that you do not want to use, be prepared to tell why you will not use it. If a customer has used a certain batting or thread without problems in the past, either on their own or with another longarmer, and you won’t use it, they want to know why. Have an answer that sounds like you’ve done your research and you’re very sure about your position. This is another area where I wouldn’t back down. Some longarmers might offer to go ahead and use the batting, thread or whatever but advise the customer that if there’s a problem they will not be responsible. I can tell you without question that if there’s a problem, you may not be responsible per se, but your business will suffer. Example: Someone brings in an inferior batting and you know not to use it but tell the customer you will use it but if it tears or shreds, you’re not responsible. It tears, shreds and causes you twice as long to get the top quilted. The customer may apologize but when others see or feel that quilt, they’re going to know, without question (erroneously, of course) that you are a terrible longarmer and by the time they’ve told Quilter B, who tells Quilter C, who tells her buddy in the next town, word is out that you ruined a quilt because your tore the batting!
Likewise, if you’re trying to sell a batting to your customer that is going to cost them twice as much as what they’ve been buying at Wal-Mart, be prepared to tell them why your batting is better. Know your stuff!!
It can be a bit difficult because we’re taking what our customers provide, sometimes perfect piecing, sometimes far less than perfect piecing, and no matter the end result, the quilter is responsible. If we take a poorly pieced top, made of low quality fabric, and turn in into an award winning quilt, we’re the best thing since sliced bread. If we take that same poorly pieced top made of low quality fabric and do manage to quilt it without pulling our hair out, but it’s an average piece when we’re done, sometimes we “ruined” the quilt.
Be constantly aware that your reputation is on the line with each top you accept and with each quilt you finish and return to the customer.
Suggested ways for getting business:
- If you’re in a guild, bring something to every show and tell! Guild members don’t always like to feel like you’re giving a sales pitch or trying to get business but if you will show some of your best work – especially if it’s something no one else locally is doing – they will ask you who quilted your quilt. When you tell them you did it, they will almost always ask you if you quilt for others and will request a business card. When I got my machine, no one locally was doing custom work. The guild ladies were amazed at what I was doing on the longarm. Chances are there’s nowhere in the U.S. that hasn’t seen custom work by now though.
- Enter your quilts in shows. The more your work can be seen, the more name recognition you’re going to receive as a quilter.
- Ask the local quilt shops if they will add you to their list of available longarmers. Some shops maintain lists, some just have stacks of business cards. It always helps if you have a relationship with the shop. Shop A may not be real likely to promote your business if you do all your shopping with Shop B or on the internet.
- I’ve been known to go into a quilt shop and flap around a quilt that I’ve just done a “knock your socks off” quilting job on, and ask for help choosing binding. This works best if the shop doesn’t know you though. As soon as someone begins to “ooohhh and ahhhh” over the quilting, everyone in the shop is going to come over and see and then ask who did the quilting.
Quilt shops may be a bit reluctant to recommend your services until they’ve come to know and trust your work. That’s understandable! If a shop recommends a quilter and then the experience is bad, the shop kinda has a black eye. Some longarmers offer to do shop samples at a discount to encourage business referrals. However you have to do it, having a good relationship with your shop owner can never hurt you or your business.
The closest quilt shop to me in KY was The Village Mercantile in Boonville, IN. Betty, the shop owner, vends at a lot of quilt shows . . all over the U.S. I did her quilting at no charge! Pretty absurd you might think. Here’s my thinking: Often Betty did quilts that were “just shop samples” but they were great quilts for showcasing my quilting. Even with a discount, she might not want to spend what I would charge for the type quilting I thought could attract attention. So, I just said . . let me do anything I want to do and I’ll do it for free and then you can give our my cards.
Another good reason for this is when she was at shows, someone would purchase a kit for $200 or more and then they would ask her how much I charged to quilt that quilt. If she had told them $300 or $400, I would never have gotten the call. But, Betty can honestly say “I don’t know what she charges” and then she’d probably change the subject. The customer takes the $200 kit home, spends hours making the quilt and the whole time, they’re just seeing it quilted with all those feathers that I had done on the sample. They just can’t stop thinking about that quilt with my feathers on their bed. By the time they call me, they don’t care how much I charge, they want it quilted just like the one they saw hanging at the show.
I probably did about 6 – 8 quilts per year at no charge for Betty and over half of those were pantos. The free advertising more than compensated me for what I would have made quilting those tops.
Don’t forget about the internet. Get a webshots page, share pictures of your completed quilts on any quilting groups on which you participate. Always be careful not to push your quilting services but just show how beautiful your quilting is and the customers will come.
Quilt for service projects. Some of these are not going to bring in business but you never know when and where it will pay off. I’m not implying that we do service/charity projects only for what it will bring us in return but you’ll be amazed at how often you’re asked to do donation work. I do what I believe in. Because it isn’t a project that doesn’t speak to me doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthy project but there’s only so much I can do. It does build goodwill among the quilting community when we help with quilt related projects.
Some longarmers advertise. There are ads in national publications, I’ve seen ads in the Thrifty Nickel (free once a week type papers), some guilds sell ad space. I’ll always feel that word of mouth and others seeing your quilting is the best advertising you can have. Some longarmers offer discounts for referrals or have “frequent quilter” cards. Punch a card or use some method to keep up with how often they bring quilts and after a certain number, they get something – free panto, free batting . . whatever you choose.
There are probably many more creative ways to get/keep customers but this is a start and some of these methods have served me quite well through the years.
Good luck with getting the business you want!