UPHOLSTERY FIRM OWNER SHOULD SET THE EXAMPLE

By Arizona Daily Star Business Writer

Profile

The Business: Unique Upholstery & Design Center; 5030 East Speedway; 323-9393. Purchased: 1997.

The Owner: Karen Browning.

The Services: Furniture upholstery and restyling; design and manufacture of window coverings, bedding, and more.

The Challenge: Increase sales and profits by formalizing and standardizing business practices.

The Story

Karen Browning grew up in Rhode Island, studied home economics in college, married and moved to Tucson.

She did free-lance design of draperies, upholstery and bedding. Gradually, the free-lance business grew. When she saw an advertisement offering to sell the Unique Upholstery store, it seemed like a way to quickly kick her business up to the next level. She paid $45,000 for the shop in 1997 and moved it to a Speedway location.

Growth was steady, nearly tripling since the first year, Browning says. Most sales are furniture upholstery. The remainder includes drapery design and manufacture, bedding, and furniture repair. Half of sales are to the general public. The other half are to designers and furniture stores.

The slowing economy has changed shoppers. People are careful with money and shop for bargains. "Many competitors work from smaller shops, avoiding overhead I have to pay, like advertising, rent, and insurance," Browning says. Customer service remains a top priority, but it's time for a few changes.

Customers should understand the value of Unique Upholstery's services so they are comfortable with costs. Realistically, the shop will never look like a furniture showroom, but a small face lift is in order.

And, Browning wants to step up her marketing efforts to the design community. She spends most of her time in the field, estimating, selling and designing. Unique Upholstery employs eight - four upholsterers, two seamstresses and two clerical staffers.

The Advice

"Workroom enterprises like Unique Upholstery & Design Center sit on a three-legged stool of careful contracting, administrative controls and custom production and installation," says Business Coach Dale Bruder.

Careful contracting requires differentiating needs of designers and large lot customers from those of fine furniture owners and other homeowners. The first two are professionals who understand the industry. The latter come with items to be fixed, altered, recovered, or repaired, but usually do not bring an appreciation for the depth of work, Coach Bruder says.

Several designers have selected Browning to help them realize their vision for clients' homes. To capture more of this market, the showroom should be reorganized, and include a complete design center catering to designers' needs. The sales portfolio should be updated and improved, making it an important sales tools at presentations to decision makers.

She should take a fresh look at field measurement procedures and create forms documenting item condition and any special circumstances. Documentation should include sketches with dimensions and highlighted areas of attention. "Measure twice, cut once, is the first principle of field work," Coach Bruder says. When in homes, Browning should explain procedures and techniques. The result will be owners who appreciate the attention and quality work commanded by their belongings.

Data from the field is translated into designs, build or repair tasks, material purchases, and production schedules. To streamline administration of jobs, Browning should complete wholesale price lists and description of services for her professional and institutional clients.

Excellent custom production and installation requires professionalism in the shop. The work itself is an art form, but artistry should be combined with rigorous technique and proven business principles.

Browning should communicate her business challenges to the employees, along with a plan leading to higher sales and profits. The message must include a call to action to all employees, Coach Bruder says.

Job descriptions and performance standards are a foundation of professional organizations. Performance reviews, with self-evaluation, give employees an opportunity to reflect on their jobs and enhance their contributions.

Browning, as the business owner, should be the first one to take a public stand for success of the business. She should do something few owners formally do - declare her own performance standards and measurement benchmarks.

Since Browning is the only salesperson, her performance is noticeable. Her relationships with interior designers, owners and managers in charge of commercial procurement, and the public, bring business into Unique Upholstery rather than through the doors of a competitor.

When employees see Browning trying her best and applying rigorous standards to her own job performance, they will support her exhortations and commit their efforts to Unique Upholstery's business goals, Coach Bruder concludes.

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