The Care and Feeding of Embroidery Gourmets

Putting Customers F.I.R.S.T.

 Customer care seems to be customer catering when it comes to embroidery clients. This isn’t a bad thing…it just means that guiding them through the smorgasbord of threads and fabrics, styles and creative applications is much like putting on a fancy spread for the gourmet…lots of inspiration, careful presentation and care needed.

Nothing makes that challenge easier than paying careful attention  to the “care” part of the equation. The care and pleasing of the discriminating customer is poetry in motion when it is carried out thoughtfully.

I have found a sales associate in a big box hardware store that is an inspiration in that regard.

Let me explain:

My father and I never passed a hardware store—we stopped at every one of them. And the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. I find as much in a hardware store to embellish and advance my embroidery business as I do in a sewing shop. I come up with ideas for sewing and embroidery helpers, display racks, and more—and I seldom use any part I buy for its intended purpose. Once I turned an old blanket chest into a file cabinet for my business using parts I found in the electrical department. And, I end up buying gadgets like lights that fit on my head (for finding that lost screw under the machine), magnetic “grabbers” (to pick up those dropped pins and needles) and once a combination of the two! Now I can light my way and grab with the same tool!

The past year I have been blessed with the perfect sales associate. I go to the store with an idea in mind and track down Fred. He waits patiently while I explain, sketch on paper, and present an idea of what I think would work. He adds his thoughts…I would say his “two cents” but his advice is usually worth much more than that. Then we start down the aisles—a veritable treasure hunt.

On my last visit I wanted to make a display rack for a booth I have at a gallery where I sell embroidered items, embroider-able items and more. Fred and I brainstormed about how to proceed, found the parts and I was one my way.

Fred is a stellar example of customer care polished to perfection. The last time I was in the store, I asked him about his exemplary style.

“F.I.R.S.T.” he said. “Find the customer—inquire about the customer’s needs—respect the customer—solve the problem—thank the customer.”

And so I learned about a building block of the Home Depot customer care program. I think it applies in very important ways to our embroidery shops. A simple formula to carry out a complicated task…to start and end with a satisfied customer as well as quality embroidery that advertises for us everywhere it travels.

The embroidery customer is a different animal than the average shopper. They have ideas and need someone to fine tune them and make them stitch friendly, all the while promoting their business, club or project. They want someone who is sensitive to their (perhaps expensive) logo which is carefully thought out and protected. Often their colors are set in stone. They need someone who understands, has the professional savvy when it comes to textiles and thread hues, and can turn their dream of promoting their business into a classy message with impact and results.

 The Search for Customer and Product  

 Most of the time our customers are not hard to find—our shops don’t cover that much territory!

But the world is our oyster when it comes to finding people who need embroidery. Just think about the local Chamber of Commerce…everyone at those get-togethers can use our embroidery services, but the plumber is only important to someone with faulty pipes.

We find customers at craft shows, bazaars, expos, just shopping at the mall. They notice the embroidery we are wearing to advertise our business (you are wearing embroidery, right?) Maybe they ask us where we got that beautiful embroidered shirt or jacket. It’s a perfect invitation to show and tell our business. We tell them what we can do for them and the ball starts to roll. I have meandered through many a trade exposition at a shopping mall with samples and business cards in hand. Anyone with a business needs my business—and everyone there is a business!

For many customers, the fact that we can locate even the most specific shirt is a bonus. One-stop shopping is convenient.

Finding the product is often more complicated than our customers realize, but if we choose to offer product as well as service, it becomes part of our job description. When we are successful in finding their garments, there is nothing wrong with letting the customer know, in an upbeat, let-me-tell-you-a-story fashion if the search was particularly challenging. It adds to our perceived value.

Going the extra mile can put the competition in the shade when it comes to sourcing. A sewing department (or subcontractor) can take an extra shirt or two and put pockets on shirts for the customer that has to have a pocket but the puce shirt they demand doesn’t come in that flavor. I have spoken with shop owners that created an impossible to find short-sleeved sweatshirt by cutting and hemming.

Be creative, think outside that box—and a caring image will be the net result.

 Want, Need and the Merging of the Two

 Embroidery is all about the customer. They have a message to send, a business to market, or a one-of-a-kind gift in mind. I always look at my customers as gifts…and I can’t wait to open the package and see what adventure I will undertake in my shop that day, that week.

Most times the customer has a pre-conceived notion about style, colors, placement, and, if not already determined, how the embroidery design or logo should look. What they want might be divine—or not.

Ask them questions (inquire), use a pencil and notebook to illustrate if needed, and guide them in a professional way to suitable choices. There may be more than one right answer…our customer is interested in the one that best fills the bill. He may want more than he needs, or need more than he thinks he does. It is our job to guide, suggest, and merge these things into an end product and a happy client.

“What do you think?” they often ask. “You are the professional.”

And, indeed we should be. This is a great example of why the learning process, our education and advancement as artisans in our special world of design, should be on-going.

We need to know about fabrics and construction points so we can find and sell them what they really want—and explain and up sell them to a more expensive shirt. If we don’t know why the shirt justifies a higher price point, how will we be able to explain it to the customer?

We need to know what fabrics lend themselves best to embroidery, which textile compositions can make our job easier, and how to choose the backing, needle and thread that is perfect for the chosen garment.

The more we know, the better we can care for our customer—and the more capable we will be when it comes to replacing the favorite college shirt the dog ate—when the tag is gone and the only clues left are the stitching details and the hand and look of the textile.

 Respecting Ideas and Customers

 It goes without saying that we should always praise the customer’s ideas and plans, even as we guide them to better (and perhaps prettier) solutions.

When all is said and done, if we think we have a better idea we should show, not tell, with a special shirt or fabric sample so they can see the difference and make a choice. And there’s nothing wrong with then praising them for a choice well made…even if we have led them to the water and watched them drink.

Do everything possible to make each customer feel as if s/he is the only customer. I have a special form ( that I use to record the details of the order. I always put far more information than I think I will ever need on that form because…I might need it.

When a customer calls to re-order, I can pull that form right out of the drawer and speak to every detail of that order…and the chorus of “Wow, you remember all that about my order from last year?” is a song in my heart…

Nothing makes a customer feel more important and respected than remembering—no matter how much help we need—everything about them and their orders.

 Professional Solutions

 Most customers want someone else to get them off the horns of their dilemma and present a solution.

That’s our job.

If we have taken the time to learn about color—and we should as it is one of the most important aspects of stitching and design—we can help the customers choose hues (and values) that whisper or shout, depending on the message they want to send. We can help them understand that color is affected by the color that surrounds it and so the hue of the shirt is an important part of the equation.

If we get in on the ground floor before the logo is planned, we have an opportunity to guide them to a stitch-friendly design. Most artists that design for printing business that created their logo and business card haven’t a clue that about stitches—and how important their friendliness is when it comes to digitizing a design. Preparing the design for the embroidery machine can go from terror to tame with the right thought process. Consider going to the local printers and meeting with the artists to present the idea of collaboration. Wouldn’t it be great if an artist understood what we do and would ask if the potential logo would ever see the light of day as a digitized design on a shirt?

Sometimes the most professional approach is the one that heads off the dilemma before it gets on those horns.

To that end, suggest ordering the selected shirt in different sizes for a try-on before the final order is placed. You can also stitch one shirt as a finished product for show and tell—but be sure to charge for that shirt as part of the order.


 Appreciation is the memory of the heart, so the saying goes.

We appreciate our customers when we thank them with words and smiles, but why not thank them with a cap if they have ordered shirts, a shirt if they have ordered caps.

What about a framed version of their stitched logo to hang on the wall of their office? (Don’t forget to put a plastic pouch on the back to hold several business cards, all the better to spread the word about stellar service and superb customer care.)

If we have collected the information (shouldn’t we do that?) we can send a birthday card, an anniversary card as their business grows. Keeping our business name in front of their  eyes is a great way for them to appreciate us right back!

 Customer Care

 Some might call it customer service…but in the embroidery industry I think it should be called customer care.

It just fits better.

They care about their image—we care about our image because creating images is what we do.

Caring—and catering—is what we do when we promote embroidery and work with the customer. Personalizing product, working through the details creates a relationship between shop owner and customer that is unique.

And our caring posture has to be precise, customer driven (even when it’s not), worth the money and effective.

Even if you already do all these things (and I am sure you do), it doesn’t hurt to have a little tickler like F.I.R.S.T. to keep you focused even on the busiest days.

Put a sign on the wall that says OUR CUSTOMERS ARE FIRST WITH US and you will be well on the way to making every one of your customers feel like they have a #1 embroidered on their shirt.