Happy Birthday to Us (Part 3)

Water Hall Farm from Wavendon Road

Our story has reached October 2006 and I had made the big decision to move the business from home into a rented commercial unit. We had started to discuss moving house because we had no space but soon realised that if Denton Drapes moved out then our family home would be quite big enough for us. Fabric, samples, books, paperwork and equipment had taken over every inch of spare space and I was struggling to cope. Our journey from part time curtain making in the dining room was about to take another big step. 

The workroom seen from the rear

 My husband runs our other family business from a nearby farm which has converted its outbuildings into light industrial units and one came free at just the right moment. Converting an ancient lambing parlour that had been used for the last five years as a carpenter’s workshop into a professional curtain maker’s workroom took some imagination and a lot of effort. New tables, lots of shelves, extra lighting and plenty of elbow grease did the job and an annex room was turned into a mini showroom and meeting area with table, chairs and lots of sample books.

The workroom painted and ready

 I knew from the start that the additional overheads I now had to pay meant that I had to increase my income significantly and that one pair of hands wouldn’t be enough. Employing staff was an even bigger step for me but I began with one part time workroom assistant and found a curtain fitter who would work for me at an hourly rate. For a while I used outworkers to supplement our resources when required but found it difficult to maintain the levels of quality that I insist on. So the workroom team has gradually grown and I now have five part time curtain makers and two part time fitters. My husband and I also share two office staff to help with all the paperwork and administration.

Everything from home looked lost in all that space on day one

All these wages meant that we needed more work and I started to step up my marketing. I was keen to increase my trade customer base because of the volumes they bring, even though the margins are lower. My first big contract was with our local John Lewis who outsourced their hand sewn, made-to-measure work to us thanks to an introduction by my fitter. A number of other retail specialists and interior designers followed and we have helped them to create some wonderful projects. I enjoy working with designers who have creative vision and who allow me to use my expertise to create soft furnishings to match.

We love to work with quality materials

My contacts within the soft furnishing craft have always been so helpful. Discovering online communities of curtain makers brought a whole new dimension to my working life. Being able to swap ideas with fellow professionals, to ask questions and admire other people’s great work inspires me to push my own boundaries. My Decozo is a wonderful UK forum for soft furnishing enthusiasts and we have even managed to arrange a number of real gatherings in my workroom to share knowledge and fellowship.  The US based CHF Forum is the most amazing group of curtain makers whose superb work and commitment to learning truly inspires me every day and I can’t wait to get over there and meet some of them.

One of our Decozo gatherings

I started to get enquiries about providing training in curtain making but recognised that we just don’t have the time in a busy workroom to down tools and run classes. So we came up with the idea of Observer Days where a visitor shadows one of the team during their normal day and gets to see how soft furnishings are made in a professional workroom. They can ask questions about everything they see and often lend a supporting hand if they feel confident enough.

Helping out during an Obsever Day

This soon expanded into Project Days where they bring in their own fabric and one of the team helps them to construct something using our equipment. Of course we make a small charge for these days as they do impact on our productivity but we have met some lovely people this way.

A project day customer working on her pleats

The internet has become the major plank in our marketing activity. We still advertise in village newsletters and lots of enquiries come from referrals and repeat business but the main source of all new work is from our website. We had been working with a home built site since the very beginning but In 2009 I decided it was time for a professionally built web presence. We were lucky enough to find the good people at Seven Creative who turned my ideas for the look and feel into a really smart and effective website. This blog came next followed by LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. All of these have brought work directly to the business as well as finding us new friends and giving me more opportunities to expand my soft furnishing knowledge.

Our website design

The period running up to Christmas 2009 was our busiest ever. Mortgage rates were at an all time low but because of the credit crunch nobody was moving house so those with secure jobs had plenty of disposable income which they were spending on decorating their homes. We were inundated with work and it was very frustrating to have to turn customers away. An adjoining unit came up at Water Hall Farm and we snapped it up.

The new cutting room and worktable

This gave us a much needed storeroom, a dedicated entrance hall which we could fill with displays and another workroom big enough for a cutting table and another making table. We extended the main workroom table to 7 metres making it easier to handle some of the bigger jobs we get with really long drops.

The long table was needed to deal with these monsters

This additional capacity means we will be able to grow by nearly 50% before we will have to move again. Such thinking shows how Denton Drapes has become a proper grown-up business and how my working life has changed. I rarely make any curtains myself during the week anymore because I am too busy dealing with customers, staff, suppliers and a hundred other things.

One of the displays in our new lobby

Planning the week’s work, preparing job sheets, checking fabrics and inspecting the finished product all takes a lot of time. Luckily for me, my work is also my hobby, so I am happy to spend my weekend’s blog writing or taking photos for a Step by Step guide in Drapery & Design magazine.

I love it when we create something like this

We have come a really long way in the last fourteen years and I have loved every minute of it. Well, most of them anyway. I have had to learn some hard business lessons and have made plenty of mistakes but the pleasure I get when I see the wonderful things that come out of our workroom make it all worthwhile.

Another room for the same client

Thank you for reading this blog and for the lovely things people have said about it. I am flattered that my personal reflections have struck a spark with others at different stages of the same journey.  My next blog will return to the craft of curtain making but, as there seems to be a demand, I will try to write more about the business side of things in future as well.

Aren't soft furnishings wonderful?

16 thoughts on “Happy Birthday to Us (Part 3)

  1. Absolutely brilliant Penny……there is hope for the rest of us! Thank you for sharing and for continuing your generous support both to my.decozo.com and to me personally.

    • Thank you Louise…
      I never thought that these posts would be so well received.
      All I have done is record my passion for what I do..
      It is a pleasure to belong to Decozo and to know you personally.

      Penny x

  2. Penny, that was wonderful reading.

    I am so happy that you get back your due rewards, you work so hard, and in turn you truly deserve your success.

    Thanks for sharing your passion as a professional, and, the warmth of your unconditional friendship!

    See you soon xxx

    Tamxx

  3. I love reading your blog Penny, and love your work. If I had the small amount of knowledge that I have now, 20 years ago, I might have been inspired to start in the business myself. Instead I think I’ll be content with just making for myself. 🙂

  4. Dear Penny

    How wonderful to read about your road to where you are today. You are so generous with your time and input and produce wonderful soft furnishings!

    It really is something to aspire to!

    Wishing you all the best for the next 14 years.
    Charl

  5. This is so interesting to read, Penny. Thank you for describing how the business has grown over the years. It is lovely to be able to work at something you would want to do anyway.

    Angie

  6. Really lovely. I know how hard it is to turn from a craftsperson into a business manager, but it has it’s own rewards. I do still get some time for sewing during the week!!

  7. Love the last part of your blog Penny, many of your experiences reflect my own. I will have to call to see you one day when I am down your way, I think we will have a lot in common.

    Keep you passion for your business and you will always do well

  8. Dear Penny

    We have loved reading your “journey”, from working at home to working from premises. We really look forward to seeing your photos on FB showing lovely fabrics and beautifully finished curtains and blinds.
    You very kindly let us visit your workroom before Xmas and we were inspired to grow our business too. In fact we got straight on the phone to Pat and ordered an industrial machine!

    Kind regards

    Beth & Debbie

  9. What a great story Penny. I imagined myself walking beside you every step of the way, from the small acorn at the very begining, to the mighty oak you now have. Well done!

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