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Quilting Resources from Debbie Caffrey

How to Increase Class Sign-Ups

Teaching quilting continues to be my favorite endeavor. I hope you'll find something in this information that sparks a new idea for increasing sign-ups in your shop. All shops, large or small, depend on repeat business to fill their classes. In order to accomplish that, the shops must create a need or desire to take classes. The following suggestions may spark some new ideas that will apply to your shop.

  • Selecting and planning classes - Make sure there is something that makes this a class worth teaching. Classes that offer no more than an instructor reading the pattern to the quilters and watching them sew will not make the quilters very enthusiastic about coming back for another.
    • Eye-catching model - It should have an attractive color scheme and an interesting pattern which suggests motion, beauty, whimsy, etc. Models that have been on display for years need to be replaced. They often are dated, faded from light (yes, even light bulbs can fade fabrics), and certainly have been seen so many times that customers don't even consider the class. Ask a previous student if you can hang her quilt as your shop model. The color scheme or pattern of the quilt should suggest to the prospective students that there is something more to making this quilt than cutting and sewing basic shapes. The write-up in your newsletter can assure them that by taking the class they are going to come away with knowledge that was worth the fee.
    • Technique - Suggestions for this include the following: beginner; faster or more precise methods; conversion of original pattern to template-free or rotary construction; block manipulation; color or value theory; focusing on one technique with numerous design options; or offering more than one technique in the class (providing the quilter more for her money). The techniques should tell the students that by taking the class they have made a better quilt than they would have without it.
    • Theme - Choose holiday, mystery, fabric exchange, regional, etc. These classes seem to be more of a social nature, but that is an important motivation, too. Consider a snack, cookie and/or recipe exchange, salad luncheon, or other "food orientated" companion to the class.

  • Advertising, promoting, and selling classes - Present as much information in as many formats as possible.
    • Schedule classes well in advance - This allows quilters to plan to bring a friend or visiting relative. Plan around holidays, regional activities, or other conflicts, such as, guild sponsored teachers.
    • Newsletter description - Descriptions should be written by the instructor. Who knows more about the class? Your descriptions will have more interest when written by a variety of people.
    • Models, attractively and dominantly displayed - If models are hung too high they aren't inviting. Quilts are meant to be close to us. Attach attractive, legible signs to them stating the class name, date, time, and fee. If the class fills, write FULL in big red letters on the sign, and post another sign with information about a new session.
    • One day sale on class fees - Have instructors present to answer questions and help with fabric selection. If necessary, split the discount between the instructor and the shop. Both will benefit from the sale, so both can share the discount. This assumes the instructors are being paid a percentage of the class fees, as discussed later.
    • Discounts on class supplies - Discount all supplies for class and offer discounts on all purchases made during class sessions.
    • Free classes - Free classes for employees and a designated free class to customers with the purchase of fabric for the class can both be money making propositions. Free classes on borders and bindings or for UFO's (unfinished objects) are important. These will be discussed later.
    • Well organized sign-ups - Sign-ups should include payment of class fee, supply list, refund policy, and any other pertinent information.

  • Preparing for the class
    • Shop owners - In addition to advertising and registration, your responsibilities are as follows.
      • Acquire competent and personable teachers.
      • The best teachers in your community often times aren't your clerks. Look in your guild and talk to your customers. Many would love to teach, but not be tied to a "real" job. If your clerks are your teachers they probably know better than anyone else how some persistent customers can ask so many questions about a model that they get "free classes" and never pay for one! Politely tell your customers in your newsletter that your staff is very willing to assist them in preparing for their classes or answering questions that arise while trying to complete their projects after the classes. You must draw the line when it comes to this!
      • Offer teachers a percentage of the class fees instead of an hourly wage. In this way they have a greater stake in the success or failure of the classes and will exert more effort in planning and presenting them. How much of her own time do you think a teacher making $7.00 an hour will invest to prepare for class? A percentage basis is an incentive to fill classes instead of teaching minimum numbers. The instructor has no desire to teach full classes when the pay is the same as for teaching the minimum.
      • Provide an inviting classroom setting. Some of the most important features to consider are:
        • Sufficient, uncluttered workspace, lighting, outlets, ironing stations, etc.
        • Good logistics and traffic patterns. Please, don't have tables arranged so that your teacher cannot find a place to stand where she can face everyone at once. It is frustrating for all if everything must be repeated.
        • Proximity to fabric - Students often want help selecting borders or additional fabrics for their current project, and the teacher cannot abandon the class to go to another part of the store to help. Also, countless yards of fabric are sold because the quilters just couldn't stop looking at an enticing bolt throughout class. (More sales!)
    • Arrange for a clerk to work the shop during class. Don't rely on the teacher to do both!
      • It takes very little in sales to cover this expense, and, more often sales are higher because students don't feel that they are imposing on the teacher or class when making a purchase.
      • Having the clerks present during class educates them about techniques, class requirements, etc., and they can better help customers when the teachers are not available. I am a strong advocate for allowing the staff to attend classes free of charge (space available, only!). More people sign up for classes when the staff is well informed and enthused about the information that will be presented. More customers are satisfied when they can come into the shop with a small question, get it answered, and be on their way home to continue with the project. (That extra visit to the shop could result in another sale!)

  • Teachers - In addition to scheduling classes and providing descriptions for the newsletter, the teachers' responsibilities are as follows:
    • Meet deadlines and due dates!
    • Provide models, yours or that of a previous student.
    • Provide sources for patterns so they can be ordered well in advance. Please do not photocopy patterns!!! If a class was inspired by a book or pattern, each quilter should purchase an original, even when the teacher has made major changes to the design! The changes should be given to the students on a separate handout.
    • Provide supply lists and handouts. Have the instructor's name and phone number on the supply lists to encourage the quilters to do all they can to come to class prepared. Every class should have a supply list, even if the only thing they need to bring is a paper and pencil. Most other handouts are given during class, but some classes may have cutting or other work to be done prior to the first session. Instructions for these should be given with the supply list upon registration.
    • Prepare samples or storyboards to be used as teaching aids. You must have examples in progress. Students expect to see more than words and pictures on paper or hand waving. Give them tangible pieces. Most are there because they are visual learners.

  • Students - Quilters should come to class ready to go. In order to do that they need the following information at the time of registration.
    • Skill level required for the class.
    • Clear understanding of date, time, and place for class, as well as refund or substitution policy.
    • Supplies, preparation, etc. Required for first class session (machines required?, fabric cut?, etc.)
    • Shop policies (no children, etc.)

  • Instructing the class
    • Start at a point that assumes the students have basic abilities (unless it is a beginner class), then be willing to let students move at a pace accordingly. Assure them you'll be happy to assist those who need help cutting, adjusting seam allowances, etc., once the class is working.
    • Encourage personalizing. Many of your students will duplicate your project. Let your class know you're willing to help them make their quilts more personal, provided that it doesn't take the class on a tangent or dominate your attention, leaving the others short changed. Teach them your techniques, but allow them to use others they prefer once they've seen or tried yours. Be flexible enough to help them with their preference should they ask you.
    • Encourage questions. If questions become numerous and not pertinent to the subject, tell the inquisitive student you'll be glad to discuss the topic at a later time and get the class back on track.
    • Teach to the individual's standards. As a teacher you must be willing to help each quilter accomplish the results she desires. Don't impose perfection on those who don't want it, nor tell the perfectionist, "It looks fine!", and proceed to discuss the galloping horse theory.
    • Be personable, but professional. There may be occasions that are appropriate for mentioning your personal life, but your classroom talk should be focused upon sharing your quilting experience and expertise.
    • More ways to encourage quitters to sign up for a future class.
      • Finished quilts - One big reason for quilters not taking more classes is too many unfinished projects. Suggestions for helping them complete these projects are: free class for borders and bindings; have classes available to teach quilting methods (hand, machine, utility, or tying); contact numbers of quilters for hire; reunions, contests, or a rebate (15%, or so) on backing and batting upon the completion of the quilt. Get those quilts finished!!!
      • Give them more than they paid for. When the students think you've gone out of your way for them they feel as if their money has been well spent. Do any of the following: bring quilts to show (pictures or slides of previous students' work are nice, too); offer freebies (handouts) that pertain to the class; schedule a free UFO class, and a free finishing technique class each quarter; or bring a cake to celebrate the last of a long series of classes.