Longarm – Keeping the Customers

Customers are Here – Now What

Getting the customers is actually fairly easy. Keeping them may prove to be harder.

  1. Keep a calendar and always know when you can do a customer’s quilt and when you will have it back to them. Please, Carol, don’t be reading this! 🙂 If you tell a customer their quilt is going to be ready in two weeks, make darned sure it is ready in 1 week, 6 days. If you have a problem getting the quilt done as expected, get with the customer and let them know. Do not make them have to contact you to check on their quilt.
  2. Always work out the price and the exact quilting that will be done , including what type of quilting will be done where, what thread will be used, what batting will be used, etc. Make sure your customer knows exactly what you will be charging and what her total bill will be before you begin quilting. I cringe when I see longarmers posting that they’ve put “x” amount of hours into this quilt and aren’t sure what to charge. WHAT? You’ve just quilted a quilt and your customer doesn’t have a clue what she’s going to be paying? That’s a sure way to create problems.
  3. If you have pets in your home, whether they get near the quilts or not, or if there’s cigarette smoking in your home, make sure your customers know ahead of time. I have a dachshund who never gets near customer quilts but I hold him and then I rub up against the quilts on the machine and I would bet that every quilt that leaves my house has at least one dog hair somewhere on it.
  4. Treat every customer like you would want to be treated!

Here’s what I do when a quilt arrives. I think it’s safe to say that 100% of my quilting comes through the mail. Actually . . that hunk of a UPS man brings most of them!

  1. Acknowledge to the customer that the quilt is in your hands. I sometimes write the customer and say “It’s here. I don’t have time to open it but just wanted you to know it’s safely at my home.”
  2. I try to give the customer three choices about their quilting. Not all quilts are meant to have custom quilting. Some quilts just scream for custom quilting. I don’t always know the customer’s budget and pricing can go from a low of $100 to a high of $600 on the same quilt . . depending on the quilting.
  3. I let them know exactly what type batting and thread I will use.
  4. Before I even load the machine, the customer knows what color thread, what type batting, what type quilting I’m doing and exactly how much it will all cost.
  5. When the quilt is done, I write the customer to be sure it’s ok to send the quilt back.
  6. I send them an e-mail with the tracking number and the expected date of arrival per UPS’ website.
  7. I track the package from my end, ask the customer to let me know when it arrives and then I write them if I haven’t heard from them.

On one occasion when I was using Fed Ex, the tracking showed the package had been delivered but the customer did not have it. The package had been left at the wrong house, the owners were out of town and someone house sitting for them had signed for it and stuck it in a corner awaiting the owner’s return. The customer got the package but I’m always anxious to hear from the customer that they have the quilt in their hands.

I have the entire quilting plan in writing on my computer and can go back to it and refresh my memory as needed. Sometimes when it’s actually time to quilt the top, I’ve changed my mind. Recently I had a customer send me photos of her quilts before sending them. I recommended doing the Baptist Fans but when the quilt arrived, it seemed more suited for meandering stars. I wrote her back and we both agreed to do the stars. Any time I feel the need to change from the quilting plan, I always get back with the customer for approval.

Almost every customer tells me they leave the quilting totally up to me and I do think they trust me completely, which is a bit scary. How do I decide what to put on a quilt? When I first started longarming, that was the hardest thing for me to decide. I’m going to say that the longer I quilt, the easier it is to come up with a quilting plan.

Each quilter will develop her own style. I am not an artsy quilter at all. When someone contacts me wanting something artsy, I refer them to other longarmers. I can do SID, feathers, pantos, meanders, flowers, leaves and anything involving stencils but I cannot do artsy, really creative, off the cuff type quilting.

When deciding on a quilting plan, I take into account what the quilt will be used for. If it’s a quilt for someone’s 7 year old grandson, then I figure it needs lots of quilting – maybe a heavily quilted panto, a plain meander, a star meander – not hearts or leaves if it’s for a boy. I also figure it probably should have cotton wrapped poly thread for added strength.

Quilts that have a busy print do not seem like good candidates for custom quilting. The quilting isn’t going to show up! Why pay twice as much to get it?

Quilts that are very plain and are going to be used as gifts for distant friends, relatives or someone who may not appreciate a quilt do not seem like good candidates for custom quilting. There are some beautiful pantos and they’re half the price of custom work.

If we’ve made the determination to do custom work and the fabric has leaves or flowers, then I usually go with a leaf or flower or combination theme.

Feathers come real easy for me and if someone wants custom work, I can generally come up with quite a few feather designs to use.

I have tons of stencils! Quilting stencils are fairly inexpensive and portions of them can be used to combine with portions of other stencils and come up with unique designs.

Visualize what the quilting will look like on the quilt. I sometimes look at pictures of quilting and think I would die if I got my quilt back and it looked like that but part of that is that everyone likes something different. I do not like huge, open quilting that looks like it was done just to take up space. I probably get closer to putting too much quilting on everything.

Webshots has tons of quilting pictures. Any time you’re stuck for a design, go search on webshots and see what you can find. You’ll find some quilters whose style suit you and you’ll want to add those to your favorites so you can go back and look at their work often.

Don’t fret about not being able to come up with designs. You can always ask for opinions from other quilters and in no time at all, you’ll have developed your own style and coming up with the quilting plan will be no trouble at all.

And, here’s what it’s all about. I sent a quilt back to Cheryl and here’s a quote she posted yesterday on her blog. This is the reaction we want from every customer! (And, I didn’t ask her to post this to coincide with my longarm rambles!)

Judy was GREAT with communicating with me via email. She gave me options for the quilting pattern, batting and thread color as well as her opinion which I really liked. It was so easy to decide what to do and then get a check off in the mail.

Judy L.


  1. 1

    julieQ says

    Judy: Sounds like you are the perfect quilter for me!! I am mostly a hand-quilter, but I have tops languishing for that finishing quilting touch that just really need to be done, done, done… I really respect your communication wtih your customers, that is 98% of customer satisfaction to me. I wish I had a longarm machine!! but where to put it???

    Grins, JulieQ

  2. 2

    schnoobie says

    Thanks Judy for all the great advice!!
    I’ve visited your blog before but was just referred by the APQS chat site regarding “customers”…and the info you so graciously provided.I have been having some “issues ” myself and feel much better now !! Thanks again!!

  3. 3

    Teresa says

    I really appreciate all of these posts. You have put a lot of thought and effort into these and I think they will be invaluable for someone thinking about this business.

    Bravo Judy!

  4. 4

    kathysews says

    Thanks so much for sharing your insights. I have a Grace frame and a Juki machine I have been using to do my own and some charity work. There are some frustrations but when it all goes well and I dance down the frame and have a whole row quilted in a few minutes, it’s just so exciting! You make a real longarm sound more do-able than I ever thought. I have really enjoyed this series.