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Jo-Ann worker needs advice

blingy | Posted in General Discussion on

Can someone help me with what to tell customers when they come to Jo-Ann’s Fabric for help in covering furniture or making drapes?  I have absolutely no experience in this stuff and Jo-Ann offers absolutely no training in, well, anything.  People come up to me at the cutting counter and say things like “I have two chairs I want to cover.  How much fabric do I need?”  Well, obviously I tell them they need to first take some measurements but others come in with measurements.  One guy brought in the front of his boat and wanted to know how much fabric to cover it! I am used to making clothes and thinking about grainline.  Does Home Dec. have a grain line?  Most of it is 54″ wide.  Any help with what to tell people would really be appreciated.  I have told the good folks at Jo-Ann that I am stumped by this and I don’t know how to help the customer but they seem to ignore that so I am left to stand there looking like a complete idiot in front of a customer who things that I should know how to help them.  One couple came in for drape fabric saying their neighbor was going to make them new drapes and told them the people at Jo-Ann would figure out how much fabric to buy.  Guess who didn’t know.  I started asking things like, well, how long are they going to be, how big will the hems be, will they sit on a rod or wrap around a rod to the wall?  They didn’t know what the seamstress had in mind yet I was expected to know.  How do you figure out how much fabric to cover a lazyboy recliner with a fabric that has a pattern?  Please Help!!


  1. MaryinColorado | | #1

    Don't feel bad.  Joanne's is chosing not to provide this aspect of customer service.  Just tell the customer's that this is not your area of expertise.  Tell them where the books are and suggest there may be something helpful there, perhaps the phone book, community college,  or a used furniture store would be good sources for upholstering information.   Upholstering and draperies would be an expensive experiment for novices, I'd encourage they contact professionals.

    The grain and nap is signifigant on all fabrics.

     Regarding draperies, the seamstress should be helping them.   You can always say that the information they are giving you is inadequate and you don't want to help them make a costly mistake.  She should help them with measurements, appropriate fabrics, lining, perhaps even hardware.

    The problem isn't you, so don't feel inadequate about this.  The customer's often have unrealistic expectations.   

    I think it is good customer service when an employee will admit they don't know something rather than wasting my time.  Maybe start referring them to the store manager.    Mary

  2. Tatsy | | #2

    At least you can sew. The gal at Jo-Ann's who cut the fabric for my Thanksgiving tablecloth and napkins said she'd love to learn how to sew.  That seemed like too much information. She wasn't even trying to keep up a professional front.

    One bit of information I would add to MaryinColorado's is that it's a good idea to buy an extra yard or even a full extra length of the project (one more panel for a drape, or the equivalent.) Running short and not being able to finish the project because you can't get anymore fabric is a heartbreak. Even experts can make this mistake.  

  3. solosmocker | | #3

    Hi, Blingy. You have gotten great advice so far. Be honest. Tell them you love to sew but have not done home dec and they really should get that info from the seamstress. Same for the upholstery. You can also tell them that the answer to that question also has many variables,such as fullness required and dealing with pattern repeat. You do not want to be held responsible for those answers. It could get you in a lot of trouble unless you are very experienced in these matters. You don't want your manager having to give away the store to please a customer who that didn't get the right info. I was a fabric store manager at one time and have seen this happen more than once. We kept a binder at the front of the store with names and business cards of area seamstresses, etc. that we would recommend they contact if they needed further help. This puts the ball in a different court and lets the customer know you are helping them in some way at least. Its also great for business with those professionals and they loved that binder. One thing to remember is that if I go to Kmart or Walmart to buy an electical switch for my husband to install, I can guarantee you that the person helping me, if I can even find one, does not know a thing about this switch. This is the state of affairs of retail in America today. Its all about volume and turnover of product. For these big chains, the human element is only a small factor of the sales equation. As just stated, don't feel bad. You are doing a great job, I bet, or you would not be asking us this question. solo

  4. GailAnn | | #4

    "You don't know what you don't know."  You want to do a good, professional job and be of assistance to your customers.  At least you can and like to sew, which is more than can be said for some of the folks who work for JoAnn's.  Right there, you are a good step up!

    I've gone so far as to write to JoAnn asking them to provide training for thier "meet the customer" staff.  Explaining they could then offer more and better fabrics, because their staff would then be in a position to HELP the seamstresses who come in to shop.  The seamstresses would then want to sew more and better clothes.

    JoAnn's doesn't care.  They might just as well be selling pots and pans or sacks of manure.  Then they probably wouldn't train their staff to cook or garden either.  Gail 


    1. User avater
      blingy | | #5

      Thanks everyone for the encouragement.  It's so true, Jo-Ann doesn't care about the total experience the customer will have.  The manager is on the little headset we each have to wear each and every hour keeping us updated about the average sales ticket, telling us to push this item and making sure there are trip hazards everywhere!  I cannot believe the stuff they put right in the way just to make sure the customers see it!  They live in fear that a customer will not make an impulse buy that they actually put out trip hazards!  I am so tempted to take my 401k money (I was permanently laid off in March) and open my own fabric store.  A store with a good stock of lovely garment fabric and for the love of God, classes, classes amd more classes!  Classes where you learn how to take measurements, look at patterns and adjust them, make muslins for fitting, then and only then sew them!  And have people at the ready who can help with drapery and upholstery.  Classes for that too!  I just have to shake my head at all the things Jo-Ann expects for minimum wage.  If I knew anything about drapes and upholstery I certainly would not be there!  Thankfully this is just a seasonal job but I do want to help people as much as I can, it just gets embarrassing when I have to tell them I don't have a clue as to how to help them.

      1. starzoe | | #6

        Not everyone is expert at everything. Relax, tell the truth and do your best for people you can help.

      2. mainestitcher | | #7

        I would much rather someone told me this was not her area of expertise than to get bad advice.

        My personal opinion is that the seamstress who doesn't figure this out for her customer is not doing her job very well.  She's probably doing it cheaply, too, and under the table. 

        And the soapbox appears under my feet...

        And this is why people get the idea that sewing is not skilled labor.  They get some one with "loving hands at home" to agree to stitch up curtains for a song.  The non-professional lets the customer and some body at Joann's cut the fabric, she does what she can, skimps on the headers or hems,' cause after all, she's not making a living at this, just some extra under the table.  They get hung up and look mediocre, and people see them and the thought that home made = cheap and not too clever is reaffirmed.

        A woman appeared at my day job with a pair of what might have been, at one time designer jeans.  Her colleague had taken them in once, turning them inside out and stitching down the sides.  Take a moment and imagine how that would look, done on a home machine that wasn't made to stitch through that many layers of denim. She'd then had a friend butcher them in some other fashion.  She wanted me to make them wearable by that evening.  I think she told me she didn't care what it would cost, but I thought, if you didn't care, you'd have had a professional alter them in the first place.

      3. suesew | | #8

        As far as the slipcovers go, I often seen a chart that shows many different kinds of chairs with fabric estimations. That has to be in somone's book somewhere still. I've often seen them in fabric stores in the decorator fabric section. But I agree you should send them gently back to the seamstress. I always measure a chair and then go home and figure out the yardage needed and then tell the customer what to buy.

      4. Lynnelle | | #12

        Trip hazards?  So, if I haphazardly trip I can own the store huh?  Just another example of corporate America searching for the bottom line - money.

  5. ctirish | | #9

    Hi, you have received lots of good advice. The only thing I would add is Jo-Ann's does sell how to books on making draperies. If if were me I would preview some of the books and find a couple you think are easy to read and understand. Then I would tell the customer that you really wish you could help them but you don't have any experience in Home Dec. Then I would tell them that the person who is doing the work should be able to help them. Then I would show them the books you found that are easy to read and understand and offer that they may want to do some reading on their specific Home Dec project so they will understand the seamstress questions when they speak with her. Include that they will be sure of getting what they want if they do some pre-work. Don't call it homework - I don't know why but it turns people off when they hear that phrasing. This way they learn something and hopefully get what they want from their seamstress and they go away with a feeling that Jo-Ann's cares about their customers. I know the opposite is true but you need to feel good about helping them or this job will take it's toll on you in terms of frustration and dissatisfaction. Belive it or not Jo-Ann's probably doesn't want you to start quoting how much fabric and trim someone needs for a project. If you do that and you are wrong the store would be liable for the error and in this sue-happy society would get sued for the total cost of the project, including fabric, trim, labor, installation, hardware and the never missing in a lawsuit - grief and aggravation or as the lawyers call it - pain and suffering.What you will learn from this is how to treat employees and maybe in your spare time you can do some reading on Home Dec projects and how they work. I have always professed you can learn from a good boss and you can learn from a bad boss. It is up the individual to process the experience and derive how they would do things differently if they were in management's position. Good Luck, Jane

  6. Betakin | | #10

    Besides the how to books that my local Joann's sells they also have some how to papers in holders on the end caps near the home dec dept. These papers are free for the taking and they show different types of chairs, sofa's and measurements or how to measure and cover and have papers covering many topics with instructions for many types of home decorating. If your Joann's does not have these you might wish to inquire why not or suggest to maybe get them for the customer and to save yourself from grief. I wish you the best.

    1. User avater
      blingy | | #11

      As I see it, most people simply don't want to take the time to read up on how to do the project they want to complete.  They think that somehow there is a magical formula and the people behind the cutting counter know it.  They don't wnat to know the secret, they just want the project done!

  7. Pattiann42 | | #13

    I guess there are some people who do not realize it has become a do it yourself, self-service world.  You have to do your own research, even before going to the Doc.

    Helping clueless customers decide how much fabric they need ties up staff and makes me (the customer) tap my foot as I am impatient with those who think sewing is so simple.

    Once it was staff showing someone how to use a rotary cutter.  I bit my tongue until she was through with her spiel, but could not help but tell the customer to be very careful as the cutting wheel is a razor.

    Again, at JA, a customer had a pattern that did not comply with the measurements of her window and the JA associate simply could not help her.  The customer happen to come up behind me at the check out muttering that the decorator wanted $5,000 to make the window treatments for her home and she knew she could do it cheaper (if only she knew how)!

    I smile to myself very time I look around my home at all the items (table cloths, napkins, quilts, pillows, curtains, drapes and valances I have made. 

    Those who know how, do; those who do not, pay big bucks!  Keep on stitching & smiling ladies (and gentlemen)!

    Jo-Ann associates we do appreciate you! I know (at my local store) one minute you are at the back door accepting delivery and the next minute rushing to the front of the store to cut fabric or check out a customer.

    1. Lilith1951 | | #14

      Spicegirl1, I so agree with all your points.  I think that people who have never sewn either think it's easy and they can just jump in and do it, or they haven't a clue and think those of us who do it are talented to the hilt.  It's a whole learning process and most people who don't do it haven't a clue.  I don't consider myself talented, just experienced. I've spent the time and energy to learn.

      I agree about the JoAnn's employees.  We don't have a JoAnn's here, but we do have a Hancock's--very much the same thing.  The employees here are wonderfully helpful whenever they possibly can be, but terribly busy.  Mostly I only ask questions about the products or where to find something if I'm having trouble with that.  I wouldn't expect to go in there and have them teach me what I'm already supposed to know.  The staff at our Hancocks is very busy, but friendly, and will certainly do their best to help people with questions, but it certainly is not their job to tell people HOW to do their projects or figure their yardage.  People are so lazy:-(

      My husband if fond of saying that in most services we are paying for what someone KNOWS, not what they do.  Imagine if we could do surgery on our own family members (to save money) "if we only knew how....." <giggle>

      1. User avater
        VKStitcher | | #16

        "It's a whole learning process and most people who don't do it haven't a clue."

        How true!  A couple of years ago we had a party for Tim's work group.  The wife of one of his co-workers commented on our window treatments, and Tim said that I had made them.  She said to me, "Oh I'd love to make those for our house.  Teach me to sew!"  She is a graphic artist, and I wanted to say to her, "Teach me to draw!"  Like it's that easy!  In any art or craft there's lots and lots of practice (and mistakes!) before you get really good at it, and you need some patience and a bit of talent, too.


        1. MaryinColorado | | #17

          Ha Ha!  That is so funny!  Thanks for the chuckle!  Bartering "knowledge and experience"....hmmm....Mary

          1. User avater
            VKStitcher | | #18

            Glad to provide your laugh for the day!  :-)

          2. MaryinColorado | | #19

            Maybe when people come up with these ideas, we could say, "okay, first, you research all the sewing machine brands, test drive them, spend enought money to buy a car on a sewing machine, then buy all the supplies, take the "know your machine classes, basic sewing classes, then come back to me and we'll discuss if you are ready for my "private tutoring".  Of course, it would be less expensive to take a group class, somewhere else."   

            But then, most of us tend to be more socially adept and hopefully want to encourage others to share our love of sewing.  So holding our tongues and just thinking these thoughts is what we tend to do.  Just remember to have the private joke to yourself rather than turn it inward.  It's so great to be able to share our stories here.  Mary 

          3. User avater
            VKStitcher | | #20

            Yes, I held my tongue, and I think I just smiled and told her I was very busy at work and couldn't schedule any time to give sewing lessons.

            Another thing--people admire something I've made and want me to make them one.  They somehow think it would be cheaper for me to make it for them than if they bought it ready-made, or heaven forbid, had to pay a "professional" to do it!  :-)  Not that I consider myself an expert by any means, but my time is worth something, too.  To me anyway!  I always tell them I don't have enough time to sew for myself, much less for anyone else.

            But special people do get gifts that I've made.  Most everyone appreciates the time and effort that I spend making something especially for them.

          4. autumn | | #21

            OOOh, boy, don't get me started on JoAnnes.  I am so angry that they have bought out every good fabric store in the universe. Hancock's has disappeared after only about 2 yrs. in my neighborhood. All the quilting fabric stores are fun to look in for the gorgeous colors, but you can't find anything but cottons. Nothing for making an article of clothing.

            About the "trip hazzards" -- do they really call them that? My son-in-law is a personal injury lawyer. He would have a field day if someone tripped and got hurt, and he found out that they are really called that. It would be admitting that someone might trip, but they put them there anyway.

          5. Pattiann42 | | #22

            If you like to sew, and it is obvious that we do, better get use to buying on line. 

            Even the Jo-Ann Supers store stocks more fleece (recycled plastic) than they do fabric!

            I still maintain that if sewing machine mfgs want to sell sewing machines, they had better give what few fabric stores there are a kick in the pants.

          6. Ralphetta | | #23

            It looks to me like the sewing machine companies are too busy selling embroidery machines to care about  garment sewers.

          7. Pattiann42 | | #24

            And then there will be none.

    2. mainestitcher | | #15

      Again, at JA, a customer had a pattern that did not comply with the measurements of her window and the JA associate simply could not help her.  The customer happen to come up behind me at the check out muttering that the decorator wanted $5,000 to make the window treatments for her home and she knew she could do it cheaper (if only she knew how)!

      I had just made a visit to JA and had stepped next-door to Lowe's.  There was a lady in the drapery department tsk-tsking at the cost of window treatments. She wondered if she could go next door and buy fabric cheaper.  I told her that the retail price of fabric made that highly unlikely- - even if she made them herself without a seamstress's help. 

      One of the radio stations preferred at work is an oldies station.  One morning I listened to some one's version of "House of the Rising Sun." Every one over a certain age is familiar with the lyrics; 'My mother was a tailor, she sewed my new blue jeans...'  That era was about the last time it was more economical to sew than buy, I think. 

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