Michelle Pajak-Reynold Jewelry Design

7 Tips to Help You Manage Custom Design Orders

In Fashion Design by Michelle Pajak-Reynolds

Have you ever been asked to create a variation of one of your designs? If your items are made-to-order and you have the ability to produce personalized designs, then offering custom design services can be a great way to grow your fashion business.  I’ve offered custom design services since opening my jewelry studio 15 years ago.  I love collaborating with my clients to produce a special jewelry piece just for them. My custom design clients are also my most loyal customers and they generate a significant portion of referrals and sales for my business.

Offering custom orders is not ideal for every fashion business, but if you’ve been considering it, here are 7 tips to help you get started and manage custom orders.

1: Identify which designs can be customized and how much customization you’re able to offer

Not every design is ideal for customization and if your designs are mass-produced it could be very costly for you to create a custom piece.  However, if you produce designs made-to-order and can oversee production then offering a line of customizable designs can be a great way to get started.

In my jewelry business I create each piece by hand and offer three tiers of custom design services: Full Couture, Custom, and Made-to-Order.  The following tiers allow me to educate my clients on the range of services available and meet their needs at a variety of budget levels:

  • Full Couture: Original one-of-a-kind design made just for you and inspired by an infinite number of reference materials
  • Custom: An existing design with slight modifications to the basic original design, such as, changing the clasp style, earring finding, or adding additional embellishments
  • Made-To-Order: An existing design with elemental changes (colors, gemstones, or metal types) but no changes to the basic original design

2: Determine how long it will take to produce a custom design

You need to figure out how long it takes to create one of your existing (non-custom) designs first. Producing custom designs takes more time than producing your standard designs. The additional care and effort required to complete the custom design process and meeting your client’s specific needs, needs to be added to your turnaround time and price.

3: Decide on what to charge

Custom design is a premium service and commands a premium price point.  If you decide to offer custom services, the rates you charge need to be greater than your standard price points because managing custom orders takes much more time than processing regular orders.  Communicating with customers (often multiple times), sourcing special supplies, producing the piece and fulfilling your clients’ custom order requests takes time away from your regular day to day business activities. And this can reduce your profits if you’re not careful. Building the rates for this additional time into your price is a must!

Bonus tip: Many of my fellow jewelers and I have a set minimum rate for our “Full Couture” designs. This helps us when communicating with customers because they know that a one-of-a-kind original design will be an investment of a significant amount of time and effort.  The rates for my “Custom” and “Made-To-Order” services vary based on the level of customization required to alter an existing design.

4: Be proactive and help your customers understand the order process for custom designs

Unless your customers are fellow fashion entrepreneurs,  they probably are not aware of all the behind the scenes work that goes into creating your designs, let alone a custom piece.  When meeting with my customers I truly listen to their needs to determine which of my custom design services is the best fit.  For my “Custom” and “Made-to-Order” clients I confirm the details of their request, secure a deposit for the project (typically 50%), and proceed with creating their piece and ship or personally deliver the item.  The process for my “Full Couture” clients is more complicated.

My “Full Couture” projects are broken down into stages such as design, prototype approval (if necessary), production, and final delivery.  Each stage has a deadline and payment schedule with payments being applied to the total final price estimate.  This helps ensure that both my customer and I are on the same page in the process and the project runs smoothly.  Securing payments for each stage of completed work is a must in the very rare event the final piece doesn’t get produced.

Bonus tip:  When working with my “Full Couture” clients I limit the design stage to one initial design sketch and two revisions.  Clients can get very enthusiastic about collaborating with a designer and request revision after revision without ever progressing to the next step in the custom design process.  An additional fee is required if a client really wants more design sketches over and above the two revisions initially agreed to in the original order.

5: Establish a firm return and exchanges policy for custom orders

If you produce custom work that can truly not be resold in the event of a return or exchange, then establishing a “no returns or exchanges on custom orders” policy is a must. This policy should be listed on your website and custom order forms so customers are aware of your policy before placing an order.

6: Decide what exceptions you’re willing to make on returns and exchanges

What if one of your custom order clients is unhappy with their purchase?  This is where things can get really challenging.  The best way to prevent this situation is to be very clear in early stages of the custom order process so there are no misunderstandings or surprises.  However, there will be a rare customer who is truly dissatisfied with their purchase.  The best thing to do is put yourself in their shoes.  How would you feel if the special item you ordered turned out to be less than expected or not meet your needs?  What would you be seeking in a customer service experience to make the situation right?  Your answers to these questions will serve as a guide to rectifying the situation so everyone is satisfied.

7: You can always say no

Some customer requests are not right for you or your business to take on.  In that case, politely refuse the order and refer the customer to another designer or business, if possible.  It’s far better to direct a customer to a fellow fashion entrepreneur that is better suited to meet their needs than to take on a project that isn’t the right fit for you.

Applying these 7 tips for managing custom orders will put you well on your way to creating amazing and deeply meaningful pieces for your awesome customers.  I hope you’ll give a try and wish you lots of luck.

Visit michellepajakreynolds.com to view my customizable designs, upcoming events, press features, and jewelry care tips. Connect with me on social media and check out more of my articles on fashionmingle.net for exclusive behind-the-scenes access to my latest projects and entrepreneurial adventures.

About Michelle Pajak-Reynolds

Michelle Pajak Reynold's couture jewelry collection has been exhibited internationally and worn by celebrities including Sophia Bush, Jillian Barberie, Nona Gaye, Dina Manzo, and Miss Brazil 2010, Debora Lyra. Michelle's designs have also been featured on the cover of Grace Ormonde Wedding Style, LA Brides, and Created Woman magazines and the runways of New York Fashion Week.

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