Teaching in Your Shop,
Part I: Class Planning

by Martha Beth Lewis
originally published in The Needlework Retailer

In-shop classes are one of the best ways to get customers into your shop. Classes energize stitchers and put them into direct contact with materials, patterns, and special services you make available. Classes also can be great marketing and advertising tools. To maximize the benefits, planning is the key to a gangbuster class.

This article and the next one will address class planning. Following articles discuss selecting the teacher and project, making kits, and writing the class handout.

Class Goal. What do you want the class to do? Get people into your shop so they can browse before and after class? Offer a value-added activity? Educate stitchers so they are unafraid to buy more complex designs and therefore enable you sell more exotic threads and fabrics? Acquaint stitchers with a certain designer's work, such as a class in conjunction with a trunk show? More than one goal? Know your goal before doing anything else.

Student Level. Will the class be aimed at a specific student level (beginners, such as Girl Scouts)? If so, which level? You'll probably have better registration, however, if the class appeals to several levels.

When you take class sign-ups, ask how experienced the stitcher is. For example, knowing that there are some people who have never stitched on evenweave will be useful to the teacher so she can prepare adequately.

Kit Costs. How do you propose to cover costs for kit materials? Recoup your expenses based on wholesale prices? At list or perhaps at a slight discount?

Profit Projection. Yours is not a charitable enterprise, therefore you probably want to make a profit on this class. What is your financial target?

Class Type. What will actually go on during class? Choose one of the following class types and build the class around it.

Shop Disruption. Having a class in your shop will definitely cause a disruption, which may be unobtrusive or have a noticeable impact on retail activities. The amount of the disruption may influence decisions you make about the class. Primary factors are logistics, class date and time, shop staff, and extent and duration of the disruption.

Class Length. Class length may influence how good the registration is. It also determines whether your students will need a break and how customers will feel about the class.

Very long classes will appeal to only a few customers. Some stitchers can stay focused for quite a while, but others become restless after two hours or so.

Class length has a great deal to do with customer satisfaction with the class. You want stitchers to leave with warm feelings, not a headaches!

Class length also may dictate how involved you are in the class. If you are teaching, how long can you be away from your own duties? If a "crisis" arises, how long can you wait to deal with it? Do you have knowledgeable staff that can solve a problem or put it on hold successfully until you are finished teaching? You shouldn't leave class to put out shop fires. Students are paying to study with you.

Breaks. Suppose you decide on a 4-hour class. In this case, you probably will need to give students a short break: 15 minutes at the most, but 10 minutes is better because a shorter break maximizes class time. You want your stitchers to leave happy. They'll be happier the farther along in the project they are when they leave class.

Be aware that breaks tend to extend themselves, however, thus using up even more class time. Before the break, state that it will be "10 minutes only", and that class will start again after that time. Give stitchers a "two-minute warning" so they can do whatever needs doing. At zero, announce, "We're starting! Come on!" and then do it!

Although this may seem inhospitable, I suggest that you not offer a snack during a break. This increases the chance for an over-long break and means allowing extra time for washing-up. And did I mention spills and crumbs in the shop? Smudges on your merchandise?

Last, breaks derail concentration. Some stitchers might even forget the new technique they were learning and/or be confused about what comes next. Make sure your students know that they may take breaks whenever they wish, but that there will be no formal break and class will continue. Usually stitchers will slip out during the stitch time, not the instruction time.

An all-day class (6 hours, broken into two parts) will need a lunch break: 30 minutes is about right. These folks have come to stitch. They can socialize after class while they're selecting things in your shop they want to purchase! Again, lunch will tend to run overtime, so use the "warning" system.

Will you provide lunch? Will you serve drinks and/or dessert and ask the stitchers to bring whatever else they want (sandwich, salad)?

All this said, I recommend a 3-hour class! No break is needed, and, provided the project is not too complex, students can learn the techniques and begin the project. If the project is easy-ish, your customers can be fairly far along in their stitching when class ends. A class this length also decreases shop disruption.

When to Hold the Class. When the class is given will determine, in part, how good the registration is. You don't want to cancel the class because of low registration: a large part of your efforts will be wasted, and word will get out that the attempt to have a class was a bust—not very good for your shop's reputation.

copyright 2006, Martha Beth Lewis
Contact me about reprint permission.

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Bio: Martha Beth Lewis has taught at consumer festivals for seven years and writes for consumer needlework magazines. She is the author of Handbook for Needlework Teachers: An Experienced Festival Teacher's Advice (See this file for more information.) 1