I get asked this question alot.
Should you charge your customers or friends a minimum fee for alterations?
Well, let’s take an example.
This morning, I found a bag on my front porch.
Inside was a pair of workout pants:
The customer called to say that there was a hole in the seam at the knee area and would I stitch it up?
Here is a photo of the small hole. It was probably only an inch long.
Here’s what the pants looked like on the inside:
So, I put black thread in my sewing machine and put in a stretch needle and sewed it up:
As you can imagine, it only took a minute or so to fix it.
When I have a small job like this, I like to see if there’s anything else that needs stitching up or reinforcing. So, I gave it a good look all over.
And I noticed that the other knee seam was coming apart too:
So, I stitched it up as well.
Doing things like this makes the customer happy that you went the extra mile for them.
Did I charge this customer?
This task took no time at all.
And, sometimes, I just want to bless them.
You may not want to charge a person for a small item if they are a first time customer.
Or a regular customer.
In my experience, they always come back with more alterations the next time.
So, when do you charge a minimum fee?
The bottom line is, I wish I could answer that for you.
I think you have to do what seems right and best for you.
I ask myself…”Do I feel comfortable charging for this?”
If the answer is “yes”, then I charge.
If it is “no”, then I don’t.
Now you’re wondering what amount to charge, right?
Ask yourself these questions…
“What would you want to be charged for this alteration?
“What is your time worth?”
“How much work was it to get the job done?”
Answering these questions, and any others that pop into your head, should give you a pretty good idea on whether or not to charge a minimum fee.
Many readers ask how much to charge for all the larger scale alterations. I’ve just written an e-book on how to price your alterations and it will be so helpful for you as you price your work. It covers every imaginable scenario and gives you details on how to price your work no matter the economy, no matter the year.
It will pay for itself in the first hour you use it!!!
If it’s something as simple as this, I might tell them to wait and I’ll fix it right now. That way they can see how fast it was for me to do. I will say that they don’t need to pay me. If they feel like they really should pay me something, I don’t argue. But if they want to take the blessing, that’s fine with me too.
I think that something that small is a great way to bless someone with a freebie. They will feel good about coming back for other alterations. Although I usually don’t charge less then 5 dollars. My time is worth at least that much on most small alterations. I can’t ask myself what I would pay for a alteration because most of the time I know too much and that it is not hard to do so I think I am too expensive, I have some estimated prices for common alterations on my web site for clients to see so they know about what the cost would be. People who don’t sew will pay for an alteration because they don’t have those skills and are fine paying for the service. Also I will sometimes not charge for a small alteration if I am charging for other alterations on the same garment. Since I charge “a la cart” for most alterations people like to see “n/c” on the slip along with the fees. When you are honest and kind to clients that blesses God and in turn He blesses you with word of mouth referrals.
I don’t charge my family either but they always help me out using their talents. I do feel like this is a talent that was given to me to help others and I do. But…I also feel that you need to charge something so people don’t feel obligated to you. They need to feel like they are can do things for themselves. I know most of my clients so I know their situations and circumstances and I can charge accordingly. I still love to barter too. If you have or do something that I need and can’t (or don’t want to do) I will definitely trade services!
I have done this many times if I know it would be a few minutes to fix and I ask the customer if they can wait.. Lots of times I do not charge for something so very simple. I have tried not to charge family and close friends, but they insist on doing so. I take their money because it probably could avoid family problems later on. If the family member were to get into a disagreement with me then the fact they didn’t pay could become an issue. This way we start out without anything such as not paying or charging for an alteration is not part of the issues. I have to look at it this way; I am running a business and if not my friend or family member would have to pay someone else so I do charge for my services.I never charge less than one dollar and so for this blowout I might charge only one dollar. Usually I do mention to the customer that I noticed the other leg was about to blowout so I went ahead and repaired that also as part of the service. Also when I replace a zipper in a coat I always check all the pockets first to see if any have blown out seams. It is easier to fix them when you can access the inside of the coat or jacket. The customer appreciates the extra time I take to do something for free. My brother does a lot for me for free so if he needs something then I do it free.I guess it is tit for tat for some family members.
I never feel comfortable charging family either. If they insist on giving me something, sometimes I will take a small amount it if it was actually a lot of work. I would also have not charged to fix that little seam. They seem thrilled when they know could charge them, but in fact don’t. It’s a nice feeling and I have to believe it makes for a return customer.
Go to this one: I got a wedding gown with coffee all down the dress it was destroyed. I used my Tri-zyme. I don’t ever want to do with out this it takes all organic product out of clothing such as anything blueberry, grape juice, coffee, ketchup.it is a Amway product call Tri-zyme makes all of that go away, it also dries out poison ivy – nice bonus, still by and I am not doing Amway.
I hope this comment is a “no brainer”, but always test a product on a scrap piece of fabric or a hidden seam allowance first, before you try it on any visible part of your gown or garment.
Susan, Do you think Tri-zyme might get a large chocolate stain out of the bodice of a ball gown style wedding gown? It’s been there for 18 years now as nothing I have used has removed it.
I am so glad you said this! I have done this myself for non-family members. It’s just too small to charge for! My hubs just doesn’t get it. He says “Time is money”, which is very true for his profession. But I do this little, simple thing and I get a bigger project out of it. It’s worth it to me. I also don’t charge for my church, just doesn’t seem right somehow? I do have “friends” that have taken advantage of the fact that they know a sewer however, so I have to be careful to watch myself when it comes to that. Do you find you have the same issue?
Yes! I try to watch it too. If I can tell they are crossing the line, I don’t take in the work. I’ll give them the name of another seamstress. How do you handle those situations?
LOL! We moved. Military life had it’s privileges. We’ll see how I do in a permanent spot? 😉
I also do a lot of bartering if I know the person can do something for me to help me out. I am a single woman and my income is fixed to some extent so any way I can save some money by doing something for a barter I take advantage of the situation. Many customers enjoy getting something for free without much energy expended. I had a man show up with a load of trash headed for the dump and he took away a very old chair I was trying to get rid of. I shortened and hemmed his pants for free. Once I had someone bring my bicycle up from the basement and shortened.hemmed a curtain at a reduced price. I also had a welder weld the bed frame of my bed in exchange for shortening and hemming several pair of jeans for him. My neighbors boys have shoveled snow and dug my car out from the snow plow drifts and have done free alterations for them. One neighbor jumped started my car, put on my lawn mower bagger, buried my kitty and I shortened.hemmed a bridesmaid dress for his daughter in payment. He did this for free and never asked for any money, but when he needed my services I let him know I was passing it on because of his help in the past.
good morning, I have been looking for a blog like yours for a long time, it’s very hard to find books or blogs explaining alterations in a complete way, and your blog is wonderful, thank you very much for your generosity and for sharing your knowledge with us Elya from France.
Many times I let customers know I did a repair for free or let them know my prices are less than many other businesses charge. I tell them I pass on the savings to them since I work out of my home. I still have the cost of my utilities and electric is so minimal for sewing. My home is paid for so I have bills to pay regardless whether I do a business or not. I let them know should I have to pay rent, utilities for a storefront business then I would have to charge more for my services. I also will go out of my way to try to save my customer money if at all possible and I think they recognize I understand that money is tight for everyone and everyone is on a limited budget. Since I work out of my home I do not do as much business as a storefront would get so I can spend more time trying to do the best job I possibly can do. I am not rushed. Since everything going out the door has my name/reputation on it as a seamstress I always try to give each customer the best of my ability and a full guarantee. I do not want my good name bad mouthed. If a customer is dissatisfied in any way with the finished results I will give them a guarantee with all my workmanship. If a customer is unsure on the finished length of a hemmed pair of pants I will tell them I will redo the work for free. I want my customers to be satisfied and go away knowing they got a good price and a good shopping experience. I find this works very well and these customers will return and tell others about my business. I feel it is a win win for all concerned. Customer service is number one to me.
I’m glad to read that I’m not alone in this. I love blessing people and the surprise look on their face when they realize you aren’t going to take their last dime! However I have run into several people who I have blessed and now they expect something for nothing. Sometimes you do have to be careful who you do bless.
I agree with Beth. I love blessing people and the surprised look on their face. I think I may have gone too far. I sell Real Estate and it is very slow. I now need to start sewing on the side to make some money.. I have sewn for years and never really charged anyone. I’m having trouble knowing how to change that. I just made two quilts this past month as gifts and aprons…etc. I have two commercial sewing machines and a Hemmer. My mom just passed away so two of those came from her. I want to put them to use. She had a drapery shop 15 years ago and started out of her home. I just found this website today, I will continue reading but for the moment… Any suggestions on how I should get started anyone? I know I will have a problem charging any of the people I know which is alot that I have sewn for in the past for free and family. I need all new customers that I don’t know. LOL!!!
It sounds like you’re all set for business! Look at this post and see if it helps http://sewfordough.wordpress.com/sew-for-dough-running-a-business/
If you tell all your friends that you are now going into business and therefore need to start charging, you’ll soon learn who are willing to pay for your service and who are not. It may be hard to tell them at first, but you’ll get more confident in telling them and soon it won’t be difficult at all. Then, the word will spread quickly that you are doing a good job and your business will grow.
Also, did you click on the blue link in the post above about pricing? That might be of some help too.
Glad you like the blog!
This is so true. I finally set up a little dressmaking and alterations business two months ago and only advertised locally on Facebook. I have been inundated, I am always busy and for the most part people are happy to pay. In fact I think I need to up my charges. Word of mouth is so important and so far, fingers crossed, all my reviews are positive ones 🙂
Awesome. Facebook is a great way to advertise. Thanks for the comment and so happy to hear you are having a great business experience!
I had the same situation. I am frequently sewing for family, and about 2 years ago, my sister said “You should start a little business.” I thought it was a great idea and had been thinking the same thing, so she just sort of pushed me a bit further. I had business cards printed and so now they all know I am doing this to make money. I still do most for family for free, but they are now starting to insist on giving me something. They said they will feel funny asking if I don’t charge, and so my rule is – mostly free on the little fixes, and I will take a minimal amount on something that does require a bit of time and effort. So my advice is: Print business cards – it means you are officially ‘In business.’ (hint, hint!)
Yesterday was actually the first time I had encountered this problem concerning my charges for hemming a pair of jeans and hemming a pair of knit sweat pants. The customer came to me and I told her I charged $8.00 per pair to shorten them. Even for the knits I charge the same price although I should probably charge more as it takes quite a while to remove the serging thread and cover stitches at times.When she heard my prices she told me she usually took her jeans to another lady nearby who only charged $3.00 to shorten and hem jeans and sweats and if she brought her several pairs she gave her a discount. I have no idea how much the discount would have been. I refused to do the work for her because I feel my skills are just as valuable as a plumber/ carpenter or even a beautician. Would they expect to ask them to do the job for such a ridiculous discount? I hated to turn away a customer, but had no choice, but to refuse to do the work for that price. It would not be fair to me to make nothing for my labor and I also have expenses involved such as purchasing jean thread, sewing machine purchase and maintenance, purchasing a serger and purchasing various cones of thread in the most common colors I would use. I have to replace broken or worn needles and I also have to purchase twin needles to do the hemming on knits. These expenses add up and I would be going in the hole doing them for $3.00. The lady she was referring to moved and she said she would try to track her down to see if she still is in business. She said when you purchase jeans for $12.00 it is unreasonable to charge $8.00. I explained that other businesses charge $12.00 in my area and I can attest the workmanship is not done as nicely as what I do. Do not let someone undervalue your skills. You will come to resent it if you do.
I also charge $8.00 for a jeans hem. I had a customer who also complained about the price. I explained what was involved.
First the customer calls to make appointment to bring in the jeans
Second: He takes my time to try on and mark the hem
Third: I thread up my sewing machine
Fourth: I mark and cut the garment
Fifth: I sew the hem:
Sixth: I call to let him know they’re finished-make an appointment for him to pick them up
Seventh: In some cases -wait for them to try them on
Eighth: I’m paid for the job
Isn’t that worth 8 dollars???
I worked at a cleaners that charged 17.00
Wow, Fran, I’m sorry you had a customer that didn’t value your time or work. I would also say that you’re not charging enough! If certain customers don’t want to pay what you’re worth, you’ll definitely find ones who do. I just wrote an e-book with some updated information on pricing. It might be helpful for you as you consider how to price your work. Here is the link:
Fran, I charge the same price as you do and I feel it is fair. Most of the alteration businesses charge $11-$12 for jeans and slacks with blind hems in my area. Not sure about knit pants but even so I charge $8.00. I try to average about $10.00 per hour even though I make out on some and lose on others. Mostly though I think I make out. On dress slacks that need-blind hemmed I charge $10 and only because I do them by hand as I do not have a blind stitch hemming machine. I charge $12 for cuffed pants as they take even more messing around to do them. I work out of my home so I do not have the overhead charges such as rent and utilities to pay so I pass those savings onto my customers. Occasionally I do give discounts on my hem jobs if a customer brings me a large quantity. I will do them for a dollar or two less. I feel sorry for parents who have to purchase school clothes for children who outgrow their pants so quickly. Usually, if they have 5 pairs or more I do them for $6.00 although they do take me as much time as adult clothing. On knit pants, I sometimes feel I should charge more as it takes me a lot of time to pick out the serging and I do not have a coverstitch machine. Sometimes I can get the serging to come out easy and then I fight with it. Still, I charge $8.00. I really have no one complain about my prices except one time when I had a lady bring me 5 pairs of jeans and her old seamstress had moved. She asked me my price and asked if I gave a discount. I told her I did not. She told me her previous lady charged $5.00 a pair but if she bought 5 or more she gave her a discount. When I asked her what she charged with the discount she told me $2.00. I told her no way as that was not worth my time to make $1.00 per leg. That didn’t even cover thread and needle supplies. She said she would find someone cheaper. I showed her politely to the door. Stick to your prices. It is so hard for me to raise my prices for hemming even though I would like to do so. My customers always get used to my prices and will comment that I raised my prices. Charge enough so you do not think you will need to raise your prices.
Thanks for your response.
I’ve been sewing professionally for 40 years, I do alterations and Upholstery. I’m in my 70’s now and am cutting down some on upholstery jobs that are too heavy to handle. I worked in an upholstery shop and did nothing but cushions so thats what I tend to promote.
As for alterations, I worked in Bridals for 20 years so I get a lot of that – formal wear. proms, etc. there’s more profit in that but it can be difficult work, I recently had a bridesmaid that said she paid $230.00 for alterrations. somewhere, that seems way over the top.to me.
I work out of my home also, it seems that alteration shops just can’t make it paying overhead etc. I see a lot of them close up.
As for hems, the reason that I don’t raise the price on that is that is seems like the gauge that people use to decide if you charge too much. Keeping my hemming reasonable attracts so much other business ,Because I have a heavy duty machine for upholstery, I can hem jeans in minutes-.that is mark and hem-I’m am able to use the same thread that is used in the factory which seems to be important to some customers. I do charge more for dress pants or even Docker type pants that have a machine hem. – like you from $10.00 to $12.00. I think hems are my most profitable category. My biggest problem is turning down work that I know wouldn’t be profitable, I’ve had jobs that take 6 hours to do but really can’t charge accordingly, recently shortened sleeves on a heavy jacket, at $20.00 per hour
(which I try to get) I can’t charge $120.00 even 10.00/hr. Gotta learn how to not do that especially for regular customers. I guess we all know the circumstances that we deal with and do the best we can. Sewing has allowed me to have things that I never would be able to afford and the best part is that I love it. I’ve learned not to be intimidated by customers who want something for nothing .
Best of luck in your business.
Do you gals, usually hand stitch or machine stitch a pant or skirt hem? And would you charge more for hand stitched hems? Thanks
I don’t think I’ve ever hand stitched a hem for a customer. If they requested that it be hand stitched, then I’d definitely charge way more because it would take 10 times longer to do it. If you do a lot a hems on dress pants, maybe you should look at getting a blind hem machine. It also works great on knits that don’t do well with my cover hem machine.
You probably are doing a bigger business than I do. If I was getting twice the customers I get I would be purchasing one a blind hemming machine. I work as a cottage home-based business in a small village. I am retired and am doing this for a little extra income and to keep me from being bored. I enjoy sewing and this gives me someting to do where I can offer my talents to people in my area. We only have 2 other clothing alteration businesses in this area and both are cottage businesses and do not advertise. They receive business by word of mouth as do I. I only do hand sewing when the hem actually needs blind hemmed such as dress slacks. I do not usually get that many to do as the majority of my work I can do on a sewing machine where the stitching shows. I give my customer the option if it could be done by machine or by hand.
I do and I explain to a customer why I have to do so when they ask my prices. It takes me about 20 minutes to hem a pair of slacks with a blind stitch. I wish I owned a blind stitch machine but even if I get one I still will charge a little more as I need to recoup a little money to cover the cost of a $300 or so machine and needles/thread.
Thanks for the information. I always question myself in pricing. I call my self “the village idiot”, which of course, I’m not. It’s just that I am one of the few crazy enough to tackle something,or should I say anything. Yep, had the mystery bags lots of times. I still have a tiny pair of blue jeans that I put a small zipper in. (Pain) No idea as to whose jeans…I have also done many no charge things. Love your tutorials. I am in the process of adding loops. My first. My last? We will see. As to the $3.00 hem job? Reeeaaally? I’m an 8 dollar equal hemmer. Sometimes it might seem alot when you have a bunch, but we aren’t doing this for kicks. Charge them. If they don’t like it, they won’t come back. Of course, these are the ones that say “I need this tomorrow.” Do we charge a rush job, no, we should. Sew on ladies, sew on!!!
CORRECTION to my post: Adding loops? oops. Making a zip up wedding dress into a lace up. (Research got me to a lovely place, here.) She bought the dress at a close out for $100.00. Sooooo, I guess that I shouldn’t feel bad for charging a hefty fee? Right? If I count the hours that I spent on the internet into my cost, she WILL choke. 🙂 Does any one know where to buy the loops on boning? That would be soo much simpler, alas, no short cut here.
I’m not sure if WAWAK carries them or if you might find some sort of cording you could use that JoAnn Fabrics might carry. Have you Googled for loop cording for corset backs on wedding dresses? I know this girl in my area does wedding dresses and adds corset backs and not sure where she gets her supplies. I know once she showed me a completed corset where she could add it without having to make one from scratch. Google wedding dress supplies or use different terms and you may find a wholesale source. I do not do wedding dresses or have I ever done a corset back. I suppose I could but would need to do the same as you and research it. I just send my customer to the gal who handles bridal alterations as she has done so for 35 yrs. having learned working in a bridal shop.
I charge $8.00 to hem pants and I feel that is a fair price since I work out of my home and do not have the overhead expenses that running a storefront business would encounter. I pass the savings on to my customers. Most businesses around here charge $12.00 to hem jeans. If they are unhappy with my prices they can call around and they will see they are getting a good price. I pride myself in doing near perfection workmanship because I am not as busy as a storefront and can take my time. I also try to accommodate my customers in getting something done quickly if need be. I have a fairly good idea what other places charge and try to keep my prices a little under theirs. Have you checked out http://www.wawak.com?They may have what you need. They have bridal supplies you can purchase reasonably at wholesale prices. I do not tackle wedding dresses so I am not certain what you are referring to when you mentioned purchasing loops on boning, but maybe they have what you need to make your job easier.
Thanks for the reply. I found what I was looking for at Perfectpatterns.com for $42. I figured by the time I drove to Mobile (1 hr15min) bought the fabric, boning, string, and made the modesty panel, lacing, loops for both side attached to the boning, AND then sew it in the dress, I would be money ahead. Im still gonna charge about 30.00 if not more. If you are a smart woman, stay away from wedding dresses. 🙂 I have three right now, and it is pageant season here. I do lot s of alterations for a friend that rents gowns. Yeah, take em up, let em out. God bless us all.
I believe you should charge the customer based on whatever covers your cost. I have an office/retail space and I charge $16 for a hem and the customers pay it in this area. I know that we seamstresses charge too little. I also use a software program called S.N.A.P. which enables me to put in my cost and come up with a fair price for me and the customer. Frankly, charging only $8 or $10 for pants hems, for instance, is too low and downgrades the value of our skills. Customers will never learn as long as we under charge. We do not help each other with unfair, low pricing. If customers are not willing to pay, then they are the wrong customers and can’t afford alterations. There are plenty of customers who can and are willing to pay for great quality work. Look for them.
Well said, Linda.
I agree with you but I have a hard time figuring prices. If I was trying to make a living doing this I would need to charge more, but I am retired and I mainly do it because I love sewing and it keeps me from being bored. We do undervalue our skills and everything you said I have to agree with. Depending on the area of the country one can charge more but in my area, I try to stay a little less than what others charge for doing the same project. This one alteration specialist in Australia charges $60/hour. I could never charge those rates. Obviously, her area supports those wages. I don’t think it would fly in my little village in Ohio.
The business has gone out of business and heard the workmanship was horrible. There is still one other alteration business in the area and I suspect she will be out of business in good time. Her workmanship is horrible. People have been bringing the stuff she has done for me to fix. The dry cleaners had been using her but have now started to refer their customers to my business. I think they have seen her work or received complaints from customers when they referred them to her. One customer told me he couldn’t tell if she was running an alteration shop or a flea market as it was filled with all kinds of junk. It’s too bad because she could make a killing if she provided good quality work being the only business in this larger city. I anticipate my business to grow even more this year.