Pricing Strategies For Alterations

Whether you have an alterations business, a sewing business, or you just want to do some hems for the neighbor down the street, you’d like to know how to price your work, wouldn’t you?

Years ago, I made craft items and large sized diaper bags to sell. My husband, a CFO, would always ask me, as I was figuring how to price something, “Are you doing this as a hobby or a business?” What he meant by that is that if it is a hobby, that’s one thing, but if a busines, I needed to be competetive if I wanted to make money on the product. So, because I already had thought about that, I knew I wanted mine to be a business.

We’ve all been to craft shows where people charged so little that you knew they were just covering the materials that went into the item. My husband would make it clear that that was doing it as a hobby. I would respond by saying that no one would pay what it is worth. His response: “If you can’t make a profit, then that item isn’t worth selling. Give it away as a gift instead”.

So it is with a service. You need to make a profit or it’s not worth your time.

But, how do you figure out what your time is worth?

To begin with, make a list of the things that you sew or alter on a regular basis…things you have had practice at and feel comfortable doing. (This does not mean that you couldn’t do other sewing or alterations, but for this process, let’s look at what you have experience in.)

For simplicity sake, let’s say you know how to hem pants. So let’s look at pricing hems.

The fairest way to price is by the time it takes you to do an alteration.

The first thing you want to do, is to hem about three pair of pants. I’m talking about straight legged pants since those take the least amount of time. I explain that process in this post.

Some of those pant hems can be cut off, turned up twice and stitched and it probably won’t take you more than 10-15 minutes to do that job. Others pants may require that you take out the original stitches first because you’re only going to take the pants up say one inch and you need some of the fabric from in the original hem to do so. Then you press out the original folds and re-hem the pants. This process may take a little more time. You would want to charge more for a hem like this.

Then, there are flared or tapered pants, which will take you more time than hemming straight legged pants. Make a note of the time it takes you to do that.

Take note of the time it took you to hem each of the three different pairs of pants. You can take the average of the three noted times and base your rate according to that or you may want to charge based on the longest time of one of the three pairs. Let’s say it was 30 minutes.

Now, call around to the various alteration shops in your town or city and see what they charge to hem pants. Do they charge for different types of hems? Some may have one price for jeans and another for dress slacks. If you don’t have an alteration shop in your town, call a larger city. It doesn’t matter if that city is 200 miles away. You just want to get an idea of what the competition charges. Don’t call your Aunt Sally who does alterations because chances are she may not be charging the market rate.

Let’s say that in the city, they are charging $12 for a jeans hem. If that is true, then you know that they are making more money on a hem that they just cut off, fold up twice and stitch, than the ones where they have to take out the old stitches first. Maybe they are charging $12 for all hems.

If it takes 30 minutes to do a hem and they are charging $12 for it, that means that shop is charging $24 an hour to hem pants (30 minutes times 2 = 60 minutes) or (12 x 2 = 24).

Now, if you divide the hourly rate ($24) by 60 minutes, they are making .40 cents a minute. Now you have a base rate (by the minute and by the hour) for all the sewing that you do.

I have a spiral notebook that I used when I first began that describes each alteration in detail and how many minutes it took me to do the alteration. You might want to do the same. Because, all these years later, my rate is higher and all I have to do is multiply the number of minutes it takes by the minute rate I charge.

In addition, I may not do a certain alteration very often (there are some that I have only done once or twice in 20 years!) so this notebook is very valuable in helping me give an estimate to the customer should they ask for one.

When giving an estimate, be sure to tell them that it is a ballpark figure because you want to give yourself room for unusual construction that you find once in awhile in some ready made garments. Unusual construction generally means longer time. Sometimes certain alterations just take longer than you thought they would.

I don’t charge for the time that it takes me to rip out a mistake that I have made, in case you’re wondering.

I realize in some parts of the country, the base rate for a hem will be different. Maybe you live in Kansas and shops charge $8.00 to do a basic hem. In New York City, they may charge $25.00. In my city of about 130,000 people, I just made the phone calls to the local shops again and they are charging $12-$20 per hem.

Now, when you are getting started, you may want to charge the same or a little less than the shops in town because you want to pick up some business. I would caution not to underprice yourself! Again, this is not a hobby. Of course, you may be tempted to give a huge discount to family and friends, but if they went somewhere else, they would have to pay full price, so charge them what you feel comfortable charging.

This is a chart that I put on a flyer back in 2003 when I began doing alterations again after a break of a couple of years.

You can see that I called several shops and noted below what their prices are for certain alterations:


November 2003


                             The Sewing                 Burke               Amazing                  Linda

Hems                     Room                   Cleaners             Alterations


Unlined:               $18.75                     $16-19                $12.00                    $12.00

Lined:                   $25.00                      $25-30                $16.00                   $16.00

Skirts & Dresses

40” unlined        $18.75                      $31.00                $15.00                     $15.00

40” lined             $25.00                       $50.00                $20.00                   $20.00

As you can see, I tried to match or price slightly lower than all the other shops. At that time, shops were charging one price for all their hems. Now, they charge based on the work involved.

What about other alterations? You may want to try several different alterations and see if the time it takes to do each one justifies the price you are charging. If a waistband takes 30 minutes to take in and you are charging .40 cents per minute, the price is $12. Can you justify the price? I think so. I think, at least in this area, $12 to take in a waistband is reasonable.

I like to compare the skills in sewing to those of haircutting. Let’s say, for simplicity sake, that it takes 20 minutes for a $20 hair cut. That salon is making $60 an hour. Her skills aren’t any more valuable than yours and yet she charges $20 and no one batts an eye. Plus, you have to go back to the salon every six weeks and have it cut all over again!

What steams people is that they bought their pants for $15 on sale somewhere and they have to pay about the same amount for the hem. Well, we all know that the pants were so cheap because foriegn labor is cheap and they didn’t pay full price for them. So, you just need to work with customers who don’t mind paying you what you are worth. Don’t worry, you’ll find them.

It may take some tweaking on your price list before you get it right and are comfortable with it.

Be sure to add a little for the price of thread, needles, etc. Of course, if you have to buy lace or a zipper to do the job, add that to their bill. You don’t want to have to take anything from your bottom line.

Don’t feel bad about charging more for a “rush”. I often have girls call me and say they need their wedding gown altered in 2 days. When I do a rush for someone, it means I have to put another customer’s item on the back burner or it means I have to work longer hours. So, they have to pay more for that. I charge a minimum of $5.00 or 10% of the total if it is a rush job. No one has complained. I probably should raise the price to 15% and treat it like a tip.

When I charge for bridal alterations, my rate is higher per hour and I charge for the time it takes me to fit the customer. If I didn’t, I would lose 30 minutes to an hour worth of pay. That adds up! So, I build that into the estimate and the final price.

Hopefully, this has given you a little more confidence and strategy on pricing.

I’d love to hear your feedback on this. How do you price your sewing or craft skills?