February 1, 2013
Featured designer: Jennifer Flanders
New York, NY | http://jenniferflanders.com
About 3 years ago, I was working with the Edward Ferrell-Lewis Mittman showrooms in NYC. It was after the economic meltdown and the shifting designer and end-user buying habits were starting to crest, and we were looking for ways to attract and serve designers and create new business with value added services and offerings. At a D+D Market week, I provided my consulting services to the sales teams to bring to their designers to those designers they wanted to grow their partnership with and who were having some challenges in their own business as a way of building connection. Dana Dinges introduced me to Jennifer Flanders. Jennifer had been in business for some time now and she wanted to get it moving in the right direction. I was taken with her focus, her openness to really think and learn and incorporate what we discussed, and with her charm and warmth. She is the definition of lovely, as are her project designs. I am delighted that she is the first woman featured in this series and that she agreed to participate. I trust you will enjoy her as much as I do.
1. What are the biggest changes you have seen to the industry and to your business in the last 5 years?
JF: In general I feel that across the spectrum people are so much more interested in the design of their homes than they have ever been before. In some ways this is a great thing for our industry because people in all price-brackets are making more significant investments in their homes, both financially and energetically. On the other hand, because we are inundated with advice and information from the plethora of design shows on HGTV, designer’s blogs and on-line magazines, the general public is so much better informed than they used to be. In addition, between retail stores and on-line resources, there is so much more accessible product out there. I remember when I started in this business the only big furniture retailers were Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn; this is no longer the case. Because of all this information and access to resources, there is a much greater sense that people can do it themselves. Selling clients on the idea of an interior designer takes more effort than it used to as a result.
Another very big change in our industry has come about as a result of the rapidly growing world of social media. Over the past few years I have seen young designers launch incredibly successful businesses seemingly overnight through their use of social media sites such as Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, as well as through blogging on their own websites – in some cases, I have found myself looking for the pictures of their actual design work to back up their “expertise”. And to be honest, sometimes the body of work just isn’t there. While it is easy to be judgmental (and truthfully a little cranky!!!) about this, I have found instead that it is critically important to jump on the social media bandwagon if I want to continue to expand my profile and grow my business. Because we are in a visual industry, and because there are so many sites out there that are hungry for photos and content, we have such an incredible opportunity to boost the exposure of our companies. Creating a profile on Houzz, setting up boards on Pinterest, becoming a highlighted designer on Dering Hall or Doodle Home are all amazing ways of sharing your work and your viewpoint on design. Through these sites so many more people can have access to our businesses, and the potential for business expansion is huge.
2. What have you done in your business to respond to those changes – and how is that working for you?
JF: I have always focused my business on the aspect of service, and I feel that it is more important than ever to do so now. While potential clients may feel that they can do some of the work on their own and don’t necessarily need a designer for everything, I impress upon them that when they hire me, they get much more than just a shopper – they get someone to order and track their goods, making sure that all specifications are correct; they get someone to receive and check their deliveries; they get someone to trouble-shoot the problems that so often arise in this industry, whether it be a piece of furniture that comes in damaged or wrong, or a shipper who can’t get the furniture into the apartment, etc. Hiring a designer has always been and still is a luxury, and I think it is important to explain to clients that what they are paying for is our experience and top-level attention; we cater to their needs and handle things so they don’t have to.
I have also started a new way of working with some of my clients who want to be more hands-on in the process and who also, quite frankly, don’t want to pay as much to hire a professional for help. In these cases I act as more of a consultant and earn a flat fee for the entire project. These clients do a lot of the footwork and research, and I weigh in on their purchases – they rely on me for my expertise in the field, and I am able to give them a sense of comfort with respect to their final decision-making. These clients do not expect me to place orders for them, follow up on orders for them or handle their installations. This has been a lucrative way of doing business for me because I cut down dramatically on my output of time. And my clients are happy because they end up with a home that has the Jennifer Flanders stamp of approval.
In an effort to grow my on-line profile, I have recently started writing a weekly blog on my website. I post my blog on Facebook and Linked-In, and I am currently learning the ins-and-outs of how to drive more readers to my site. While I resisted blogging and the use of social media for so long (I am more old-school that I would like to admit!), I know the importance of embracing this and the impact it can have on my business. The blog allows me to showcase my talents in the field, and I have tailored what I write about to really show off my voice and my point of view. Because I use a lot of color in my interiors, the blog has become a way for me to feature myself as an expert in the use of color, among other things. While I am sure my regular readers are not typical of my clientele, the blog is still a way of communicating my expertise and is a very valuable tool for raising my profile and expanding my potential customer base.
3. What do you predict for the future of the interior design industry – and how can designers prepare for that?
JF: On the higher-end of design, I think much will remain the same. When dealing with clients who are used to having a variety of staff members to help them with things, the interior designer falls into the same category and they will not give that up. In addition, the clients who want specialized, custom-made and custom-designed product will continue to utilize design professionals the way they always have. But when catering to the mid-range customer, I think we as designers need to remain open and flexible with respect to the way we work. I remember the days when I would come into a project and there was a mutual expectation that I would take care of every last thing, from the large purchases to the fine details. But these days, with savvier customers who have more resources available to them, I think it’s important to be open to clients being more involved in some of their own purchases. At the same time, I think it is more important than ever to sell clients on our expertise and experience, making sure we get paid for the advice we give on purchases that clients want to make on their own. We don’t give it away for free.