With vendors and suppliers and manufacturers, it seems like we are in a second wave following the recession. Sadly, a few more factories have closed. Consolidation continues. Quality control remains an issue but it seems to be getting better.
With clients I see a few patterns: Email and the internet are not new, but the way that homeowners are using them has created a whole new landscape. Price is becoming a larger part of the discussion if not the lead in the discussion. And lastly, there seems to be a new type of DIY client in the market place.
It’s not rocket science to say that information is now at our fingertips. We can compile pictures on our phones, build folders on websites, and email at all hours of the day. We as professionals know that a bunch of images can inform direction for decor, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to the homeowner’s site conditions or their budget. For some reason, and I don’t know why, access to images via the web are giving people a sense that they know what they are doing. Information has become confused with knowledge. The consumer is more confident and wants more control. And a DIY consumer has emerged from this pattern.
Price has taken on a new role. Before I could sell on quality and then we would discuss price. Now the first question is often: what does that cost. I still answer by getting back to quality but it is a longer conversation. Some clients are realistic about what things cost, others want me to tell them, and still others have what I call an imaginary number in their head. I am not always sure where these imaginary numbers come from. Perhaps it is based on entry-level retail, something a friend told them, or home renovation projects from TV shows with inaccurate budgets. A TV show this weekend announced a twenty-thousand dollar kitchen renovation. How that was possible when the counters were 7K and the appliances were 3K? I will never know.
Clients are sometimes asking for second budgets with a friendlier price point after everything is selected. Sometimes this leads to all retail buying or adding in retail items to get the budget down. This was very frustrating when it first came as a complete surprise, but now I sort of expect it.
2. What have you done in your business to respond to those changes and how is that working for you?
Doing business has without a doubt become harder. I love the creative side, but I am a business-first type of designer. Most clients in Boston understand hourly plus mark up. Most designers here bill this way. But hourly plus markup only works if clients actually purchase. To adjust to the patterns and the way clients seem to want to work together, I am working on my business model. I am thinking through existing pricing structures: how to have more than one pricing model; how to bundle services; and possibly how to have tiered processes and pricing structure for large projects.
Because my time is valuable to me, I am becoming selective in the clients I let into my life and those I continue to let into my life. I can’t control whether a client asks for a second budget, even after a budget is agreed upon. Sometimes I make the requested adjustments and all is well. But other times, the new budget is simply not doable, especially with renovations. When clients become combative or do a 180 on what they want or want to spend, I may not want to work for them anymore. I don’t need that kind of stress in my life. I have walked away (being paid up to date of course). The budget uncertainty is another reason I am thinking about tiered processes and payment for large projects. It allows for natural ending points throughout the project. Each party can decide to continue as the project goes along or not.
I have been going to High Point Market yearly since the economy turned. I sell lines that have a great quality with a great price point. The first time I was there, I met a designer as we were sitting in sofas in a showroom. I was at a loss for how I could sell them without clients sitting in the actual item. He lived in an area without a Design Center. He exclaimed that he told his clients it was good and they listened because that’s why they hired him. I took notes on every item I sat in, followed his advice and it worked. I go every year now and take notes on new items.
I am always working on ways to streamline all area of my business to be more efficient from office work to the showrooms/ vendors/manufacturers I choose to work with. For over 2 years now I have retail space that I use as my design studio. The location is great — next to the best donut shop in Boston. It drives in leads and basically pays for itself. I have a few pieces from the lines I sell in my office. It’s all moderately priced, above retail but less than high-end. Customers see the value and the price does not scare them away. And it’s custom. Best of both worlds. I have a dry basement with samples galore which eliminates me from having to travel all over the world for some of the basics. Many clients like meeting at the studio and I love having commercial space. I also often order fabric memo samples from the internet which saves valuable travel time.
I am screening potential new clients differently. I am asking more probing questions. When it seemed like a good match, I used to offer a free meet-and-greet at a clients home. This could end up taking nearly 1/2 day by the time I get ready, get there, and get back. I still offer this for whole house projects but for smaller work, I have been successful suggesting a paid 2-hour consultation. I can get in, make a connection, ask a lot of questions, and share a lot of information and ideas. They see I am a professional, and they realize that they can’t get it done on their own with 2 jobs and 2 kids. They see the value I bring. I don’t have to sell it. And if they don’t want to continue, I am paid for the time I spent getting to their house and back.
3. What do you predict for the interior design industry? And how will you prepare for it?
Like everyone else watching what’s going on in the industry, I do not have a crystal ball. I do feel that the high-end will remain. That part of the market won’t go anywhere. There are folks who will always want great service, a beautiful home, and are willing to pay for that. I have some clients like that. The bigger question is what will the mid-level client be willing to spend and how will they want to spend it and what kind of services they want from design professionals.
I hear the Design Centers will be going retail and it doesn’t seem like we know what that will look like yet. That’s a whole other level of access to information and product that the homeowner will now have. That will be another game changer.
I think the designers who remain will be not only talented but have excellent business skills, excel at marketing, and offer a wonderful experience to customers even after the products are delivered to their home. You have to be there for them at every step and you have to fix the problems even after delivery. Big chain retail doesn’t do that. So we have to be different.
I do not have the answers to what this business will look like, or how I will adjust as time goes on, but I know I will. I am working on it. I am here for the long run. I love it. In the meantime, I need to go quote some sofas
454 Common Street
Belmont, MA 02478