Flex time for interior designers
Thursday, August 01, 2019
In years gone by, clients hired an interior designer to execute an entire project. With some exceptions, it was generally understood that the designer would conceive, design, furnish and manage the project from start to finish — in consultation with the clients, of course.
Today, that is no longer the norm. On the contrary, clients today have embraced the term “menu of services” quite literally, ordering a la carte and when they wish.
This trend has been building for some time. One could cite the popularity of design TV shows; the shift toward DIY consumerism; and the abundant availability of interior design advice, images and products via the internet, social networks and mobile apps as primary culprits for this change in attitude.
You can throw in the recession and the ensuing rise of inconspicuous consumption and the sharing economy for good measure. For designers, the “why” is less important than the “what;” as in, “What can I do about it?!”
I have to admit that in the beginning I believed this trend could be circumvented. Designers needed to change their sales tactics, but good clients were to be had.
At that time, I counseled my clients to stick to their guns. Insist that the client agree to hiring the designer for the full project or walk away. At most, offer to provide a consultation, for a fee, to demonstrate to client the value you would bring to the project in the hopes that they would change their minds.
That strategy worked with some clients and not with others. Designers were told to seek out those “ideal clients” — i.e., the truly serious ones — and not bother with the rest. As the years have gone by, those clients have become fewer and farther between.
Demand for full-scope-of-service design has been gradually eroding. More and more clients are choosing to do their own purchasing but want advice on what to buy.
Some want to hire the designer only as a consultant to tap their design knowledge and expertise and then hand the project off to someone else. Some may want to purchase a design and plans before doing so. Others just want the designer to pick colors and patterns, nothing more.
The requests vary widely by client, and not necessarily because of budget. Many clients who could comfortably afford to hire a designer to perform the full scope of services are declining to do so because they want to be in charge of the project themselves. They may even insist on working side-by-side with the designer to ensure that their vision, not the designer’s, is adhered to.
When designers ask me what they should do, I now tell them it’s best to work with the clients they have. I advise them to bid appropriately on what is available in a manner that works for the client’s expectations.
Take them shopping, do what they need, sell without a markup, just structure their pricing to coincide with the approach the client wants. Entice the client to eat the elephant one bite at a time rather than all at once.
Practically, this means that designers need to be more flexible in their negotiations with clients and structure their pricing and menu of services accordingly. At the same time, in order to protect their profit margins, designers need to be clear and firm with clients at to what service or services they are getting.
If a client wishes to purchase a package of, say, 20 hours of the designer’s time, don’t give them a pass when the emails, texts and phone calls start piling up. They are on the clock, and when the meter runs out, they need to re-up or that’s that.
Admittedly, it’s not the ideal way to design or do business, but it’s the environment we are living in now. Maybe, at some point, clients will think better of renovating their spaces piecemeal or come to realize that they really don’t know all that much about design after all.
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