Selling design when product is king
Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Design today is all about product. Whether the topic is aesthetic, trends, lifestyles, sustainability, wellness, or smart homes, the message coming through the design media and its advertisers is clear: the solution is to purchase the right or best products.
That perception is driving investment in making products of all kinds even more easily accessible to the consumer, especially through online and mobile platforms, thus eliminating the designer from the purchasing process.
While it’s true that products, as one designer expressed it, are the tools designers use to bring their designs to life, the other aspects of design that are so critical to making a space pleasing and livable, such as scale, arrangement, harmony, safety, and the like, receive very little attention these days.
Look at stories about design trends, whether in design or lifestyle magazines or websites. They tend to focus on color and product.
Along with Pinterest and Instagram pages, most designer blogs feature products, sometimes almost exclusively pictures of products. Even in the trade magazines, a great deal of coverage is given to the latest products and product innovation.
In addition to depriving designers of revenue they might have earned from their selection and purchasing services, this emphasis on product as the key to good design has relegated the role of the designer to that of product consultant. Designers today have to work even harder to convince clients that their services are worthwhile and that they are worth the price of their services.
Yes, there are still some very wealthy clients who want, value and can afford full interior design services. But the majority of designers have seen their value decline in the eyes of consumers.
Regardless of what some designers may want or hope, consumers are going to continue to want to purchase most of their own products. That means designers need to adjust their business model to adapt to the market as it is now.
Why did clients in the past rely on designers to purchase products for them? Because they did not have access to much product or pricing information; it was time-consuming; and some products were only available to the trade or required customization.
My advice is to use a similar strategy, but apply it to different areas of your business.
To compensate for lost revenues from product purchases, raise your rates on the things that clients can’t do themselves, don’t have time to do, or hate to do.
This would include large, complicated projects, such as kitchen and bath remodels, custom homes, home renovations and modifications (such as for aging or disability), or specialized rooms for particular purposes or populations. It might also include project management and selecting, hiring and managing subcontractors.
Clients may decide to purchase products themselves, but they still need help with selecting the proper ones. Depending on the type of product, they may also need help with bringing the product into the home.
I suggest creating a menu of services around different levels of product procurement you can offer, from consultation and selection to full specification, ordering, taking delivery, and placement or installation. Most clients will still need assistance with customized items, such as wall coverings, window coverings and upholstery.
Consider packaging these services in a way to make them competitive with those offered by individual contractors, adding the extra value of convenience and coordinated oversight to ensure that all parts of the project come together as intended.
You don’t have to make all these changes all at once. Try out different approaches and strategies to see which appeal to your preferred clients and are profitable.
Also, maintain regular contact with local real estate agents and suppliers to keep abreast of changes that may be occurring in your area that may provide opportunities to attract new clients. Today’s clients may not be interested in paying for design advice, but there are many ways you can be useful and, in the process, still practice design.
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