Welcome back to The Chaise Lounge with seaopn 22. This is the first of three episodes to be released this week all about High Point Market. Today, Nick hosts the first ever Nick in the Lounge with Catherine Heracher, Garrison Hullinger, Phyllis Harbinger and Jarret Yoshida. Then, this double length episode continues with Nick’s Passion Sucks panel with Stacy Garcia, Sarah Willett, Lauren Clement, Libby Langdon and Theresa Dorlini. As always, these successful women talk about how they keep their heads in the business of running their business.
Today in the Lounge, Nick chats with Wendy Glaister of Wendy Glaister Interiors from the Bay Area, to talk about how she came to be the head of her own firm after deciding not to go down the path of being an attorney. Learn about her tactics for marketing in the digital age and how she stays centered as a designer with a plate that’s always full.
By Tyler Mochizuki
So I guess the question is… why showrooms? There are so many ways, especially with digital media today, to display an interior designer’s work.
Well, having a showroom offers one key marketing value that no other medium has: seeing designs in person. There is no better way of showing clients, both current and prospective, a designer’s vision and creative process than in person. Showrooms come without the constraints of real projects.
Simply put, a showroom is truly a designer’s free and happy space.
Young Designers and Showrooms
I recently spoke with a familiar face, London Walder, who has previously been a guest on The Chaise Lounge Podcast. Though she is quickly advancing her career in the interior design industry, London warns young designers from opening a showroom prematurely. They require significant time and financial investments, she says. Instead, she encourages young designers to work under highly experienced designers in a variety of projects. The up-and-coming Chicago based designer recently debuted her first showroom. It features a balanced blend of modern and vintage styles.
With practice, designers will develop their own “signature look” which is a crucial element of running a successful showroom.
More often than not, money is the driving force behind the decisions of any business, and this is no different in the industry of design. The unfortunate truth is that showrooms are expensive. That’s not to say that showrooms are exclusively reserved for well-practiced interior designers. It merely comes down to the fact that they have the established funds to open shop.
“I think it’s one of those things that you should only do when you feel comfortable spending the appropriate amount of money to make the showroom look good,” London explains. She has a fund set aside reserved exclusively for showroom expenses and is entirely separate from her day-to-day business accounts.
There are two large upfront expenses of showrooms to consider: leasing the space and initial purchase of furniture and other decorative pieces. Designing your showroom authentically and uniquely to your style is essential in making it stand out to clients – but can be pricey.
Often, showrooms will offer exclusive discounts on specific pieces of furniture and accompanying accessories. They are an excellent way to showcase pieces and products that are not sold by general retail stores. This aspect alone can potentially attract a wide variety of clients.
While showrooms do have significant upfront costs, they can be extremely beneficial to designers to draw in more substantial clientele and increase financial gains in the long run.
Showrooms are there for YOU
It’s easy to assume showrooms are intimidating spaces reserved only for the top designers. Don’t worry! A designer can expect their showroom will give back just as much as a designer invests. Places like The Chicago Merchandise Mart (The Mart) are prime examples the mutual relationship between designers and showrooms.
Judy Giordano of A. Rudin, Inc. at The Mart advises all designers to “take advantage of the unique, custom lines offered by the showrooms… rather than shopping at retail furniture stores.”
Walking through established showrooms exposes designers to the work and products of others, helping to curate a unique look.
Designers “can work with wholesale showrooms [like The Mart] to market themselves by hosting events, seminars, and luncheons,” says Judy. Her experience has extended over 25 years in the design business. Designers are enabled to drive significantly more traffic in business by using social media platforms of the showrooms.
For designers new to using showrooms, it is important to establish relationships with sales representatives, get on showroom mailing lists, and attend events. Showroom spaces provide perfect environments to network, meet peers, and find potential clients. Perfect for the design industry, being all about connections.
Treat showrooms like long-term investments, because, while they have significant upfront expenses, the benefits vastly outweigh the initial costs.
Don’t think that you are in it alone when investing in such spaces, because as Judy puts it, “[showrooms] are here to help you.”
Considering you’re here, you most probably have always loved interior design. If I ask ten designers why they are successful, nine of them will tell me it is because they have a passion for what they do. I need to be honest with you, most of them are NOT successful because they are passionate. Although it is important to be passionate about whatever you do, and it might help, it is not the reason for the success of an interior design business. I am passionate about soccer, and love to play. I could play every day of the week, but my enthusiasm for it is NOT going to turn me into a professional.
On my podcast, The Chaise Lounge, I interview none other than successful interior designers. I have a set of criteria to determine at least a minimal level of success, but within that, there are varying degrees of success. ALthough success is not determined by the amount of money one makes, but for the masses, success should mean that you have a thriving business. The average interior designer in the United States earns less than $40,000, including those that work part-time, as well as full time. I have heard of designers in New York that can charge over $250/hr. and some in the Denver market charging $50 to $75 per hour. Fees vary significantly across the country. I do not ask my designers on the show what they charge, or what kind of income they receive, but a designer that works in several states, has a staff assisting them, and has been in business for several years, is typically well past the start-up stage, and has some great insights to share.
Being a painting contractor, I’ve worked with many designers over the years. Unfortunately, not all have thriving businesses. As a business owner myself, I have wanted to give lots of tips and suggestions, but am sad to say that many of them see me as nothing more than a painting contractor that couldn’t possibly know much about real business. There are business practices and principles that we could talk about, but today, I want to only discuss marketing mistakes.
FIVE Top Marketing Mistakes
I am sure that many reading this may get offended at some of the items that I will list here, but please know that these are things that I see consistently in the interior design business world, and they DO NOT help you attract more clients and customers. I want to help you raise your game, and get to the next level, whatever that means for you.
- Un-professional Business Card. This is the first and easiest thing for me to spot because as I meet designers, they hand me a card. I have seen cards with perforation, free cards from Vista Print (and trust me, we can tell), and all sorts of horrible looking cards. This is the first impression you are making on your client. Make it a good one. It does not need to be expensive, but have a real graphic designer, design you a card, and then have it professionally printed.
- Bad Website. I am still amazed that some designers do not have a website. IT IS 2015 PEOPLE! GET A WEBSITE! It needs to be clean, simple, and have great pictures that represent your best work. If you have not read my blog about creating a great website, click here to read it.
- Wrong kind of Email. You should not be using @gmail, @yahoo, @me, @hotmail, or any of the free email services for your professional email address. This is a tell-tail sign that you are not serious, and that you are probably not a full-time interior designer.
- Not using Houzz.com. If you haven’t heard, Houzz.com is only the most extensive website for homeowners to get inspiration for home projects and the best way to get new clients. I am not saying you need to sign up for their paid programs, but do everything you can with the free services on the site. Create your profile, upload project portfolios, and get reviews. I am a paint contractor with 14 high reviews on Houzz.
- Networking in the Wrong places. If you are going to the local chamber of commerce, a LeTip meeting, or some numbers-driven leads group, you aren’t networking with the right crowd. If you want to work in the big homes, you have to go where they go. Get involved with a charity, work with organizations filled with high-level CEO and top executives, or join a prestigious club. If you involve yourself and immerse yourself in the right circles, you will work in those circles. Don’t be fake and phony. Be authentic, helpful, and try to solve problems. The word will get out, and you will be busy with the right clients before you know it.
As an interior designer trying to run your business, you have lots to do, but marketing is one of the most critical aspects. If you aren’t getting your name out, the phone could stop ringing. Word of mouth is essential, but to grow a sizable business, you have to think about the marketing pieces and take it as seriously as you do your designs.
If you want to connect with Nick May and The Chaise Lounge, please do so on our website at TheChaiseLounge.com where we talk the business of interior design.