This has become the billion-dollar (yes, billion!) question.
What is it, exactly, that makes designers so special, and what does it mean for the wood flooring industry? For starters, designers are influencing a large and wealthy target audience of consumers, homeowners, and commercial entities alike. In fact, according to the 2018 ASID State of the Industry Report, “A staggering $77 billion worth of product is specified by interior designers each year.”
It’s also important to note that most interior designers are closer to interior architects than decorators. A professional interior designer is required to have training and experience in drafting plans, and most have several years in the field working with a variety of projects that require understanding building codes.
Enter the designer’s newest best friends, which is almost every major manufacturer of home goods. Walk one day during Market Week at High Point Market and you’ll see that many of the furniture brands cater literally, and figuratively, to designers, offering them “to the trade” discounts, financing, brunch with mimosas, catered lunches, swag bags, VIP access to exclusive designer-only lounges, and much more.
During the 2019 DOMOTEX USA inaugural exhibition in Atlanta at the Georgia World Congress Center, I hosted a design panel lunch and learn. The goal of the panel was to better understand the pain points of the design community and how the wood flooring industry can better connect with them. As it turns out, this was a hot topic. The event sold out weeks in advance, and we had a line of people wanting to sit in.
Panelists were hand-selected from various colleagues across the design industry and included the CEO of a globally recognized lighting and accessory company, a design marketing consultant, the former president of Color Marketing Group (CMG), and a residential interior designer who catered to higher-end clients in the southeastern region.
The following questions were posed to the designers: “What do you need?” and “What is your biggest challenge or headache?”
In the end, what they wanted was fairly simple. They want a place to come in and work, with or without clients, where they won’t have to negotiate with a retail sales associate necessarily. They want to have a resource for product knowledge and technical information on the various products that they’re specifying. As an example, one designer told a story of having to order a plumbing part for a custom bathtub that she selected with the guidance of a sales associate. She shared that she relied heavily on the salesperson to be the expert, but the problem was that the salesperson assumed she was an expert. Unfortunately, the result was the wrong-size part, which delayed the project, costing additional labor and time.
Hardwood flooring is an especially daunting category for designers. It’s usually fairly expensive both in materials and in labor to install, and it requires loading docks and lift trucks to unload the heavy cartons or bundles and a knowledgeable person to measure and do the takeoffs, as well as figuring out the sequence of the job installation so that everything goes into the jobsite at the exact right moment.
Furthermore, imagine how difficult it is for designers to find and hire skilled flooring installers in today’s environment where the industry is suffering a shortage of skilled workers. Many interior designers shy away from “dealing with the hardwood flooring” but rather just “pick it” and let their contractor handle the “rest of the mess.”
Designers can work hard to design a project and still have a client (or even his or her contractor) then go out and shop the selections for lower prices, cutting the designer out of the equation. Are you currently carrying brands and products that are designed for designers? Many of these brands are already recognized by designers by their stunning ads in shelter magazines; designers will often work with only these brands, setting themselves arm’s-length apart from the products that have “big-box looks” and are from big-box stores.
The answers to “What can we all do to help designers?” are as varied as the designer’s style, and yet it is relatively simple to step back and examine things from a different perspective. Are you working with designers already? If you’re a retail store owner, do you offer work tables? Do you allow designers to check out samples? Do you offer designers a discount or a commission?
If you’re a distributor or a contractor, do you host CEU designer events so designers can maintain their continuing education units required by most states? Do you take the time to reach out to local designers, introduce yourself, and share the value of working with an installation professional for wood flooring projects?
If so, you’re already helping to ease their burden and earning their trust. To go the extra mile, it would be extremely beneficial for you to have staff designated to work with designers. Beyond providing workspace, is it possible to offer financing for their projects? Often designers are cashflow challenged in projects of larger scope or multiple projects, so a little help with credit would certainly help.
The NWFA has a vast library of CEU presentations that I’ve enjoyed being able to offer for my customers. The magic of a CEU event is that it combines work and play in a relaxed yet professional environment that is not at all about “selling a brand.” CEU presenters are not allowed to speak of their brands during the presentation and yet the brand is oftentimes staring participants in the face. If your CEU presenter is a credible source of information and is on-site for providing education, answering questions, and helping avoid problems, then you’re ahead of the rest of the pack by being there.
Emily Morrow Finkell is an interior designer and CEO of EF Floors & Design LLC in Dalton, Georgia, a provider of hardwood floors and home furnishings, and NWFA design contributor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.