To share or not to share...designer discounts, that is a question I have heard more about in the last year than ever before. Based on the discussion threads of the umpteen design groups I belong to, I can tell you that this topic can be very controversial to say the least. Let me start by saying this...all designers, all business owners really, are entitled to run their businesses the way that works for their own long-term business and life goals. Back in the day, say 30 or forty years ago, designer discounts were just that...meant for the interior designer to make a living and to motivate them in hopes of garnering their repeat business. Back then I think there was a certain mystery about interior design, where sources were held tighter than a Birkin handbag, trade secrets were not openly discussed, and discounts never shared. These days most interior designers are transparent about the way they work so yes, a designer discount COULD be a perk of hiring a designer in a full-service capacity, but only one in which the designer CHOOSES to share that discount.
Do designers get discounts? Yes. Everywhere? No. Does the amount of discount vary? Definitely. Trade discounts vary by vendor based on their own algorithms and just because you apply does not mean you get approved. While I admit I have a running list in my head of the vendors who've turned me down for a trade account, I do in fact respect their decision to handle their business their way. That said, if I ever do get my own brick and mortar store (that was the #1 reason for the no vote), I can't say I'll ever circle back to that list. #prettywomanmoment
I know there are some readers wondering right now at this moment, "does she or or doesn't she?"so I won't make you wait until the end of this post to find out the ending ...I currently do share trade discounts with my full-service clients for items that I purchase from to the trade vendors. I very rarely purchase retail items these days and when I do it is only for full-service clients and only for very small decorative pieces. It wasn't always that way. Read on and I'll tell you why...
Starting out...versus now
When I first started my business, I used to only spec retail items that myself or my client could purchase locally. I worked this way for a year, maybe two but as business grew and my knowledge and business relationships expanded, I got to know more people in the industry and grew my trade vendor list according to aesthetic and reputation (quality material and good manufacturing processes with great customer service). Over the years, I've learned who will stand behind their product and who to stay away from. I also endured some crazy adventures of purchasing retail items for clients. To top those whack-a-doodle experiences off, a couple of years ago, I had some not so ideal (or honest) clients try to go behind my back and use my information to try to get trade pricing at a local store. Luckily the store called me to verify their story. Had they not, I could have been liable for taxes on that sale if they had not paid the vendor those directly and had fraudulently used my information. That move was like putting a hard brake on retail purchasing for me.
Currently, as of this writing, I still do offer design plans where I spec ONLY retail items for non-local Distance Design clients as well as room-design-only clients who might also be local but who do not feel comfortable buying large items that they have not seen, sat on, or touched in person. That is a real concern for a lot of clients, so I am empathetic to that situation and still offer this design plan only service. We do not handle the purchasing or installation of any items in the design plan. I do want to point out too that using retail sources does not mean that somehow part of a designer's job is to find or give a "lowest price guarantee" or ensure clients get a discount as an automatic given either. That's not what we do, at least not the way I run my business...that's way too time consuming.
Once of the first things we do with all our clients is discuss budget so that when we are developing design plans and sourcing for clients, we are narrowing down by quality, aesthetic and price. We start talking about investment amounts on the discovery call with new clients and at the initial consultation as we gather info for our scope of work. We know talking about money is always awkward so we try to keep honest lines of communication open from the very start.
In case you're wondering, from what I've seen and heard, the discounts offered to designers from local furniture or lighting stores are usually small, anywhere from 5-20% off retail, if any is offered at all. In my experience, it is better for clients who want to purchase retail items to wait until the items goes on sale. Design Plan Clients are always welcome to use our room plans as a blueprint to shop on their own to find similar looking items at a lower price point if they don’t want to pay full retail price or wait on a sale for specific items we've suggested in our plans. We've had clients tell us they were able to get coupon codes or discounts by signing up for a store's credit card program or by adding their name to an email list, but again that is not something we get involved in. And for anyone wondering, if a retail item happens to be on sale there is no double dipping...you get the sale price only, not an additional designer discount on top of that.
What you may not realize...trade versus retail purchasing.
I definitely understand wanting to save money. Here are two important points from my perspective as someone who does this day in and day out that you may not realize…
In order to get a trade or designer discount, the designer must act as a store essentially buying the products for you. Sounds easy right? Let me assure you, it is not. Anytime we make a purchase for a client through my business it takes at least 30 to 60 minutes per item. Why? Paperwork, accounting, and then there's always a little more paperwork on top of all that. #washrinserepeatsotospeak
For our company, when we handle procurement for our full-service clients that is part of the service they are paying for and we are happy to do it. Before we even sign a full service client on with us, we develop a Design Fee Proposal that outlines specific details for their project and outline very specifically an estimate as to how many design hours their project will take from start to finish. These numbers are based on historical data that we have tracked since we opened our doors. Part of that estimate includes the actual procurement process, which begins after the design plan phase.
After our final design presentation is approved by a client, we create proposals outlining the specific item and its details including pricing, shipping, taxes and any other fees associated to purchase the item(s) and get them safely to your house. Remember these are items from our to the trade only vendors. Sometimes vendors provide freight estimates, but more often than not, we have to call and get quotes from freight companies. In order to get freight quotes you first have to pull certain info like product weight and size of each and every product being ordered. #moretime
Proposals, once approved by our clients, are then converted to invoices. Because we purchase trade only items through our business, the end result is a lot of back-end accounting and paperwork. Add to that the fact that we, as "the store", collect state taxes on all product sold. Collecting tax adds to the accounting headache since we then turn around and pay the state the taxes we collect on a monthly basis. All of this adds up to time, paperwork, accounting...here's the bottom line: using our discount takes us time, time we can't recreate or get back, and time is like money...it all adds up, but time is more precious. Time spent away from my family at work is time I want to and need to be compensated for. I’m sure you can relate to that.
Based on the info above and because of the complicated relationship among designers, clients, and retail sources, a few years ago I moved toward working with to the trade only vendors that I've identified and built relationships with through frequent market trips multiple times a year. When you hear me or another designer use the word "market" that typically refers to a permanent or semi-permanent collection of showrooms in a specific city that showcase anything from art and accessories to furniture from multiple vendors that sell their pieces exclusively to designers.
Keep in mind that retail stores are the middlemen between you and the manufacturer. By going to market, I am able to work with the manufacturer directly, cutting out the middleman (ie retail stores). Add to that finding more unique items, with much better quality, alot of which can be custom made exactly to your preferences, for potentially the same cost as same type of item that your neighbor might also have from the local retail store? Definitely thought provoking isn’t it?
More about market...
Anyone who is anyone in the world of home decor and design has made the pilgrimage to the tiny town of High Point, North Carolina. There are other smaller markets like Atlanta and Vegas to name two but High Point is the biggest and the best trade market in the world. Twice a year this sleepy North Carolina town comes to life big time for a few weeks for the show. At High Point alone, you will find 10+ million square feet of exhibitor space for over 2000 vendors. While it is free to get in, you have to be a registered trade vendor or buyer, and it is NOT free by any means as you pay for travel, lodging, food, transportation (except there are free shuttle routes between most hotels in some cities like High Point but not all and not to every hotel). During this time spent at market, we're not making money with client work, but we are learning and investing in our business. What an investment it is, both monetarily to get there and stay there, but an investment in our business is beyond worth it because you get to see, touch, and feel new collections in furniture and home decor from around the world. I look forward to it and dread it at the same time. I LOVE looking at new products but it definitely feels like running a marathon four or five days in a row, because you are. The amount you walk/run while at market is about a full marathon - yes, I've clocked the mileage. Ha! Old running habits never stop.
Why make the visit more than once a year or more than once? Because we're able to discover new vendors every trip, and find unique items that you can't find locally - at least not for years until it's become popular and knocked off in various versions and price points. The more I believe in a brand, in their aesthetic, their workmanship, the quality of materials they use, the more apt I am to use it in a client's design if all the pieces of the puzzle fit. I sit on, inspect, pull, push, and prod literally thousands of pieces of furniture and soft goods during each and every trip I make to market. Because I develop relationships with vendors and reps, I now have a specific person to ask to get questions answered and to reach out to for help if there's ever a problem with an order or if a product arrives damaged.
Which leads me the second point....when issues arise, because they always do, what happens? Let's walk through that. As I mentioned before, if there is ever a problem with a trade item that I’ve ordered for a client, I consider that part of my full service experience...I or someone on my team handles any and all issues that arise during a project, either via repairs or replacements as we have all the needed documentation on our end.
Back when I purchased solely retail for clients, when problems came up around ordering or delivery, I would handle it all. Remember though, I changed how I roll and its not with retail anymore. Now, the deliverables I provide to new clients (think welcome guide, FAQs, investment guide) as well as my letter of agreement all explain that clients are wholly responsible for items they purchase on their own from retail vendors. Why? When retail only clients place their orders (in my experience most get their plan then wait to implement, usually for budgetary reasons), if an issue were to up a few weeks or months later and they called me to solve the issue, for me to loop back in, get caught up on the issue, call the retail vendor or whomever and try to handle the problem, all of this takes, say it with me, time.
I do hope this did not come off as snarky but rather as informational and transparent. We give potential and new clients so much information up front when they start working with us because I want to set expectations from the start so that we can all be on the same page but I also wanted to share this conversation with y'all here because I've had people reach out to me via email and DM's specifically about this topic.
If you have any more questions about this or anything else business or design related feel free to reach out and message me. I love it when you do! Speaking of market...I'm off to Vegas and the first market for me since Covid hit and I can't wait!!!! Have a happy weekend y'all!