Partnering with designers
 

For years, elaborate window treatments and cushy custom sofas kept many an interior designer fat and happy. Today, as homeowners sort out the new realities of the worst housing market in decades, these and other costly luxuries have been put on hold, leaving interior designers to seek other profitable ways to assist their residential clients. This is an opportunity for showrooms to capitalize, but how do you make your store inviting to this segment?

Designers expect a broad assortment of reliable products, expert advice and dependable service and deliveries. Nothing new there. But lighting showrooms are also cultivating trade sales with smart programs and amenities that help designers boost their own businesses. From a quiet spot to browse through your lighting catalog library to access to a full-blown design studio, it makes good business sense to help designers feel at home in your showroom. The more time they spend with you, the better your chances of making a sizable sale.

In Your Store

Consider having two service levels, with the “premium” level reserved for your best customers. It’s a great way to reward designers who spend a lot with you and encourage so-so customers to become top-level customers, too.

More and more lighting showrooms are generating business from “premium” interior designers by making these expert customers their important and visible team members. The mutual benefits are obvious: Finding lighting design and interior design services under one roof is a tantalizing proposition for time-starved consumers.

Strategic partnerships between your showroom and the best local interior designers can make that happen. Store signage, a dedicated area for design work and some local promotion and advertising are the first steps in that direction. You and your staff can supply the technical know-how; the designer can advise on fixture and lamp selections that complement the overall design plan. Lots of lighting showrooms carry decorative accessories and accent furniture, two categories that benefit from a designer’s recommendations. A fair commission structure can bring more profits to one and all.

On the Web

Exposure on your Web site is a big benefit to interior designers. If your “premium” relationships warrant the investment, a Design Services section on your site can be a powerful way to build business. You can assert your market leadership by creating the impression that designers are part of your overall team and are available for appointments in your showroom. Some lighting showrooms aim to communicate a more casual connection by opting for a simple yet effective Designer Directory.

In a common scenario, the Designer Services page links to the Designer Directory, which provides each designer’s photograph, complete contact information and a link to his or her own Web site. An online portfolio of finished projects is a nice touch that can close a sale for you even before someone enters your parking lot.

Interior designers rely on your Web site 24/7. Remember, they’re not there to browse; these busy professionals come to your site as task-oriented users who haven’t a minute to waste, so keep it simple. Make it intuitive. Be consistent. Interior designers are loyal to sites that make it fast and easy to find what they’re looking for. They shop by brand, product category and SKU, not always in that order. Access to online catalogs, or links to manufacturers’ online catalogs, is the No. 1 designer desire when it comes to online resources.

Seeing Is Believing

Janice Craig, IDS, specializes in new home construction and says lighting specification is a big part of what she offers her clients. The owner of J. Craig & Associates Interior Design, Charlotte, NC, Craig most often shops in specialty lighting stores, but also sources product online.

“It’s always nice to be able to actually see the fixtures that I want to specify,” Craig says. “Catalog pictures can be very misleading, and it is sometimes hard to ‘read’ actual sizes.”

After many years of making lighting selections, Craig says she has learned what sizes are appropriate in most cases. “Yet it’s still not uncommon to order something,” she says, “and when it comes in, it’s just not right for the area, size wise. It’s hard to see the bulk of a fixture in a catalog.”

While it is impossible to display every fixture, Craig recommends having actual finish samples for catalog items “Seeing the samples is also very helpful,” she says.

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