Getting Designer Business
March 30, 2012 - 3:05pm
Working with interior designers brings a different set of considerations, but in the end, they can be a great customer base.

It’s true: Members of the design trade are picky. They are opinionated. And they have great profit potential. Yet, concerned that designers’ and architects’ needs are too great (a whole-home makeover), too limited (one or two fixtures) or too specific, residential lighting showrooms often overlook or dismiss their business.

Wolfers Lighting takes the opposite approach. With locations in Allston and Waltham, MA, this retail arm of Standard Electric cultivates its relationship with the design trade, and it pays off.

“I don’t think designers or architects ever look to cut cost,” says Susan Arnold, CLC.

In addition to consulting for PBS’ “This Old House,” Arnold is Wolfers’ design trade liaison. She finds herself reining in her clients’ tendency to look beyond price in favor of quality and aesthetics.

“We say to the [homeowning] customer, ‘Okay, we can get this Poulsen fixture your designer picked out, but it is $900. This [similar] one is $300,'" she says. "It makes the homeowners happy, so they’ll return as repeat customers [after the design project is over].”

But anticipating the designer’s needs is important, as well. Wolfers’ hands-on “design labs” show different kinds of task, ambient and decorative lighting in their proper applications. These, along with diverse lamp source displays, help Arnold teach clients how lighting choices affect their overall design plans.

“If someone is going to paint a wall yellow, it will look off with a bluish light, and the homeowner may blame the color,” she says. “Some designers just want that cutting-edge look and don’t stop to think how it’s going to dampen or enhance the sparkle in the granite. That’s why we’re here.”

Showrooms that successfully cater to the design trade also provide a wide yet carefully edited selection of offerings, an extremely valuable service for busy professionals who don’t have time to wander wholesale showrooms and design centers.

According to Chicago-based interior designer Eva Quateman, it’s much easier to let people like Arnold—who has design expertise and technical know-how—do the wandering for her.

“I have so much exposure [to everything out there], it becomes too much information. When I do things for clients, I [like to] bring them just a couple options. But when I have [to sift through] all the resources, it becomes so much harder. I’m the toughest customer.”

In the end—no matter how picky and opinionated—designers and architects are consumers, too. Meeting their needs means simply extending the service a good showroom already provides. Offering to-the-trade discounts, on-site consultations, loan-out programs and deliveries labeled for a project’s specific room goes the extra mile. Word spreads quickly; soon, discerning designers will make your showroom their first and only stop for all their clients’ lighting needs.

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