Designers – Good or Bad for Business?

Over the past few years, we have all had to search for more business. Inevitably, as I help framers explore options, the subject of sales to designer s- those who purchase art and framing to design a space – becomes part of the conversation.

More often than not, the reaction from the framer is very negative towards pursuing this type of business. Past experience for many raises objections like: too time consuming, too demanding, want too many discounts, expect too much from me and too unreliable as a customer. At this point we often move on to other ways of growing business.

I, along with many other framers across the country have had different experiences with this type of client. In fact, the three largest customers in the history of my framing company are design firms. Why? Maybe it’s because working well with these customers means understanding that they have different needs than the residential clients we serve on a daily basis. We actually have many separate classifications of clients we serve, including businesses, artists, residential, collectors…

Instead of looking at the design market as too demanding or unprofitable, try designing a total program aimed exactly at what designers need. 

When you group customers by classification, it makes it easier to understand that each has different needs. If they have different needs, then it takes different sets of services and programs to satisfy them. If we try and apply the programs we have developed over the years for our everyday residential clients to a group with different needs, we will be very limited in our success.

So, what are some of the differences of the designer trade? First of all, it’s important to know that you can’t just classify all designers into one designer program. If you do, you will again make the mistake of misapplying services to the wrong set of needs. There are two distinct classes of designers. One is the residential designer and the other is the commercial designer. Each one expects something very different from us as framers. Here are some things I have learned about serving these clients:

    The subject of price for clients who must resell our products is a difficult one. One of the reasons why, is that framers attempt to apply the POS pricing tables they use to serve residential clients to other classes and that causes problems. POS pricing, when done correctly, will ensure your profitability in the residential market. It is NOT however, versatile enough to also produce correct pricing for most other classifications. Giving a straight discount off projects in POS can easily destroy margins or make you uncompetitive. You MUST have a separate pricing strategy which involves “costing up” to make sure that you meet the goals you have pre-defined for this market. By goals, I mean you should have pre-determined the mark-up you need from each category of client based on anticipated volume- BEFORE you begin to bid. This is the easiest way to know how low or how high to quote prices for these markets. The residential designer will probably yield a better margin for you because they represent clients who value the design aspect, while the commercial designer who typically purchases basic designs will also bring more volume – important factors to help you determine your pricing strategies for each.
    Again, trying to use the moulding selection from your residential wall will not work very well in other markets. Most of those samples have a higher cost than what will work consistently for those who must resell your product. The samples on the wall are priced and designed to fill the needs for residential clients who value design over price. When you understand the different needs of the design client, you must create a selection of product that meets the needs of budgets and design. Many times designers will shop from your residential wall (especially residential designers), but the core of your program to this market must be materials designed to meet their budget and design requirements.
    Service expectations for the design market are much higher than our residential market. There is no question that this is the most misunderstood area for framers who want more design business. In fact, service is more important than price to busy designers. If you create a high level of service for designers, you can run very good profit margins for your efforts and lock in loyalty. First, you must be very clear about WHO your customer really is. The answer is the designer- not the end user. Every aspect of the service you offer, even when it involves direct contact with the end-user must be aimed at making the designer look great to the end-user. Your level of service and the way you treat the end-user is a direct reflection on the company that hired you, so mistakes you make are also projected on the designer. Good designers are very busy. If you offer services like delivery, installation, art procurement and on-site consultations, the designer begins to see you as an extension of the service they offer. When that happens, you will create a value that becomes irreplaceable.
    Once you create a separate program for these clients, you must let them know you are now serving their market. Do not assume that these potential clients understand that you can help them, especially if you have never promoted a program designed to meet their needs. You will need new promotional tools to communicate your new service – brochures featuring the new benefits you offer, website pages devoted just to this service and an email campaign program sent to these potentials which talks about their market. The emails should include lots of images showing the various improvements you helped make in this market.

The key to building any business is adapting to the various segments of clients you can serve. More than ever it is important that framers take full advantage of local opportunity. Instead of looking at the design market as too demanding or unprofitable, try designing a total program aimed exactly at what they need. I’ll bet the results will surprise you.

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