This week I was contacted by a client of one of my interior design friends. The client, a prominent Portland tycoon worth millions, wanted me to bypass my friend and sell goods directly to him. My friend, a creative soul seems to have forgotten his true creative worth. On this project he showed this client direct invoices from our manufacturers. His fee arrangement with the client did not include any mark-up or profit. He charged a small flat fee forgiving countless hours of specifying, meetings, expediting, receiving and deliveries. His collection for the large involved project equalled .05 percent of the entire project scope. And his client still wanted more. He wanted a lower price and thought if he called me directly he would get it.
Since opening accounts requires an investment, most designers have some gaps in their offerings. A few of us Portland interior designers have gathered together the last few years to share access to our accounts – to mitigate our furniture and lighting line gaps. This helps us have a healthy furnishing offering at a good value price point to our clients, while ensuring a profitable business model. The direct manufacturer invoice the client saw was from my studio.
Opening directly to the trade with manufacturers has taken a lot of effort on my part and designers across the country. It takes traveling to market to review lines and meet with manufacturer reps. As an interior designer and not a furniture store, manufacturer reps aren’t lining up to do business with you when you start this process. Some interior designers never even get to this point in their business because it requires investment and tenacity. Early on I was turned away by manufacturer gatekeepers at more than one showroom when I asked for a tour. Even when I got inside price lists were guarded by the reps. It wasn’t until some of my peers vouched for me that I was able to open some key accounts. Then I had to meet the opening order thresholds per manufacturer, and in some cases I could loose my account if I don’t meet annual minimums. I have traveled to market to keep up on the latest and greatest, bought thousands of dollars of wood and fabric samples, and frankly it took a lot of tenacity to get here. Today, I am able to open most lines I want to carry due to my volume and other open accounts, however it took some fire in my belly to get here. Trade pricing is just that. If you aren’t in the business you don’t get it. Only my Mother and Father get access to my trade account pricing. (They are my worst clients ironically! [big grin])
The call was a backdoor, sneaky and unenlightened way to do business, and we immediately contacted the interior designer. His feelings were hurt that the client was so ungrateful for all he had done. The whole situation got under my skin, and up late one evening this week I posted the following on my personal Facebook page.
The short version of my post was this: It is not my industries job to subsidize a fine living for anyone. We also live and want to thrive in our community. Be kind to us or we won’t work for you.
Although I didn’t expect it. It struck a cord. Interior designers, artisans, contractors and other members of the trade starting sharing my post. I have gotten private messages from people I don’t know thanking me for reminding them of their worth.
Our passion over here at Angela Todd Designs employs a lot of people directly and indirectly. When a client and I come together for a project, it is my hope that what we do together touches the lives of the people working on the project too. From the contractor they meet, to the person staining the cabinetry, to the person across the country making the hardware, to the workroom sewing the window treatments, to the person answering the phone at my receiver. It matters to me that my employees have benefits and have a sustainable working wage to live in Portland. It matters that our delivery guys lifting our client’s heavy furniture have a safety plan, daily stretches and a benefit package that includes chiropractic and preventive care. It matters to me that the subcontractors, workrooms and artisans that work on our projects are able to own a home and take their family on vacation. Truly it does.
It is a win-win for my client’s as well. We are affordable and provide unmatched service. A wood worker making a fair wage will take the time to provide you an outstanding sound built piece. The delivery and receiving team will inspect your pieces with care and place them soundly in your home. The contractor will back his craftsmanship and warranties. My workroom will care about the construction and quality of your draperies. The tile setter won’t cut corners. And I will run through walls for you. We provide this all at a great value.
I have a responsibility to the bigger part of the community I serve. I will not gain financial success on the backs of the people that serve me, nor will I let any client of mine make unfair demands on pricing. Demands that ultimately hurt me, my team, or the people I work with.
And in closing, I am forever proud that client’s that also care about these things seek me. Let’s create something beautiful for you and make a difference in other people’s lives too.