How far do you go to make someone happy?

Cheryl Kees Clendenon Funny Design Stories, In Detail Says, Interior design 11 Comments

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As most people know who read this blog, we have a design showroom. Half of the building is devoted to space for our design team, business team and a bazillion samples of everything we need to do our job. This includes tile, fabric, trim,  pieces and parts of lots of cool things, countertops, cabinetry samples and the list goes on. You get the picture. It is our lifeblood.

The front half of our building is home to a super cool ( I think anyway) furnishings showroom. We love having this available for our clients as well as retail walk ins. What is NOT available for retail walk ins is the samples we have in back, access to our fabric resource room, and the things we use every day for our design clients. This is for several reasons but primarily because these are items we use for our clients who are paying us for our expertise and putting things together and this includes samples and fabrics that are not readily available otherwise. Ok, so maybe we want to keep some of these “ideas” for our design folks  to have unique offerings. Call it what you like but this is the way it works for many designers and in our case it also has to do with the scarce amount of space we have in the shop. Our back area is always being used by our team.

So I get a person who wants to “maybe” use our design services but does not want to “pay” for it because she “might” buy some things from us. This is not how we work. Anything on the retail floor is open for retail clients as is our very skilled showroom manager. But this person was insistent over a period of time that she wanted access to our back room design samples. No amount of tactfully explaining how we worked or trying to work out an equitable solution ( without compromising how we work) was getting through to this individual. On top of all this, this person treated the design assistants like they were teenagers working the snack bar. This is NOT ok with me. And, you can say I let it be known it was not ok. In so many words.

I am wondering if the proliferation of design sites and blogs have given people the sense that all of a designer’s resources are open to anyone who happens to walk in the door? That you have the “right” to access the “back of the house” so to speak because I have a retail showroom?  Or is it sites like Houzz? (where I  currently have over 200 questions waiting to be answered.) People seem to think designers should answer all these questions for free! That we have an “obligation” to tell them every single details when all we are really doing is sharing project photos for inspiration. Which is really A LOT if you ask me!  If you want to know all the info, then please, feel free to hire me!

What do you think? From both sides….as a DIY person or homeowner as well as a professional. Share your thoughts!

Off to work now!



Comments 11

  1. Hi Cheryl,

    I posted a link to this over on my FB page as I thought it was thought-provoking.

    I wrote, “I’ve worked with these challenges as well. Most people are very understanding, but there always seems to be one person who doesn’t *want* to understand that not everything is free. It’s a compliment of sorts, I guess, that someone so admires my choices and work, but it isn’t unfortunately something that puts food on my table.”

    The key is “want to understand”. Also, how someone treats our office staff is a HUGE key to how he or she operates in daily life. It only takes a minute to be respectful to others, no matter what type of job they hold.

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  2. I’ve noticed a proliferation of posts and online discussions about this situation, so you are definitely not alone. I earn my living the same way you do (although without your amazing style and panache) and find myself running into the “design for free” crowd more and more. In addition to samples, I am also asked to give up my designs … you know, the ones I just spent 6 hours of design and CAD time putting together?

    Kelly’s spot on. The majority of my clients “get it.” They understand that I am prepared to do a certain amount of work ahead of time (note I didn’t say “for free”) to help them understand my proposal, and that work is eventually paid for when they go ahead. The one’s that don’t get it never will. I give those people my time, and that’s about it.

    Cheryl, you mentioned blogs and online resources as possible reasons for this increase in entitlement. I’d suggest HGTV and the design media in general as the culprit. Magazines and TV programmes dish on all sorts of “secrets” from the design industry. Many viewers perceive this as their designer education and figure they can now do it all without a professionals help. “No, I don’t need your help, just your samples.”

    Perhaps this is an opportunity for the more entrepreneurial of us. Someone should set up a chain of sample showrooms. Charge people per sample, or maybe even an annual membership (or both!!) and give them access to Golden Oak doors and Hunter Green countertops …

    Or we could just politely suggest they leave 🙂

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    2. I think you’re spot on, Arne. TV and design media is actually causing a problem. I had an magazine editor who was doing a feature on me and my work ask how much a certain project ended up costing. When I told her, she gasped and said, “We can’t publish that! It’s too much for our readers! Could we say it cost (half of what it did)?” I told her absolutely not, because that would be misleading readers to think they can get this for an unrealistic price. She ended up printing a price “range” from half of what it cost to under the correct amount. So prospects have a completely skewed idea of the process and what it costs. And media stories now are all about getting the “high-end looking Designer home” on a flea market budget. It does a terrible disservice to the public.

  3. There is a reason the “right to refuse service” sign exists. It is for those customers/clients who’ve lost touch with reality and demand a higher level of complimentary service while belittling people in the process.

    As for Houzz – I was originally a proponent and would do my designerly duty of checking in on the questions section and providing a bit of expertise. Because I could. But after getting a rather brash treatment from a number of users based on my critiques I realized that my providing free services to these online users was entirely unfair to my contracted clientele who were actually paying me cold hard cash for access to the same expertise.

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  4. I think there could be a balance. I think in the course of getting to know one another, which can be done efficiently which also describes how you work, there’s nothing wrong with walking to the sample area, continuing the conversation and allowing the potential client to look at your samples, which is reasonable-after all, they have to see if they like anything. You should have that part down to a science and allow, in most cases, a certain amount of time to go through the drill, say, no more than 30 minutes so you have a method. You could also tell them what you’re going to do-get to know each other a bit, look at samples, talk logistics and this will take 20-30 min. How does that sound?

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      It is different though Susan when it is not the kitchen and bath world. The fabrics are for design clients who are paying us. Not people who are spending time photographing anything and everything to source later on the freaking internet! This person was not willing to compromise. I tried. She was indignant that I would not let her hang out in our resource room despite telling her we had meetings scheduled etc. If it had been for a kitchen, then would have let her look at samples but we are just a different animal. We keep samples in the back. The showroom is for furnishings and accessories. I do not want anyone just coming to look at samples. They are buying me and my services and that is what they should be looking at! In other words, we are not parts of a whole..we are the sum of all the parts! Or something like that:)

  5. I think that happiness is a inside job not a outside job. You can’t constantly try to make other people happy because it’s their job to meet their own emotional needs.

  6. I completely agree with you, Cheryl. In your situation, samples should not be accessible to the public. If they want to see samples, they can go to many retail stores who have samples they can browse through. Maybe have a list of those stores to send them to. I have learned after 20 years in this business, it takes all kinds of people to make the world and unfortunately, not all of them are good, honest, nice ones. Some people refuse to understand, some simply can not understand then still others are programmed to push and demand until they get what they want. If they don’t get it, they try to intimidate others. But I’ve then seen those same people turn around and shrug and move on to the next “mark”. That is simply a tactic for them, and they know that they will be successful more often than not, which is why they keep doing it. Whatever the case may be, I’m finally starting to pay attention to the red flags screaming in my head when I encounter someone who gives off bad vibes. It will cost you less financially and emotionally to turn those people away than to try to make them happy, when that is highly unlikely. Trying to do that too often will burn you out and sour your whole perspective of the business, which ends up depriving others of your creative energy. I wish I had had the courage of my convictions 10 years ago! Stick to your guns! You have a policy, period. Wish you continued success!

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