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Q: What's the most effective method for your store(s) in working with designers?

Jim Schultz, Patios Plus, Rancho Mirage, Calif.

The most important thing is to have your policy in writing. Everyone calls themselves an interior decorator; they all want a discount but a professional designer, like my sister is a member of the ASID, will come in and have their card. We check it out on the Internet or they may have a business card or a license before we extend any discount. The discount will only go to a designer; it doesn't go to a customer who says she's working with a designer. We even have it specified to the designer that if she's bought for customers and they come in and want more furniture, we're not extending the discount to the customer — the discount only goes as a courtesy to the designer. It's a tough field to break into plus you can discount yourself right out of business if you give everyone a designer discount.

Most designers charge the same price that we have it on the floor, but if they're in there to help them buy something that's comfortable and pick out the fabrics, our salespeople don't really spend a lot of time with them because the designer is selling to the customer. We're there to write up the order once they know what they want because we don't know what the rest of the house looks like, but we're very specific about what our discounts are. We have special discounts on accessories, but that's only extended to the designer and we won't tell a customer what that discount is. Most discounters out here have a contract and they just will mark it up 35% or they will sell it at whatever price on the floor and we're giving them a discount so that's how they make their money with us.

Mary Fruehauf, Fruehauf's, Boulder, Colo.

Many designers come into our store and ask about designer discounts. We find it helpful to have a specific designer program in place. We ask for their credentials to qualify them as a designer for our program. We have the details of the program typed up and we present them a copy in one of our store bags which they can use to collect brochures, etc.

Our program basically gives the designer a commission or rebate on orders they place with us. After they reach a designated dollar amount each calendar year, we mail them a check. The designers have the option of passing this amount along to their customers. The customer receives the best current applicable discount and the designer benefits as well.

We think of the rebate as an advertising expense or as if the designer was an additional salesperson bringing in new customers.

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