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Designer Program Revisited

May 8, 2008

As you may remember, the last CFR round table by phone gave a road map to specialty retailers detailing how to work with designers. Karen Galindo of Greenhouse Mall in Texas and Greg Martin of Kolo Collection Georgia were the moderators and gave us valuable information. Armed with that info and inspired by the call, I decided to jump head first into the designer market.

First, I checked the ASID web site to find out the name of the local chapter president. New Orleans wasn’t listed; so,  I a designer client of ours gave us a contact. As it turns out, New Orleans is part of a regional chapter but still has local meetings. When I contacted the local chairman, you would have thought I was offering to give her bars of gold when I asked if they would be interested in our hosting a meeting. They always have their monthly meetings at a supplier’s showroom but had never been invited to a showroom specializing in outdoor furniture. My good fortune!

The program chairman and I set up a date, Wednesday, May 7 starting at 5:30 in the afternoon.  By the way, they were so excited about the program, they bumped several other meetings and showrooms to move our program to May, the height of the season. We contacted a caterer and planned for a full top shelf bar and a finger food buffet. We even had "Cookie Bouquet" design a cookie showing a bistro set under an umbrella with the slogan "We Love Designers" with a heart in place of the word "love." Cute, huh?

I knew I wanted the designers to leave with reference material they could incorporate into their resource libraries and which tied back to us. I started out by putting our designer program in writing. I created a contact list of our sales staff, gathered web addresses of furniture and accessory manufacturers in our industry, and downloaded information from Sunbrella’s web site about high performance fabrics. We put all of this into a binder that we called the Designer Resource Guide.

We then gathered mini catalogs (also called consumer brochures) from major players we represent in our industry. This included furniture, professional barbecues, fans, marble tabletops, outdoor carpets, and anything we could think of that a designer could incorporate into a project. We put all of this into a magazine storage sleeve that had a faux leather look. We also dropped in a pocket tape measure with our logo on it. This we labeled a Designer Resource Library. The whole thing will slip onto a shelf in their main resource library with our logo facing them. In fact, we made sure everything was identified with our logo. If I say so myself, it was very impressive. More important, the designers were impressed, too.

Finally, we choose some wine, martini, and beer glasses we had a lot of and gave a set to each designer as a thank you gift when they left. We gift wrapped the sets to make them look more desirable. That was greatly appreciated by the attendees. As you can see, we went to a lot of trouble to make the designers feel important and as Karen says, "To show them we love them."

The program was pretty straightforward. The chairman held a short 15-minute general meeting and then turned the floor over to me. I welcomed the designers, introduced each of our sales consultants by name (we were wearing name tags and we handed out name tags to the designers with the program chairman’s permission), and then ran over our designer program. Several designers knew of our store but hadn’t come to us in the past because we didn’t have a discount or commission program for them. They were delighted to hear they could use our showroom just like a vendor showroom at market, get the same discounts, but get all of the service of a specialty retailer after the sale.

Then I discussed high performance fabrics, different frame materials and where it was appropriate to use them, and then showed them all of the different accessories available to them. They oohed and aahed over O. W. Lee’s Outdoor Couture program, were astounded at Frederic Cooper’s outdoor lamps, and couldn’t believe our rugs were really for outdoors,

I’m not sure who learned more from this meeting, the designers or me. I’ll be brutally frank with you (and I hope my past ignorance doesn’t insult any designers reading this), most of the people who come to my store looking for decorator discounts are housewives looking to get a break on furniture for their own homes. Designers aren’t those people. First of all, they are not decorators; I learned that the hard way when I used that term with the past president of the local ASID chapter. They are designers! They are licensed by the state and have to have a certain amount of prior education, experience, and pass a rigorous exam to get their license. In addition, they have to take a certain amount of CEU’s (Continuing Education Units) to keep their license.

I also learned designers are very professional. The designers who attended last night had experience not only in residential jobs, but also in high profile commercial jobs including hotels that need lots and lots of patio furniture. Because of the credentialing process, they are allowed to design architectural changes, work with electrical and plumbing systems, and do much more than "decide if that green goes with that brown." They have wealthy clients and they can steer that business towards our store.

Finally, I learned designers aren’t taught about outdoor rooms in college. Nor do they have CEU’s in that area. It is a foreign field to them. They came last night because they understood the potential outside rooms held for them and were looking for a way to get into that field. Now, every time they visit a client’s home or office, they are going to look at the outside areas as potential income sources. We positioned ourselves as experts they could rely on. In turn we can make them look like experts to their clients. It was eye opening to them and we think it is going to be a win-win situation for both them and us. Time will tell, but his morning we got a call from a decorator to help them with a job.

If you would like more information, you know where to find me or you can contact Karen at
and Greg at

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce