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Working With An Interior Designer - Pt. 4 - Presentation & Purchasing

Updated: Dec 11, 2018

A dining room table setting with lemons, dishware and fresh pink tulips

Well hello there! I know, I know, it has been a couple of weeks since my last post. With Easter last week and Spring break the week before, things got a bit crazy around here with work thrown in the mix.

Today I will continue the series I started a few weeks ago about working with us. We follow an 11 step process, because our goal is to always delight our clients. Following this process keeps things on track - there is a lot that goes into a design project. A lot happens behind the scenes to keep each project moving in the right direction. Communication and setting expectations is key to a successful designer/client relationship

In case you missed the first three parts in this blog series, you can catch up on them here, here and here.

We will talk about the presentation and procurement part of the process in today's post. This is the part to get really excited about! This is where I show the client all my awesome ideas for improving their space and make their dreams come true.

Let's start with the presentation

The presentation happens about 3 weeks following Site Measure and Planning Day (SM&P) (sometimes longer depending on the scope of the project). We meet the client in their home or our studio to go over every single detail of the project. During the weeks following SM&P Day, we are working diligently on all the pieces that will come together for a beautiful result. Preparing for the presentation involves:

  • Supplying drawings, sketches and other details to all the trades people involved in order to get their estimates/quotes in

  • Calculating costs on the estimates and quotes

  • Preparing all drawings and renderings - floor plans, elevations, furniture layout, lighting and electrical plan, cabinet details, 3D renderings and window treatment elevations

  • Selecting all finishes - flooring, cabinetry, countertops and backsplash materials, appliances, lighting, hardware, plumbing

  • Developing color palette - paint colors, wallcoverings

  • Sourcing furniture - case goods and upholstery

  • Sourcing drapery hardware

  • Sourcing fabrics and developing a palette with several patterns and textures

  • Sourcing accessories, art and accent pieces

  • Preparing the furnishings proposal work sheet - this is a document that includes all the furniture and upholstery being presented with detailed information such as the manufacturer, dimensions, description, MSRP, discounted price to client, fabric option (if applicable), and lead time

  • Preparing the budget breakdown spreadsheet - each item is listed with the price to client in one spreadsheet for easy reference

  • Physical samples of all materials - this means we need time to request and receive samples from our vendors and manufacturers with images of all the pieces for each room - a separate board for each room

  • Inspiration images to illustrate our concept if needed

During the presentation, we first go over the design concept and how the overall design solves whatever challenge that exists in the space. We then go over the floor plans, 3D renderings and elevations and then the furnishings. With each step, we ask the client for feedback to see if we are on the right track. We finally go over the overall budget for what we are proposing. We welcome both positive and negative feedback from our clients during the presentation. After all, we are still getting to know their likes an dislikes. We nail the design almost every time, but there are times when the client will request that we make some minor or even a major change to the design. A major change may sometime change the overall concept, but we will happily do it because we want the result to be what our client loves and will be happy with for a long time. There are up to 2 revisions that are included in the design fee. Anything beyond that is charged our standard hourly fee.

At the end of the presentation, client is required to sign off on the Agreement (which is an addendum to the original proposal contract) and pay the deposit of 75% - 100% of the total budget for us to move to the procurement phase. Even if there are minor revisions needed, the signed Agreement and deposit are required.

There are some design firms who will prepare three versions of their presentation that they call the "good, better, best" option, where they show the client three different options at three different price points. But I find that if you really listen to your clients needs you only need one perfect plan for them. Showing three options is overwhelming to the client, and shows that you are not quite sure what they want, so hopefully one will work. It's like playing eeny meeny miny mo. It is a lot of wasted time that someone is paying for - most likely the client

The presentation is a very effective way to help our clients visualize our vision for their home. We use the best technology and software to communicate these ideas to our clients, and having the actual samples present allows them to touch and feel the textures that they will be living with in the finished space.

Once everything has been finally approved (and check clears :-) ), the procurement phase begins

The Procurement Phase (And Project Management/Project Oversight Phase)

On remodeling projects, we work with the GC to determine who is responsible for ordering what products and coordinate their delivery to the job site. We also schedule a series of meetings on site to review all drawings and construction documents. We also make unscheduled site visits to check on progress. This project oversight and not project management on this phase.

For the decorative phase, we manage all details involved. Here we begin to order all the tiny pieces that make up the whole design. Just imagine for a second all that is involved with creating one custom pillow for a client - there are literally about 14 steps that go into just that one tiny part of the room. Imagine multiplying that by thousands.

For each item we order, there has to be a purchase order (PO) created (sometimes more than one). For example we may order a custom sofa from one vendor with a C.O.M. fabric (customers own material). This means we need a purchase order for the sofa vendor, the fabric vendor, the trim vendor (if there is trim). All these PO's must be either faxed, emailed, or called in to each vendor. We then have to receive acknowledgements from each vendor that they received the order and hopefully get a status on the items at that point. In some cases, we hear the words that designers hate to hear "back ordered" and "discontinued". Arrrgghhhh! :-). When an item is discontinued, there is still hope. There may be some stock left. If there isn't, then you are out of luck and must reselect another item with the client (I really do not like making these calls to clients, but it happens). When an item is on backorder, you are typically given an estimate of when it will be back in stock. We do not ever trust this date, because it is always subject to change......and it often does. Sometimes the item is that special that we are willing to wait (with client's approval). Other times, we will move on and reselect.

Once all acknowledgements and CFA's (cuttings for approval) are in and payments sent out to vendors, we then have to check on the orders maybe once every couple of weeks. This is a very necessary step that I have learned the hard way that you must do. Sometimes something happened that the order cancelled and you were not informed, and you are thinking it is in production when it is not. Most of the time, things are moving along swimmingly, but I have learned to not take that for granted. Once we get the shipment notification, we also track that to make sure things are on track. We have all our items shipped to our commercial warehouse with a loading dock. There they receive all items, unbox, inspect for damages, assemble if needed and store until installation day. All installations happen on one day versus several shipments to clients. We never ship items directly to clients because we need to be able to track items as we receive them and inspect them for damages. Even on the rare occasions where we use online retail sources for a few items, we still have them go to our warehouse.

Items do come in damaged from time to time. Our warehouse notifies us right away of incoming freight and send us pictures of any damaged pieces so that we can file a claim with the vendor. The items are typically replaced very quickly and do not affect our timeline too much. There are times when they do. If the damage is minor, we can sometimes have it taken care of locally and file the claim for the vendor to pay for the repairs.

These are some of the things that happen behind the scenes that our clients don't have to worry about dealing with themselves. This is what they pay us to do, manage all aspects of the project.

Fabrics, lining and hardware for window treatments, pillows, bedding and local upholstery are always shipped directly to our studio. We have to prepare the drawings and paperwork that go to the work room along with a clipping of the fabric for identification purposes. The rolls of fabric are then hand delivered to the workroom and we check in on the progress every 2 weeks or so, to make sure things are on track. I have heard horror stories from other designers that the expensive $300/yd silk fabric was applied inside out on a chair or whatever......Yikes! We follow a very detailed and strict protocol to make sure that never happens.

For remodeling projects or anything that involves carpentry, electrical, plumbing, painting etc where we engage trades people who will be working on-site at the clients home, we make frequent site visits to the jobsite to make sure that things are being done to our specifications. This requires a lot of meetings with the general contractor, reviewing drawings and instructions to make sure we are all on the same page. It is always better to be available to solve any discrepancies before something is installed and has to be ripped back out. Knock on wood - I have never had to do that :-)

A final note on the Procurement Phase

We often get asked if designers make money on the products that they purchase for clients. I cannot speak for any other designers out there; I can only speak for us - and the answer is of course we make money on the items we purchase on your behalf. But the client also saves a lot of money by using us as their purchasing agent. Some designers actually feel the need to apologize for actually making a profit on their design projects - we are a business and not hobbyists so we are in business to make a profit. We certainly want to stay in business for a long time to help more clients enjoy a beautiful, functional and comfortable home. We are very fair, and operate our business with honesty and integrity, so no apologies here for wanting to make a profit and a good living doing what we love.

Here are a few keys reasons why this is a win/win for both client and designer

  • Let's start with retail purchases. When you as a consumer goes into a local furniture store to buy a piece of furniture - let's say a sofa, the store knows that this piece will be the only piece you will purchase from them. If they are lucky, they may get you to come back for those chairs you were checking out in the window. But stores know that the likelihood of you returning for multiple purchases is slim, so there are no real incentives except an occasional holiday sale. On the other hand, these stores know that as designers, we have several clients to buy for, and we will return time and time again and purchase from them, so they offer us a "designer discount" up to 20% off retail as incentive for us to return to them. This discount that we receive is ours and not the client's. It is based on our loyalty and relationship with the store and it does cover the time it takes for us to meet with the store rep, and choosing the right piece, the right fabric and finish and arranging delivery and tracking etc. All the work that is involved in getting that piece of furniture safely into your home. So we have earned that small amount of money, so it is not appropriate for a client to ask for our discount on retail purchases. if the discount is more than 20% (usually not) then I don't mind sharing it with the client.

  • Most of the purchases I make for clients are from wholesale, to-the-trade-only sources. The vendors that we have accounts set up with do not come as easily as some clients may think. We often have to buy-in to their program. That is, meet sometimes expensive minimum opening orders and subsequent orders, purchase their sampling and maintain orders throughout the year. It sometimes takes a long time to get to the level where you can have certain vendors, and therefore we nurture those long standing relationships. We do receive designer prices from these vendors and so we are able to sell these pieces to our clients below MSRP. Our vendors give us a price list of the suggested retail prices and in some cases an IMAP which is the lowest price we are allowed to sell that product. We could certainly sell at the full retail as the vendor suggests, but we do offer all our clients a percentage off the discount that we receive (typically 30% off our discount)

  • When we provide the convenience of a one-stop shop, where we source and purchase furniture on your behalf, we are acting as a retailer. This is a separate service from our design services. This means that we assume the same risks and liabilities that a regular retailer assumes....sometimes even more. Not to mention all the additional time it takes to get that piece of furniture safely to your home. Being able to make a small profit offsets the risks and liabilities involved. Just like a consumer would not think to walk into Walmart or Target and ask how they arrived at the price they did for a certain item, it should be the same for Designers. Trust me, we are sometimes giving away the kitchen sink just to get that special piece that will be perfect in your space. We have an emotional connection to your project - our reputation rides on its success, so we have your best interest in mind, and that includes your budget. Too often however, some clients think that it is ok to ask for our discounts and expect us to give it all up to them. While we are willing to share, we also must make a profit to cover the expenses we have as business owners - overhead, utilities, insurance, employees, car expenses.........and so much more.

  • What designers bring to the table when it comes to the purchasing phase is a turn-key experience for our clients. We make it convenient by sourcing and presenting to clients only the pieces that will work for the space - keeping their budget and other needs in mind. We also ensure that we source quality items so that they will last a very long time. We manage all the potential problems and issues that are inevitable with purchasing furniture, so that our clients don't have to. We provide clients with prices that are always below retail. We are there on installation day to place the items beautifully in your home and style it to perfection, which is really what makes a project look beautiful and cohesive. We know the right vendors to purchase from - vendors who will stand behind their products.

Trust and transparency is such an important aspect of our business, and so we do include our pricing policy in our LOA and explain this information upfront to our clients. We completely understand that design can be expensive, but we thoroughly respect your budget and stretch it as far as we can to give you everything you dream of. We have had some amazing clients that understand that what we do as design professionals here at casa Vilora Interiors takes experience and knowledge and time. It is an art-form and we are great at what we do. They want us to succeed, and as long as they know that they are being treated fairly, they trust us to deliver what we promise.

Join us next time as we cover the final part in the series on Working With Casa Vilora Interiors Part V - The Installation and Project Closure Phase. We look forward to seeing you back.

Please feel free to chime in by leaving a comment below

Wishing You Beauty and Inspiration!

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