January 2005 Pro to Pro

Have a question, and looking for feedback from industry peers? This month, K&BDN listens in on dialogue between industry professionals, as excerpted from the KitchenBathPros.com' online Designer Discussion Forum.

Have a question, and looking for feedback from industry peers? This month, K&BDN listens in on dialogue between industry professionals, as excerpted from the KitchenBathPros.com online Designer Discussion Forum.

Creative Ideas For Display Doors

Does anyone have any creative ideas on displaying door samples? We have too many doors and not enough wall space.

Response 1
See if your manufacturer has a turntable to display your door samples. You can usually display eight doors in a turntable display. The turntable shouldn't take up more than 2-3 square feet of floor space.

Response 2
In our conference room, we have a wall-to-wall tall cabinet display with two 36"x96" glass panel door units flanking a deeper 48"x102" center unit. In addition to being a sample of the cabinetry for clients to inspect, we use them to store our smaller samples, doors, blocks etc.

The side units were fitted with vertical tray dividers in three equal height sections, which we now use to "file away" a lot of our door samples (without hardware) in an easily accessible way.

The center unit has drawers from floor to about counter top height and solid panel doors above. We keep most of our color sample blocks/chips, molding samples and other smaller items filed away in these drawers. It keeps them well organized and just a step or two from the conference table for client meetings.

Response 3
We have a large showroom, however, space for doors was a problem for us also. On one side of the showroom, we created a country display from lemonade cabinetry with a large custom "plate rack." It was a creative way of storing the doors and incorporating a new look for the showroom. Of course the easiest and most space efficient would be to order the display case from the cabinet company you sell.

When Clients 'Steal' Designs

I'm sure that we all had this problem in the past and I would like to know how others would approach it. I'm in the New York area, there's cut throat competition here, and a lady comes to me with plans from another designer. She tells me she didn't pay for them, and would rather work with me, but there was one detail she liked about their layout. Should I look at it? What would you do? (I should also point out here that I don't charge design fees for my work)

Response 1
It does not have to do with honesty. It has to do with the complexity of the design process. The truth is: "Mrs. Jones, you know, there is not one simple answer to this question I can see at least several solutions to this one detail right away. I can also see other areas of the plan which could use some fine-tuning. We can only explore that if you become a client of ours."

Ultimately, you have no protection of your ideas if you do not charge design fees. So, if you do not do that, the question is moot you have to give it away then for free. There is not much protection for you.

Response 2
And that is why you should charge for your plans.
If Ms. Client does that to the first designer, what's to stop her from doing the same to you?
If the client is truly interested in working with you, ask for a cabinetry deposit or something to get going.

How much value do people place on something that is free? Nothing. Show them your professionalism, share with them that "of course, you wouldn't work for free either, would you?"

By the way, I used to work in an area where there were 17 design shops in a town of 70,000, and we were the only one to charge design fees. We thought we would go down the tube for doing it, but we got so sick of people "borrowing" our designs that frankly, we didn't care anymore. It weeded out the bottom feeders and attracted the clients we wanted to work with. No one in the business could understand how we were "getting away with it," but we left that aspect for them to mull over while the clients said how nice it was to work with professionals.

Response 3
I never give anything away for free. It devalues the service I provide. I will show them similar size floorplans of existing projects so that they can understand approximate pricing that could possibly be involved for their own project. After a free consultation, when the client is thoroughly convinced of the value of my services, I never have a problem getting a design retainer of $1,000.

I can't stand when clients walk in the door and have four copies of someone else's design and ask for me to bid the job out. These types are shopping the best price and want to "use" my design ideas to give to the next guy. I don't like it when people try to get something for nothing. And usually, these are the clients that become the biggest problems.

Response 4
When I read your post, alarms in my head went off. If clients are not serious, they will not want to pay a retainer; if they are serious, they will expect to pay one.

When I do estimates, I usually offer good/better/best solutions with an estimate based on three choices. If we stick with those exact choices, great; if not, we do change orders that are due at time of signing. When the client decides on a budgetary option, they pay 10% down.

Stick to your guns...and remember what someond once told me: "Not all clients are your clients."

Response 5
I am horrified that kitchen designers give their work away for free. Those who can actually design should never give away work. What other profession does work for free? I have been a kitchen designer for 25 years and am saddened by the lack of professionalism of our industry. If we act like do-it-yourselfer designers, be prepared to be paid like one. Professionals always, and I mean always, charge for their work. If you are not confident enough about your skills, go for additional education. If you are confident, why be shy about asking to be paid what you are worth? We are not selling products. We are only selling knowledge. If we give that away up front, we are worthless indeed.

No other issue irritates me more about our "so-called" profession. When will we all begin to act like professionals?

Response 6
Oh boy, am I about to get into trouble...This is an issue that has been bugging me for a long time and I'm just going to come out with it and the devil take.

Our industry is based upon designing kitchens, etc., to sell product, mostly cabinets, through the packaging of design and product together into a "dream."

Most all of us are trained and brought along to the level of professionals by cabinet dealers acting as agents for cabinet manufacturers. These days, many new people in the industry are college graduates with interior design degrees. That system, too, is one that packages design with product sales...Your buy the product and get the design for free or at a reduced rate.

Think about it. If we all went away, what alternatives would the homeowner have?

Architects are the answer.

Architects, in general, don't sell product; they just sell design. And they get a pretty penny for their work, though I don't really know any wealthy architects who do residential remodeling design. Well, very few anyway.

So what's my point?

Kitchen and bath designers are in the pockets of the cabinet manufacturers and it's those manufacturers that really control the way we do business by training us in their "preferred" methods.

Selling product with design is an inherent conflict of interest to the consumers we serve.

How can we truly represent the best interests of our clients when we are designing to fit the products we sell them?

Remember, I design and don't sell product now (so I'm prejudiced). Okay, I'm retiring to the bomb shelter now.

Response 7

Do not retreat to the bomb shelter just yet. Your theory sparked my interest and I appreciate the opportunity to debate your ill-advised point.

Excellent point, from your perspective! However, even though architects may not sell product, they may only be familiar with a few tried and true lines, and pass that on to their clients. And who's to say cabinet reps do not call upon architects to push their lines?

Architects are not savvy with improvements, new doors and colors in the cabinet lines as showroom designers are. Architects rely on getting this information from cabinet dealers like me. As a designer who works in a "cabinet showroom," it is essential that I know everything about the lines that I sell, plus I make it my business to know the "ins and outs" of my competitors' cabinet lines. Because I do the research on cabinet lines, I am best suited to guide clients with their cabinet buying decision. I admit to clients when I cannot sell cabinets that fit their criteria. In most cases, though, I am able to offer alternatives that will suit the criteria of the design.

Perhaps I am unusual, but I do not need to go after every cabinet sale. If a client is looking for Bulthaup, I will not try to sell them Diamond. There is such a thing as integrity. I cannot pass off the local public library as the Louvre. So, I do not consider myself in the "pocket of the cabinet manufacturer." I work for my clients first and offer a cabinet line according to the clients' criteria, not based on what I want to push on the client. I am lucky to be in a position to offer 11 different lines.

Sure, the cabinet manufacturers sometimes offer spiffs as incentives. But this incentive rarely drives the sale. One cabinet manufacture offers vacation packages, and this line is the lowest selling line in my showroom. This tells you where my loyalty is.

And by the way, cabinet dealers have a love/hate relationship with their cabinet manufacturers and the reps who push the product. I am frustrated with reps who do not return phone calls, miss appointments, show up without calling and expect me to be giddy with pleasure at their very presence. You also mentioned, "training us in their 'preferred' methods." What training? You have no idea how little attention cabinet manufacturers spend on educating showroom dealers and design staff. I would love to see more manufacturers respond to this site. I would give them an earful.

Showroom designers like myself have much knowledge and information to offer the consumer. I completely disagree with your statement that "selling product with design is an inherent conflict of interest to the consumers we serve." Consumers are in the driver's seat and are more savvy today then ever before. It is up to the consumers to educate themselves to the various options open to them.

There is business enough for all of us; not every cabinet sale is going to be for me.