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All Under One Roof: Furniture Retailers on In-House Design Services

Staff from furniture showrooms with designers share why they offer the service, how it benefits the business and the customer and what in-house design looks like for them.

Katie Caron
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Adobestock design consultant
Photo: pressmaster - stock.adobe.com

In recent years, big-box chains like Restoration Hardware and Crate & Barrel have started offering their customers interior design services, posing a potential threat to independent retailers. But small retailers with design services are rising to meet the challenge and corner their own segment of the local market by offering a wide range of brands, affordable pricing, a one-stop-shop experience and an independent, local boutique touch. We asked staff from furniture showrooms with designers about why they offer the service, how it benefits the business and the customer and what in-house design looks like for them. Here’s what they said.

Affordability and Variety

For businesses like Interior Furniture Resources in Harrisburg, PA, offering design services through a brick-and-mortar furnishings store may allow for more affordable design services than consumers could find through an independent designer. Sales Manager Laura Hionis says the company offers consultations and design services completely free of charge to customers, making interior design more attainable to a wider range of consumers.

“It can be very expensive to hire an interior designer to do that planning for the average person who is mainstream or middle class,” Hionis says, “and we’re not considered a high-end furniture store — we are very mainstream, affordable and we offer good value.”

At Villa Vici, a more mid- to high-end showroom (they charge $150/hour for a consultation) in New Orleans, LA, customers have a wide range of fabrics, casegoods, flooring and more to see and touch in the showroom. With products from manufacturers ranging from Worlds Away to Lee Industries to Julian Chichester, clients have endless options and designers on staff have all the resources they need right in the showroom. 

Owner Vikki Leftwich says the choice to offer both home furnishings and design services over the last 27 years has been a “natural marriage.” From a design standpoint, the foot traffic from furniture shoppers is good for generating new clients, and from a furniture sales standpoint, having designers on staff gives clients confidence in their purchases.

“I think people are willing to part with their money easier when they know it’s been a thought-out plan versus just buying a chair here or a sofa there,” she says. “I think they have more confidence in their decisions when they’re working with a professional, and we save them a lot of time and leg work.”

Key Considerations

Along with setting themselves apart from retailers like Restoration Hardware and designers that aren’t affiliated with a showroom, furniture stores with designers on staff are also gaining an edge over online competition.

Showroom Manager Kelley Berger at Home Interior Warehouse in Walled Lake, MI, says offering design services along with furnishings over the last 25 years has helped to do just that.

“You can buy anything online now, so what’s going to set us apart from a Wayfair or something like that is us,” Berger says. “Our staff and our knowledge and the relationships and service is really the difference.”

When hiring a design team, Hionis says it’s important to make sure designers have proper sales training. Given that design schools don’t always offer extensive sales education, it’s up to retailers to make sure new hires have the right knowledge about sales tactics so they’re equipped to take on the hybrid role.

At Villa Vici, Leftwich hires designers with at least five years of experience and makes sure they have the right personality and skills for her showroom.

“They have to have a good connection with scaling because it’s real important that they are selling furnishings that fit into a space,” she says, “so they have to be really good at space planning and they have to have a sense of style.”

Regardless of their differing niches and strategies, Berger, Leftwich and Hionis couldn’t think of a downside to having designers on staff. For showrooms looking to set their business apart from online and big-box competition, hiring an in-house design team is a strong bet. 

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