What Designers Look for in Retailer Partners

From strong customer service to generosity with samples, here are the things interior designers say they need from retailers when sourcing product. 

Katie Caron
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Consumers may make up the majority of your showroom sales, but you could be missing out on a key potential client base: interior designers. While designers often opt to shop directly from manufacturers and trade-only wholesalers when sourcing home furnishings, they’re also shopping from independent retailers, big-box stores and local boutiques alike. We asked interior designers what exactly they look for in retailer partners to learn how you can better cater to their needs and establish long-term relationships. Here’s what we learned.

Communication and Customer Service

As is the case for any strong relationship, communication is key. Gina Gutierrez, Founder and Principal Designer at San Francisco-based Gina Rachelle Design says she appreciates when a showroom assigns her a single point person to communicate with about anything from sourcing a product to order status. 

At Washington-based Seldens Designer Home Furnishings, General Manager Jake Cross says they do just that. While the showroom primarily caters to consumers, its to-the-trade Partners in Design program pairs the independent designer with one of Seldens’s in-house designers so the two can work together in any way the designer partner sees fit. 

“Either the independent designer really takes the lead and does everything and our designer is just there to take notes, help facilitate, answer any questions, do some follow up, things like that — or if they want to, they can work more in conjunction with each other and bounce ideas off each other. But we’re really here to be their guide,” Cross says.

Jeff Sheats of Jeff Sheats Designs in Indianapolis says the main thing he really needs is an accurate quote on products so he can get the correct price estimates in front of clients for billing.  

“We need to know the total landed cost of our products, and getting that from vendors is like pulling teeth sometimes,” he says, adding that key information he needs includes the product pricing, lead time, freight bid and any upcharges on finishes. 

Specs and Samples

Sheats says on the rare occasions that his firm does head to a showroom to spec a sample, he values an up-to-date stock and willingness to give out samples for him to show to his client or test in a space. 

“When we ask for a sample, we’re in desperation mode at that point and we’re trying to coordinate it with other things, so we don’t want to wait four weeks,” he explains. “That’s the kind of service designers need — we’re under tremendous deadlines and we’re very busy people.”

When Sheats doesn’t head to the showroom itself, he appreciates when businesses can provide him with detailed specification materials including catalogs and pricers, which include more in-depth product information like line drawings. 

For Gutierrez, gathering samples and finishes in her studio helps her to have a better grasp of the colors and textures of materials she’s working with.

“It’s a big bonus when those are free to interior designers because we usually have to collect so many from so many different stores that it can become an expense to us and I typically don’t bill that out to my clients,” she says.

Designers are a group with clear goals, in-depth industry expertise and high expectations, and if you can cater to their needs, you could be reaping the rewards of a mutually beneficial relationship for years to come.

“The more that they can do to really kind of take care of us, it gets me excited because I do want to build that partnership,” Gutierrez says. “These partnerships are everything, and it then makes our job easier to know that we can count on them and continue to go back and shop from them. So in the long run, it’s win-win.” 

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