Sell your services, not your products

Should designers base their quotes on the services they offer in the same way as architects and interior designers? Rob Mascari of Nottingham-based kitchen specialist Mascari argues that it’s time for a radical change of approach…

I recently spoke to someone who told me they have just had a £22,000 kitchen installed. I thought to myself, “What exactly is a £22,000 kitchen?” Hold that thought for a moment or two.

Meanwhile, I’m in the very early stages of designing and planning a new-build for my fledgling family. I’m in that position where many of our clients have sat – riding the emotional rollercoaster of excitement, elation, confusion and trepidation.

While the overabundance of construction techniques, sustainable technologies and fixtures and fittings is enough to frazzle the sanest of minds, I’m very lucky I don’t have the biggest headache of all to contend with – who will design, supply and install it.

I won’t be rushing for the paracetamol because I fully understand the product I’m buying and have no need to pay for my services. So I can have exactly the same kitchen as the chap above for £15,000.

I then imagined what I would say if Mr £22,000 Kitchen asked me how much I paid for my kitchen.

Homes are no longer about rooms, they are about spaces. People make spaces and spaces are made for people. We have long moved on from a garden or living room. As kitchen designers, we design the space where families cook, dine and entertain, often in collaboration with the interior designer and architect.

The recent debate discussing our perceived role as viewed from the architect’s chair has highlighted yet another misconception. As we move forward, it is imperative that we pull in the same direction and ultimately learn from each other. One thing in particular I believe we can learn from architects and interior designers is how they charge their clients.

Just like an architect or respected interior designer would, what if we were to consider a new, transparent approach to how we quote based on the services we offer? What if we looked at ourselves as practices rather than retailers? 

I had a very good chat with a couple of fellow independents recently, who suggested – and I completely agreed with them – that retail as we know it will die a death. One retailer, far more experienced than me, cited the introduction of ‘free’ designs as a large contributory factor to retailers’ frustrations.

However, some green shoots of change have certainly sprouted during my time. Let’s face it, the multiples are offering some really lovely kitchen products these days, and clients can source their appliances, worktops, boiling taps or sinks from pretty much anywhere.

Independents should be looking towards how we not only protect our identity as specialists, but embrace change and grow our businesses.

Divide

While my personal view is that appliance and furniture manufacturers or designers should be coming together, it’s glaringly obvious the divide is widening. Perhaps we should be focusing on selling our services, with any products we specify attracting a handling fee.

Appliance manufacturers in particular are bothered about one thing and one thing only – and it’s not the independent’s margins. The internet and box-shifters are here to stay, and to read recently how one retailer was having to buy her oven from Howdens is, well, astonishing.

We are dictated to by appliance manufacturers. Think about it, we must display X number of appliances, including refrigeration, laundry etc, pay a small fortune for the privilege and then, best of all, hit a target! In internet terminology – LMFAO! We are basically rent-free showrooms for them, for which we receive minimal return.

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So do we really need these shiny appliances? Some retailers use appliances for live demonstrations, but the reality is that for most they are an expensive ‘must-have’. Our job as designers is to design the space and integrate the appliances the client desires. For all the training in the world, it is impossible to compete with the knowledge the manufacturer has, and that is why they have invested in showcase centres holding demonstrations and experience days for the consumer. So are we not better off sending our clients there?

Now is maybe the time to return to the original question. We dress the cost of a kitchen up as the price of the goods we buy, plus what we offer as services built-in. The differential between our buying and selling price we call a margin, and as such create a catalogue of units priced according to those figures. Surely what we offer is so much more involved than selling a pair of shoes?

Credibility

Maybe this is why we’re not always taken seriously by architects or sometimes clients? Is it possible they view us as product retailers rather than the designers we actually are?

Just like an architect or respected interior designer would, what if we were to consider a new, transparent approach to how we quote based on the services we offer? What if we looked at ourselves as practices rather than retailers?

When you have 10 minutes, consider what services your business offers your clients while undertaking a project. These might include: the initial consultation; site survey; outline proposal; initial plans; full quotation; client meeting; plan revisions; a further quote; another client meeting; specifying and placing the order; taking delivery; project-managing the installation; rectifying problems and then after-care.

Then try this little exercise. Take a recent quotation, add a five to 10% ‘handling fee’ above your buying price on any products, then list down these services individually, trying to put a figure to each.

Try to ensure your end figure matches that of the initial quote. This will take a bit of juggling and, of course, some of the above will be bulked together. But I’ll bet you’ll be shocked to see how little you are actually charging, especially when considering your investment in products within your showroom.

For some reason, we are trying to convince the client – and possibly ourselves – that we are just comparing a product. Once you’ve written that list, try to consider what, say, a multiple would offer by way of services. So instead of trying to sway the public’s perception that our kitchen is more expensive because it’s ‘better’, let’s justify it by demonstrating what they are actually receiving from us – a complete suite of expert services.

Once we’ve considered this, we’ll soon discover we can use our showrooms in a new capacity. We are currently in the middle of a refit of our showroom and we are looking to use the space much more effectively than filling it with cupboards and appliances. We value client interaction and input into the design as a critical cog in the wheel of securing a deal, and as such are focusing the main space of the showroom towards that.

I welcome with open arms any suggestions and ideas that improve the way we operate as an industry. I suggest that we seriously consider a new approach and I think we should all work together to achieve it. Let’s get back to being the guys the sheds want to copy, not the other way around.

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