Design fee debate spills over into remote consultations

With so many retailers now trying to get a remote client consultation service up and running due to the lockdown, a debate has begun over whether to charge for the service.

While many are getting to grips with talking to customers via Skype, Zoom or FaceTime as they are desperate to keep the business moving with no showroom, some feel there is a danger that they could simply become a free online design service for non-committed remote consumers.

Here’s just a few views from retailers:

Andy Gilmore, sales and marketing manager at Fineline Interiors in Oldham

“We are currently promoting a design service and have seen an uplift in enquiries in the last few days. We won’t be charging at this stage and normal practices still apply – qualification before design work starts, asking the important questions and taking the appropriate action from there.”

Hayley Robson, creative director at Day True in London

“Yes, we will be charging. What does a design fee cover? Investment in various CAD packages, investment in professional staff, on-going training, time, experience, and sourcing the right solutions. There is no point in presenting a ‘quick design’, we would rather charge and commit time to understand the client and the brief and spend the necessary time to allow us to present and specify a solution that will impress them. Time is money, experience has a value, even more so now.”

Ben Setterfiled, owner of Bathroom Eleven in Surrey

“We are offering a really comprehensive remote design service and actually charging slightly more as extra work goes into the preparation – the charge is refunded once the order is placed.

“The same clients are out there so we feel the same method should apply – our view might change as this is such new territory, selling the value in a remote service is going to be much harder than face-to-face.

“It’s going to be a bit of trial and error as we learn from each client meeting. We only started charging at the beginning of last year and haven’t looked back since if that’s anything to go by. Having said that, there is no right or wrong way and it depends what value you place on the design service. Some showrooms will spend a lot more time on each design so will want a deposit and for others it’s just a numbers game.”

Shehryar Khan, owner of Sheraton Interiors in Richmond

“We are offering an online/remote design service and had two enquiries last week and another one yesterday. We have never charged for a design service (I know this is up for debate) and honestly I don’t think we ever will! I feel people buy from people and if you tick all the boxes for your potential client you will win the business, our conversions back this up. However, on the flip side, I do appreciate that you will be exposed to the risk of your time being wasted by a few clients, this is a risk I am willing to take and this strategy has served us well so far.”

Mitchell Burton, MD of Portrait Kitchens in East Sussex

“We don’t have a design fee normally. We sometimes charge travel costs for home visits if the project is further afield and it’s before they have committed to an order. So no remote design fee, as we wouldn’t in the showroom. But like most, we don’t release detailed drawings without a commitment to order. The only slight difference currently is that we are sending out a ‘plan’, but with no dimensions and no scale, just position notes for key items and maybe the odd dimension like from a range to an island. This gives the client the chance to print it for when we discuss on the phone.

“I think it will be difficult to get across product quality and material finish remotely. As what we offer is so tactile, and build quality doesn’t come across in a render image. That’s why we always encourage people to visit the showroom before (or at least when) we present our design concept and costs. I can only see what we are doing now as a head start on the process for when we can have people back in the showroom. I would be surprised if we got an order from someone remotely who has never seen our showroom or one of our finished kitchens.”

Luke Wedgbury, MD of Coalville Kitchens in Leicestershire

“We decided to scrap our design fee as part of the new marketing campaign. This situation calls for a new way of thinking so you have to ask ‘what is the design fee actually designed to do?’ Essentially we used the fee to screen our clients, meaning if you’re not prepared to pay a small fee for a huge investment then we don’t want to work with you. Sounds harsh but it works. We now offer a free design service and we will do a two-tier offer. Firstly we will roughly design the kitchen and give an estimate. If that’s acceptable then we will go to the effort of the incredible rendering of images and a detailed fixed quote. If the initial price is over budget, we say goodbye. I believe this initial period is about relationship building. A free design service is a great place to start. Survival first. Then flourish. These designs WILL NOT be right. Impossible without site surveys and in person conversations but when things are back to normal we have a head start.”

Mark Butler, director of Butler Interiors

“We have discussed this amongst ourselves and I don’t believe there is a clear answer. We need to protect our business and continue to work where possible, however we do not want to be a free design service. As the enquiries (hopefully) come in we are going to see how strong the leads are and make a decision as time progresses.”

What do you think? Will you be charging for remote design services? Email us at [email protected]

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