How to court professional interior designers

Elspeth Pridham, author of The Insider blog, shares her thoughts on how kitchen and bathroom retailers can build relationships with professional interior designers.

The interior design industry is thriving. At the top end of the market wealthy customers have always relied on an interior designer to create the perfect living space, whether it’s their London apartment or country retreat. But the market is now opening up with younger, time-poor consumers calling on professional interior designers to transform their owned, or rented, home. This has been driven partly by enforced home working and the need to make our living spaces more adaptable, and partly by the desire for an Instagram-ready interior.

The point is, interior designers are busy and, unlike individual consumers who might replace their kitchen or bathroom every 10 years, interior designers are sourcing products constantly. So they are worth getting to know.

The ideal relationship between retailer and interior designer is collaborative. By the time an interior designer visits your showroom, they will have already designed the space and will now be looking for the perfect products to make that scheme become a reality. You will, however, have the more up-to-date product knowledge to steer them towards the most suitable options.

Many interior designers bring their clients with them when they source bathroom fittings or choose a kitchen. So they will return to the showrooms they feel most comfortable in and the people they trust.

It is, however, a mistake to think interior designers settle on a favourite supplier and then use them for all their projects. The interior designers I talk to are often mildly offended when I ask them to describe their signature style. A professional designer, they insist, treats every project as a blank page. They are steered by the architecture of the property and their customers’ requirements rather than their own preferences.

I’m sure you already work with interior designers but, if you don’t or you wish to expand your contacts, how can you reach out to them? A quick Google search will provide a list of interior designers in your area. I then suggest you visit their website to see the type of work they do. There is no point promoting yourself to an interior designer who has a distinctive country cottage style when you sell modern German kitchens. Then send a letter or e-mail to introduce yourself and the services you offer.  Don’t be offended if they don’t respond immediately, interior designers are often working to extremely tight deadlines and balancing several projects at once, you may need to follow up with a phone call. If you can share images of the kinds of projects you have already been involved in, that always helps.

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Houzz is another great way to find interior designers in your area. The site includes plenty of images of the types of projects they undertake so you can tailor your approach to individual studios. I would also recommend LinkedIn as a useful, and free, marketing tool. It enables you to reach businesses and individuals you would like to build a relationship with.

Investing in your contacts

There are two trade associations representing interior designers. The British Institute of Interior Design (BIID) and The Society of British & International Design (SBID) If you are committed to building your relationship with interior designers, it may be worth considering signing up as an industry partner. This costs from £575 per year at the BIID and from £600 at SBID

By becoming an industry partner you will appear on the newsletter, website and in social media posts, all useful ways to put your brand in front of the BIID or SBID members. Both organisations also offer industry partners the opportunity to host a CPD.

It is compulsory for members of the BIID and SBID to undertake a certain number of CPDs (Continuing Professional Development) each year, so there is always demand for these. Hosting a CPD gives you the opportunity to highlight your expertise in front of an influential audience who might then go on to specify your products. Hosting in your showroom is a great way to get interior designers through your door to see, touch and experience products as well as meeting you face to face.

SBID says it would normally expect around 15 interior designers to turn up to one of its breakfast sessions. However, during lockdown, it moved to Zoom CPDs and saw attendance jump to between 50 and 100. As we come out of lockdown, the society says it will introduce a mix of events. Continuing with the popular Zoom sessions as well as reinstating the breakfast meetings.

Interior designers are in demand and they are always on the lookout for reliable suppliers.  It is just a matter of building that relationship.

  • Elspeth Pridham writes The Insider a weekly blog aimed at professional interior designers.

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