Archive for July, 2008

Commitment Pricing

We’ve all been there…trying to determine how to price your services often seems to be the biggest struggle i our business. Charge too much and you’re afraid you’ll lose clients. Charge too little and you can’t earn a living.

But take another look at those statements. Charging “enough” to make a living doesn’t really seem like very satisfying goal. Instead of just looking at your costs, your competition, etc. why not look at your clients. How much should you be charging to get committed, sing-your-praises clients AND to deliver the level of service, training and expertise they deserve?

Being in business costs money, and the costs keep going up every day. When you charge less than you need in order for your business to thrive; you’re not just short-changing yourself financially, you’re depriving your clients of the full experience, benefit and range of services they should be getting from you. You’re not committing fully to them, in terms of what you’re willing to offer, because you can’t afford to do what you’d really like to do for your clients. 

Commitment Pricing is especially important for designers because this business is not based on need or necessity. It’s not commodity selling, because commodities—something that is widely available and has little or no distinguishing characteristics—is what design is emphatically NOT!

Any consumer, when willing to invest in something customized, something unique and distinctive, usually recognizes that the higher price for such products and services carries with it a commitment on both sides. For the seller to deliver, service and respect the investment of the buyer; and for the buyer to appreciate, value and respect the seller.

Think about some of your recent purchasing decisions: Are there any examples of commitment pricing you can identify and apply to your own business?

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14 July 2008 at 4:44 pm Leave a comment

Mario, oh Mario!

When I first became involved in the interior design business, waaaaay back in the ’80s, the first decorator whose name and look I became familiar with was Mario Buatta. Back then, you couldn’t open a magazine without seeing at least one of Buatta’s lavishly embellished and chintz swathed rooms. Paige Rense, the long-time editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest says of Buatta: “He was the ’80s alpha decorator. He was warm and democratic…teasing billionaires and making his clients feel comfortable…”

Buatta has had his own design business for 45 years and the 72-year-old decorator shows no signs of slowing down. Although his signature look, an Americanized “English Country House” feel inspired by Colefax & Fowler, has swung in and out of fashion, Buatta has always had his devotees. Even in the modern/minimalist ’90s Buatta worked 5-6 days a week on the homes of Billy Joel, Mariah Carey, and dozens of other less recognizable but equally enthralled clients.

Last year, 34 years after doing his first room at the Kips Bay Showcase House; he was back with yet another elegantly pretty and welcoming installation. Perhaps some may find his look a bit over the top; a bit to grandmama-y and traditional, but at a time when maximalist designers like Kelly Wearstler, Jamie Drake, Miles Redd and others garner accolades, it’s worth studying one of the living, working masters of the form. And, just like his mentor and inspiration, John Fowler, Mario Buatta loves a well-dressed window! Enjoy!

One of Buatta’s most recent projects is a two-bedroom Fifth Ave. apartment for Patricia Altschul, an apartment that had previously belonged to Sister Parish. “Though the Parish provenance was a draw, they couldn’t sell the apartment, and I understood why,” Altschul recalls. “In the 15 years since she’d lived here, the place had become dirty, dingy, disgusting. The structure was sound, but the windows, electric, air-conditioning, kitchen and bath all had to be redone. I thought twice about buying it…”

“But when you let Mario have his head, unleash his quirkiness, fabulous things happen.”

 

Altschul Living Room

Altschul Living Room

And here…

 

Altschul bathroom. Both photos by Scott Francis, originally published in Architectural Digest, February 2008.

Altschul bathroom. Both photos by Scott Francis, originally published in Architectural Digest, February 2008.

And how about some of these highlights from Buatta’s Kips Bay Showcase houses over the years.

 

One of his most famous Kips Bay installations is this fabulous blue bedroom from 1987.

One of his most famous Kips Bay installations is this fabulous blue bedroom from 1987.

 

 

This is his “homage to dogs” sitting room at the 2006 Kips Bay Showcase House.

This is his “homage to dogs” sitting room at the 2006 Kips Bay Showcase House.

And I’ll leave you with some additional classic Mario Buatta rooms.

 

A Houston bedroom

A Houston bedroom

 

 

Love the dramatic contrast between the dark, glossy walls and the light, feminine furnishings.

Love the dramatic contrast between the dark, glossy walls and the light, feminine furnishings.

 

 

Not all of Buatta’s rooms are chintz everywhere.

Not all of Buatta’s rooms are chintz everywhere.

For each major project Mario creates these fold-down room plans, to scale, sketching out all the elements and attaching swatches, paint samples, tassels, etc. for reference.

14 July 2008 at 11:24 am Leave a comment

The Money Mirror

Take a moment to think about our ingrained training regarding money. People are “filthy rich” or loaded with “dirty money.” Those who don’t get business degrees are doomed to become “starving arists”, but everybody better get to work anyway because “time is money.” Money is unnatural because “it doesn’t grow on trees” and it’s alright to struggle financially because, after all, money can’t you love or happiness. Besides, everyone knows, “money is the root of all evil.”

These issues are rarely directly addresses when designers discuss pricing, but our ambiguous emotions regarding money certainly play a part. As an industry we frequently undercharge because:

  1. We based our prices on our perceived competitive set…and they’re already undercharging
  2. We are fearful that a lack of credentials mean we can’t charge as much as some one who has [check any that apply] ___ been in business longer  ___ more training  ___ an office/studio/retail location ___ other
  3. We’re afraid of looking greedy/aggressive/“snooty”/“out-of-touch”/etc. 

Our attitude toward making money from our skills, talents and abilities is a reflection of ourselves. It’s a mirror of our self-worth; and as solo or small practitioners our inability to look into that mirror and see the results accurately often sabotages our best efforts to grow our business.

What does your money mirror say to you?

10 July 2008 at 3:39 pm Leave a comment

Designer Definitions

One of the most frequent topics of discussion to come up whenever Deb and I run a seminar or presentation regards identity and definitions.

In some states, of course, the phrase interior designer can only be used by a licensed professional, so many believe, by default, that interior decorator is a “lesser” choice. I’d like to point out, however, that many of our best known, most praised design talents in the U.S. were (and are) proud to be know as decorators… reaching back to Dorothy Draper, Billy Baldwin, Sister Parish, Mario Buatta, Charlotte Moss, etc. 

But this concern over “what to call myself” is usually a cover debate for “how can I charge”, meaning does a designer have a greater perceived value to the client than a decorator? If you’ve ever found yourself having this discussion with yourself, your staff, etc. you’ve allowed yourself to become distracted from the key issue by semantics. 

And what is the key issue? You need to ask how you perceive yourself. Are you a color specialist? Are you a fantastic resource? Are you a good listener? Are you a problem-solver? Are you a space strategist? It all goes back to how you present yourself to your clients and what value you bring to them.

So our response to the designer/decorator debate? It doesn’t really matter that much. Get yourself out of the design-world bubble and start thinking bigger. Who gets called in when there’s an issue that can’t be solved  internally? Who gets paid the big bucks to advise, research, strategize and plan? Consultants!

You don’t have to call yourself a design consultant, but you do need to think of yourself that way. Why? Well, how about this really, really brief summary of Alan Weiss’ book Million Dollar Consulting.

* Focus on the value you deliver.
* Never count hours or charge by the hour.
* Make a case for what you can deliver. Once you’ve got your client on board, present your “fee” as an given.

According to Weiss, the client will almost always bite.

As always, we welcome your thoughts on this!

 

9 July 2008 at 5:45 pm 1 comment

Press Releases for an Audience of One

When I moved to New York it was to work at a textile company that was in the midst of a major restructuring. I was hired to handle communications and because there was a lot going on at the company and the textile business, at the time, was a very tight community, I was kept plenty busy. For product releases the new owner gave me a lot of leeway, but for any announcement regarding the company–new hires, acquisitions, financial info, new accounts, etc.–the new owner was constantly re-writing usually to insert more of him into the release. 

I tried to explain that what he was adding wasn’t newsworthy, and that it in fact detracted from the purpose and meaning of the release…but he bought the company and he wanted the company news to be about him. Needless to say, very few of those business releases were ever picked up and I soon found myself on the wrong side of my boss!

And since then I’ve dealt with many other small business and their communication efforts and it seems as if most  independent businesses never take full advantage of press releases for two main reasons:

1) They don’t think, as a small business, they have anything to say that would be of interest to a wider audience. (Wrong!)

or…

2) They fall into the “look at me!” trap of promoting themselves without taking into account both the primary (the media) and the secondary (the wider public) audience of the release. (Also wrong!)

Press releases are a highly effective tool for small businesses; after all a good story is a good story, right? And with all the new media outlets eager for copy, photos and info for their webpages, newsletters, blogs, etc., there’s more opportunity than ever for coverage. 

But when you’re planning a release you need to set your ego aside and begin by asking yourself some tough questions. “Why would any media be interested in this? ” “What am I offering/telling/showing that’s different?” “Why would someone be interested in reading more about me or this project/product?” After all, you probably flip though your paper and the many magazines you receive, only stopping to read the items that really capture your interest. What about your release would be able to do that to someone else?

So here’s a test to run on yourself if you think you’re writing a release that’s a bit to “look at me!”

  1. Write the release you want, how you want. Then set it aside and move on to something else. Don’t return to it for a day or more.
  2. After 24-36 hours, re-read your release and ask yourself: “Is this something other people would be interested in? Is this a story that would stop a page-flipper?” 
  3. If the answer is Yes, then move on to part two of this exercise. Replace all the references to you, your services, your products, your projects with those from another business. It could be a competitor or try it with a competitor and a completely different type of company.
  4. Set it aside yet again and wait another day or so.
  5. Now read it again. Is it still compelling now that it’s about someone else? If so…congratulations, it sounds like you’ve got a strong release on your hands. If not, go back to the first set of questions and rewrite it, focusing on what matters to “the real audience”–the media whose attention you’re trying to grab and the readers whom you hope to inform and influence.

Self-run and solo businesses often find it difficult to view their accomplishments in an objective fashion. But like almost everything, your press release skills will improve with practice. It’s worth the time investment to get it right, because the payoff can be fantastic.

8 July 2008 at 4:50 pm Leave a comment

Must-Dos (and Don’ts) for E-Mail Marketing

A couple of my clients have been going through some tough times with their e-mail promotions and their trials and tribulations highlight some of the big dos and don’ts in the e-mail age.

DO:

  1. Use a professional e-mail marketing service
     I can’t stress enough the importance of using an “e-mail house” for your promotions. These services provide easy-to-use templates for announcements, newsletters,  invitations, etc. where you can add your own logo, graphics, and more to create a customized look. But most importantly these companies have “white list” agreements with most of the major internet service providers so that your e-mail is less likely to get bounced as spam or shunted to the recipient’s junk folder. 
     
  2. Pay attention to the subject line
    Oh, you’ve worked hard on your list and you have a great offer, but you send it out with a lame subject line like “Spring Into Savings–All April Long” or “We Have Your Decorating Answers”. What’s wrong with these? They’re written like advertising copy, where the rest of info to support the claim is usually able to be quickly scanned for confirmation. But with an e-mail you only have your subject line to capture attention. When it comes to e-mail marketing, the best subject lines tell what’s inside; they don’t sell what’s inside.
     
  3.  Keep your lists updated
     First, you should have multiple lists. One for vendors, one for previous customers, one for leads, one for press, etc. Then you should also be able to overlap and sort them past on the purpose of the e-mail. Perhaps everyone gets your e-mail newsletter, but only certain customers are notified of a special offer and so on. If an e-mail is returned as undeliverable, you will be notified, but it’s still up to you to check on the reason why. Perhaps it’s a simple typo, or perhaps the company changed it’s e-mail protocol. Don’t assume every undeliverable is no longer any good, a minute of research could save you a valuable contact. On the other hand, be sure to purge your list of addresses you can confirm are no longer valid.
     
  4. Check your stats
     E-mail marketing services allow users to track the performance of an e-mail, showing open rates (25% should be what you’re aiming for) and click-throughs to any web address embedded in the e-mail. Once you’re confident in the quality of your list, it’s not a bad idea to run a few experiments… try different subject lines to different portions of your list on a newsletter to see which pulls the higher returns or try two different versions of a similar sales offer, etc. This way you’ll get a better feel of what your base responds to. 

DON’TS

  1. Get labeled as a spammer
    Most e-mail marketing services require that you have a relationship with a contact prior to adding the name to your list. This is commonly known as permission-based marketing. Obviously the e-mail marketer cannot verify that relationship prior to sending the e-mail, but anyone who receives your e-mail will have the automatic option of reporting it as span and will be immediately unsubscribed from your list. You will not be able to add them to your list again. And is your e-mail receives over a certain percentage of unsubscribe requests, the e-mail marketing service may ban you from the system.
     
  2. Abuse/Overuse your list
    The relatively low cost of e-mail promotions makes it tempting to send a flurry of news, updates, promotions and more to your list. After all, there’s a lot going on in your business they should be aware of, right?  But I’m sure we’ve all been on the other end of endless e-mail campaigns from the catalog we bought from once, or the charity you sponsored your sister’s walkathon team, or whatever. Don’t go from being a must-read to an automatic delete.
     
  3. Forget to make an offer 
    Even a news announcement or a general newsletter should include some type of offer to continue the relationship…“Click here for the rest of the story…” “Check out more photos on our website” etc. Because getting them to open your e-mail is only one part of the process.

Your website hosting agreement may include an e-mail promotional opportunity, or it may be available through them for an upcharge, but my preference here is to go with a specialist. Here’s a list of some of the leaders in this field.

Constant Contact
Topica
Rapid Reach
Bronto
Murgent
Icontact
and newcomer Emma.

7 July 2008 at 5:17 pm Leave a comment

Capturing the Ephemeral

Deb and I recently spoke at NeoCon 2008. Our topic was “Master Class: Lessons from the Design Greats.” We covered Elsie de Wolfe, Dorothy Drapery, Sister Parish, John Fowler, Albert Hadley, Billy Baldwin, David Hicks and there were many more we would have like to included, had time permitted: Michael Taylor, Frances Elkins, Tony Duquette, Syrie Maugham, and the list goes on…

It was fascinating researching all these designers, each of whom we knew something about, but there were so many surprises and inter-connections and similar patterns to how they developed their business; we’re seriously thinking of turning our presentation into a book. But the one thing that stymied us in our research was the lack of images, especially from those designer/decorators working at the beginning of the 20th c. Unlike architecture or sculpture or other fine arts, the art of interior design is especially ephemeral, with classic works “revised”, “updated”, “freshened” or otherwise modified based on changing tastes, changes in owner or changes in life circumstances. 

Which brings us to today’s design focus (not on a Friday, but I cut out early over the holiday weekend!) Jeremiah Goodman carries on a European tradition by artists such as Alexandre Serebriakoff and Mario Praz, both of whom painted portraits of illustrious interiors; famed for either their own sake or their owner’s sake! Goodman, age 85, was born the son of a butcher in Niagra Falls, NY, and got his start illustrating advertising and promotional materials for Lord & Taylor after the Second World War.

Not only did he have artistic talents, he had  the ability to make acquaintances easily and soon was on friendly terms John Gielgud, Richard Rodgers, Elsa Peretti, Alex Liberman and others. Within the space of a few years he was sketching Tony Duquette’s living room (before the fire), Gianni Angnelli’s office, Billy Baldwin’s centennial installtion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Betsy Bloomingdale’s salon and thousands of other rooms that are lost to history.

Powerhouse Books published a monograph on Goodman last year titled Jeremiah: A Romantic Vision that collects over 100 of these iconic interiors. It’s well worth the price at Amazon, as it’s too new to find second hand yet. Oh! and Jeremiah was also the illustrator of choice for covers of Interior Design magazine from 1952-1967…so starting looking for vintage copies of those!

 

“Diana Vreeland, Living Room” aka Garden in Hell by Jeremiah Goodman

Apartment foyer of Baron Jay de Leval, Mexico City, 1978

 

 

 

 

Apartment foyer of Baron Jay de Leval, Mexico City, 1978[/wp_caption] 

 

 

Living Room of Cecil Beaton, Redditch House, Broadchalice, Wiltshire, England, 2005

Living Room of Cecil Beaton, Redditch House, Broadchalice, Wiltshire, England, 2005

 

 

Living Room of Elsa Schiaparelli, Paris, 2002

Living Room of Elsa Schiaparelli, Paris, 2002

 

For more on Jeremiah Goodman, check out these posts on The Peak of Chic and Interior Design.

6 July 2008 at 4:20 pm Leave a comment

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