Showroom Seminar: Design Services
May 2nd, 2008

May-June 2008

By Kathleen Furore

Listellos and murals. Glazed and unglazed. Glass, metal and stone.

There’s no denying today’s myriad tile options have opened a world of style for customers designing from scratch or remodeling their homes. But those options also have complicated the selection process, creating a growing and lucrative market for tile design services.

“Many tile customers are looking for something special, a feature or focal point that will make their tile installation unique,” says Colleen Crawley, Installation Designer for Motawi Tileworks of Ann Arbor, Mich., where siblings Karim and Nawal Motawi and their staff of artisans have been crafting decorative tiles since opening their studio and showroom in 1992. “However, for quite a few of these same customers, design considerations such as color and balance, and making decisions about combining materials and selecting finishes put them out of their comfort zone.”

Unfortunately, once customers have left that zone they’ll likely leave your store, too—unless you can steer them back to a place that restores their confidence about the ability to choose the right tile.

“It is important for dealers to offer some sort of a design service because tile can be a complicated product category, which is difficult to change once it is installed,” Carol Huso, owner of Carol Huso Interiors in Mahtomedi, Minn. and a student member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), says.

When a kitchen backsplash, foyer floor or shower stall enhances a home because it has been conceived and installed in a way that uses the elements and principles of design, it is more likely to be successful. “That could enhance the reputation and business of the tile dealer,” Huso adds.

Echoes Crawley: “It is certainly an advantage for showrooms and tile dealers to provide some sort of design service. They [customers] look to the ‘experts’ to steer them in the right direction.”

Offering design assistance is especially important in today’s tight home market. “We are seeing a large number of customers who are remodeling existing homes rather than selling and buying new,” Crawley continues. “While some choose to work with an interior designer or architect, many of them are going it alone. They may walk in with images from magazines or catalogs that speak to them, but due to differences between their own home and the spaces featured in the pictures, they have trouble making the connection. They want to know, ‘How can my kitchen, with this layout and these dimensions, look like that picture?’ This is an opportunity for a staff designer to provide a huge service to customers.”

Structuring Services
There are several ways dealers can provide design services to their tile customers. The specific structure of those services and fees will depend on the design talents of your sales staff and your ability to hire a design professional. Options include offering free consultations, charging for a set range of time, or providing services on an hourly basis.

Free Consultations. Huso recommends that dealers offer one introductory design consultation free of charge so customers have a professional framework for deciding the kind of tile to choose.

“The [customer’s] inability to make a decision could otherwise inhibit or, at the very least, postpone a sale,” Huso notes. “This initial consultation could provide color, texture, and size/shape direction, with ideas for creating a room focal point, if one is needed in the space.”

Motawi Tileworks follows that formula. According to Crawley, the company’s free consultation is “absolutely the most popular assistance we provide, and almost all of our installation customers take advantage of this service.”
The initial discussion between the client and Crawley (currently the only full-time designer on staff) can happen in-store, or by telephone, fax or even email. “At this point, some people will choose to do it themselves or will take my comments and suggestions to their own design professional,” Crawley explains. “In a few cases, such as very simple or straight forward projects, the free consultation may be all that is required.”

The Motawi designer says her customers most often ask for advice about glazes, wanting to see a range of glaze samples which can vary significantly in shade, hue and surface quality. Tile size is another popular item for discussion.

“Our customers are often surprised by the size variations available in our line, and also by the fact that there is virtually no cost increase between a square foot of 3×3 tiles and the same amount of 6×6 or 8×8 tile. They discover that there are many more possibilities for their project than they had imagined,” she reports.

Set Fee Structure. An extension of free design consultation, a set fee for a specified amount of time, is another idea. Crawley says the majority of Motawi Tileworks’ customers she has worked with are willing to pay the set $300 fee the company charges for up to five hours of additional design services. This option, she notes, gives customers the opportunity to see multiple design options and resolve any questions they still have after their initial consult. “A small number of clients request a site visit, generally only for local, complex projects, and rarely has our service exceeded the initial $300 fee,” she reports.

Per Hour Pricing. Huso notes that many designers work with clients on an hourly basis when projects grow in scope beyond what a free or set-price consultation can solve. Motawi Tileworks, for example, charges $60 per hour. But it is an option few customers choose, Crawley says.

Whatever your fee structure, consider providing what Huso calls “visualization tools for the client”—perspective line drawings enhanced with Photoshop images. “These visualization tools, otherwise known as renderings, can reduce the client’s anxiety over the decision-making, ordering, and installation process, and potentially encourage the client to add to the tile order, which further benefits the tile dealer,” she notes.

Finding a Design Pro
If you want to offer design services, but can’t afford to staff a full-time professional, there are options to consider, industry experts say.

Turn to the manufacturers of the tiles you sell. Motawi Tileworks, for example, lets dealers and showrooms that represent the company utilize Motawi’s design services, passing Motawi’s fees on to their customers.
Hire at least one sales representative with a background in interior design. “It is not unusual, especially for high-end product lines,” Crawley notes.

Work with local designers on a contract basis. According to Huso, there are many designers willing to work on limited-scope projects on an hourly, contract basis. This makes design assistance accessible to all types of tile dealers. “They should develop a list in collaboration with their local ASID chapter of designers, and share this list with their customers,” she suggests. “Tile dealers could also join their local ASID chapter as an Industry Partner, which would greatly facilitate their knowledge of and visibility in the local design community.”

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