At the end of 2014, I decided to close my design business. I felt that maybe I had nothing more to say, that after over 25 years I was not in tune with what was happening in the design industry – so much had changed over the years in the process of how we deal with clients.
I was offered a position with an interior design firm based in San Francisco, a newly created job title that looked to be perfect for me and what I had to bring to the table from my years of experience. I was not hired as a designer, but more on the business end: prospecting, bringing in new clients, marketing, handling social media. As a real people person, I knew I could nail this job: networking, being the “face” of the company and selling it … after all, this was a big aspect of what had made me successful all those years.
From the beginning, the designers approach was not to interact with potential new clients, but have me sign them, collect the retainer, note the clients needs and bring that info to the team. Then the design team would start the process: determining a worksheet of needs, coming up with a concept design, sourcing … but all of this without ever actually having met the new client or been to the job site. And from there, it was to be handled all by email, texts, video conferencing and linking the client to sites, such as Pinterest, where they could view the sourced furnishings, and make notes.
At first it seemed to me a novel idea, very forward thinking and almost cutting edge in it’s modernness! I signed four new clients in a matter of months and the design firm was thrilled.
But, it didn’t take long before things began to unwind … the new clients were unhappy. They felt they weren’t being heard – “Why couldn’t they actually talk in person to the designers?” Miscommunication became a huge issue, over-designing ran rampant … and it’s not hard to understand how that happened. Personal interaction had disappeared from the process.
I started to get frustrated as well. I had sold our company as being unique and cutting edge, and yet now I was having to defend … and it wasn’t easy to do.
Clients started to leave us.
At a team meeting to discuss this issue, I suggested an actual “in person” meeting … face to face. How about suggesting a night to come to the job site with pizza, sit down and TALK, see how they react to concepts and ideas … watch the subtle movement of their eyes and follow their body language to understand what was working for them and what was confusing?
And the design team said to me “Wow, that’s so old school!” Later on, when a client requested that they needed just one room spelled out in a way they could follow: what furniture, what paint colors, pricing, time line … I heard ” Oh, that’s the way it used to be done.”
Needless to say, that fabulous new job at the start of last year didn’t work out. Now, in the beginning of 2016 – I am resurrecting my interior design business. I’ve learned something very important, I guess one of those life lessons you don’t think you need to learn until you do.
I’M DOIN’ IT OLD SCHOOL!
Interacting face to face with clients. Seeing how they live, entertain, their family interaction. Coming to them with actual fabrics, samples and materials that they can see and touch. We are a tactile people, not everything can be experienced virtually. I want to see their reactions, gauge their responses in person – let them know I am listening and that I get it.
It’s going to be an exciting year for the new and improved Steven Edward Wallace Design. Now I see that I still have something to contribute, that one on one connections still count for a lot, especially in a business as personal and creative as interior design.
So, in 2016, here’s to remembering what still works: personal relationships and never forgetting that often “old school” can be very modern!