Top questions for closet designers
Designers Joyce Hardison, Native Oak; Sue Tinker, Closet Works and Wendy Scott, US LBM, Closet Division
Designers Joyce Hardison, Native Oak; Sue Tinker, Closet Works and Wendy Scott, US LBM, Closet Division
Designers are a vital part of any closet design firm. There is no business without their creative insights and approach. But those creative efforts also have to be balanced against the needs of the firm to ensure profitability and success. 
Designers Wendy Scott, Direct Cabinet Sales, US LBM, Closet Division,  Joyce Hardison, Native Oak, and Sue Tinker, Closet Works recently shared their thoughts on a variety of issues arising in the day-to-day operations of a closets firm. All three were participants on the “Designer Dialogue” panel during the 2018 Cabinets & Closets Conference. 
Where does pricing loyalty lie?  
Scott: My price loyalty goes with my client. I try to create trust by showing them the best pricing options. Rather than push their limits and up-sale, I try to beat their budget or stay within. 
Tinker: The loyalty for me lies with both the client and the company. I want my clients to get a fair price and am considerate of their budget. I also know that the company needs to make money to stay in business. 
Hardison: As a former business owner I understand the dynamics of pricing and margins so my first loyalty is always to the company.  With that in mind, if getting a job depends on a bit of a discount I am willing to look at that option. 
Do you work with a CAD department or design your own projects?
Scott: I do all my own designs. 
Tinker: I am fortunate to have a CAD department to draw and price my designs.  
Hardison: I design my projects on my own CAD program and submit to the shop.  There are times when much detail is needed in a cabinet design so I will draw the project in large scale and our cabinetmaker will fine-tune it and transfer to the CNC machine.
Do you prequalify your clients?  
Scott: Not officially. But, when we schedule our initial appointment we try to get as much information as possible. 
Tinker: Most of my clients are repeats or referrals or come through professional partners.  I address the pricing up front if they do.
Hardison: I am fortunate to have many referrals and repeat clients so there is very little prequalification.  When I took company leads I would ask a few questions in my initial phone call that would let me know if we were able to provide what they were looking for and if their expectations were in line with their budget. However, most clients don’t have any idea of a custom closet/cabinet cost so it’s difficult to get a budget from them in the initial phone call and further prequalification comes when we meet.
How do you manage your time?
Scott: Make lists every day!
Tinker: I make every effort to submit the plans for a project to CAD the same day I meet the customer.  I also take a lot of notes in case I don’t remember what we discussed.  Because there is a several day lead time in CAD department, this is the only way to stay caught up.
Hardison: When scheduling an initial appointment, I try to allow enough time to comfortably allow my new client to talk about their goals and then I explain to them “how I work” and what the process will be.  So everyone is on the same page.
When do you walk away from a project?
Scott: When it becomes evident that a client is price shopping and using unrealistic comparisons to get your price down. I have also walked away from projects that appear to be a waste of money for the client... “can I build it, sure, but it is probably not the best solution for your project.” 
Tinker: When I know that the client will not be happy with the end result or that it will be problematic to manufacture or install.  I always hate to say no, but sometimes it’s the best way to go.
Hardison: I will walk away when a client has unrealistic expectations and it is obvious that going further will not be productive for either of us. 
Pros and cons of minimums
Scott: A pro is that sometimes the smallest of projects create the largest of headaches. If you aren’t able to piggyback a small project on top of another you often lose money on the job. A con, when a client calls for four spaces then decides to do just one or one at a time, they feel misled when told it can’t happen. This creates a feeling of mistrust. It’s also a level of discomfort when talking about minimums.
Tinker: I’ve had some really large jobs come from very small initial projects.  I don’t turn anything down.  Usually, the customer is more worried about a “small” job than I am.
Hardison: Pros - Will save a designer as well as installers time and expense from going to a lead or location that may not be profitable. Cons - Client may have a small job now but larger projects for the future. If there is a minimum, they will call another company for the small job.
Client tracking versus micromanagement 
Scott: We send in a weekly sales report. It empowers us to track and see an ongoing list of what was sold, pending and a year-to-date total. Each proposal is given a rating as to the probability of sale, as well as when the project is needed by. 
Tinker: We have a system in our database to keep track of the status of projects.  This helps with follow up and if someone else needs to know where the project is at.
Hardison: We do both ways, depending on the project.  There are some highly detailed projects when micromanaging is necessary in order to assure that all details are handled correctly by the shop and installation team.  However, small or easy projects are handled by client follow up.
Does your company have safety protocols for site visits?
Scott: No. Our safety officer is only in charge of the building and shop. Nobody monitors the designers. 
Tinker: Don’t go in if it doesn’t feel safe.  
Hardison: Every company I have worked for has told designers to use their own judgment as to whether or not to enter a client’s home.  When I was a sales manager it was very important to me to relay this to the designers.  Use your gut - don’t ever put yourself in an uncomfortable situation.
How do you use social media and do you promote your business account or personal design account?
Scott: I use my personal accounts for Houzz, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook. I make sure to tag or credit my company so they get added exposure. 
Tinker: I plan to use social media more now that I’ve relocated and am basically starting over.  I didn’t have time before.  I am going to take before photos and post with the after photos.  I think it’s fun to see the transformation that happens with a good design and high-quality product.
Hardison: The only social media I use is Instagram where I post project photos occasionally. At this point, I am as busy as I want to be so I don’t do much promotion, but I would encourage all new and existing designers to put yourself out there and 

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About the author
Michaelle Bradford | Editor

Michaelle Bradford, CCI Media, is Editor of Closets & Organized Storage magazine and Woodworking Network editor. She has more than 20 years of experience covering the woodworking and design industry, including visits to custom cabinet shops, closet firms and design studios throughout North America. As Editor of Closets & Organized Storage magazine under the Woodworking Network brand, Michaelle’s responsibilities include writing, editing, and coordinating editorial content as well as managing annual design competitions like the Top Shelf Design Awards. She is also a contributor to FDMC and other Woodworking Network online and print media owned by CCI Media.