“The retail apocalypse that everyone has been talking about really hasn’t happened.”

Eric Rosenthal, Senior Director of Leveraged Finance at FR

So what about the design industry?  People might have you think the internet is holding us hostage or something far worse- we are just propping up a dying business model.

But is it so? Not in my world and does not have to be in yours either.

Here is truth bomb #1


Independent designers and design firms have the best opportunities they have ever had to work closely with vendors and be their savior. Really-

Think of it like their own line of “sales”  people cultivating their brand, influencing their clients and their peers– (uh- have you ever seen the triple FFF -facebook forum frenzy– after a vendor has done someone wrong?)

But salespeople? You got it. And please do not stand up and declare you are so not a salesperson as you only do design- every single one of us is in sales in some way or the other.   And right about now you can cue the cavalry riding in to save the day for manufacturers and brands who have the smarts to realize that the answer is beneath their collective noses should they care to get off their tookus and look.

Truth Bomb #2

Consumers want connections and all the feels- and brands need the design industry to help be their bridge to reach consumers

2019 and going forward consumers want connections-among other things- But the experience we all have heard about- something we have been doing for several years in our retail shop and with our clients- creating connections is the ticket and brands are beginning to figure it out too and who better to forge these alliances between brands and consumers but the ever talented and loyal design community? Far far less expensive and less of a logistical nightmare than some of these brands taking to a direct consumer platform. Some may try it but I do not predict great success.

Truth Bomb #3

Of course this does not mean that every vendor will be begging you to buy at wholesale any more than they do now- you have to pay to play—the time is ripe NOW for these conversations to take place. But you as a designer have to be willing to belly up the bar too- no free lunch.

To work with vendors to get the best pricing expect to:

  1. Invest in the line with  $$ – you got to get their attention ok?
  2. Know your area- who carries what lines? What lines are not represented? THAT is who you go to and say hey dude- I am going to be your new best friend. Don’t go after the big boys if you cannot make the $ happen and if “ABC Furniture is Us in a Room to Go” is your next door neighbor- and they sell the lines you want- it probably won’t happen.
  3. Work with smaller lines- custom lines but very hands on and reactive to your needs- we love Kristin Drohan Collection.
  4. Invest in the line with learning the products better than anyone at the company. Yes, seriously. 
  5. Consolidate your eggs into fewer baskets. Got to make the vendor know who you are!
  6. Understand- and I mean really understand freight issues and how to work this angle.
  7. Open your own studio or retail shop to have a place to show the line the best, have some inventory and develop your own brand loyalty and consumer experience. But, many designers are making it happen without a shop too.
  8. Hire help. You cannot do this alone for long.
  9. Be prepared to work with your own clients to fund the whole deal until retail takes on more revenue share. This is the easy part and is a form of diversification already.
  10. If you do not have the capital, work with others who do.

Truth Bomb #4

If you are doing it right- it does not matter what the hell any internet people are doing.

Who gives a crap? Amazon? The 800 ton gorilla in everyone’s backyard? Great for the chores of shopping- but people still want the personal experience for shopping for plenty of products and services and you can indeed be competitive when you are buying at the best pricing with a vendor. Trust me I know this for a fact. And there is a real backlash against Amazon growing every day – but who really cares? Not my concern and should not be yours either.

Truth Bomb #5

( and this needs to be pasted on your mirror)

Get out of your lane and change the game!

But you have to be ready, willing and able to make a commitment and selling product on the level I am talking about is not for everyone- I would not even bother if I was a solo practitioner at my stage of the game or as a complete newbie and I get that truth for many- so you have to be willing to scale your firm to new levels to see the results of these efforts.

Truth Bomb #6

To grow a business you cannot survive on fees alone.

You may already be the darling of a few vendors and working it like a champ or perfectly content with fees and charging for your experience and knowledge- that is all good and I maintain there will always be a work for those who know what they are doing-but there are more of you out there who CAN do this and grow than there are those who can not.

Truth Bomb #7

There  is NOTHING like having control over your products for the love of pete.

It makes me nauseated to even THINK about Suzy Q down the street ordering my custom 10k sectional for a client- no no and more no. And sourcing items for design clients via Pottery Barn?? Are ya kidding me? You are doing your client no “budget” favors as the cost in relation to value is – ugh.

This IS part of the client or customer experience make no mistake- when you can control the service, freight and delivery end- you are in the drivers seat for a good installation and making your client happy to have a seamless operation and this is part of the service.  If the client wants to do it themselves- I say let them. I am pretty sure my clients get how hard we work for them. 

Truth Bomb #8

The future is about collaboration, customization and a customer centric business model. You don’t like dealing with people? Then this is your year to bow out and look for new revenue streams.

And guess who is leading new retail start ups? 61% female- According the National Federation of Retailers- women are leading the reinvention of retail. Ya babeee!

Truth Bomb #9

Consumers are not shopping for a “thing” they are shopping for how they want to feel. Understand this and you win. Pass go and collect all the money.

Small businesses can tell a unique, personal story that bigger retailers simply cannot without far more work and agility- and people want the human connection more than the media wants you to believe- now so more than ever.

Truth Bomb #10

It is a brave new world but don’t buy into the sky is falling rhetoric- it has NEVER been a better time to time to own a small business- retail or otherwise. 

And what IS this talk of retail being dead???

Someone needs to stop the cacophony of a retail apocalypse- yes sure there are major retail dinosaurs I mean stores closing- but is it because the sky is falling or is because they committed the the most horrible of sins-

They got complacent?

Well yes Virginia it very well could be a day late and a bit short on the insight into consumer behavior, the big data on wants and needs- and of course the thick and sticky as peanut butter corporate mindsets of “strategies”- that are clearly “stuck” in a 1990’s time warp in many cases- but the brands who are closing under performing stores are trying to catch up to the idea of yes- it is important to be relevant, on top of consumer behavior and keep some of your pennies in the jar rather than explosive growth without justifying the market share.

It is quite the walk down memory lane with some of these companies- places I loved as a teenager like the Gap, boutiques I frequented as a young mom so often they mistook me for an employee like Gymboree, others like Sears and JC Penney who have tried to keep up with the times but are so mired in the old school they cannot seem to get a leg up and the myriad of other retailers who are a little lost and trying to navigate the new and sometimes treacherous waters of consumer satisfaction and most just missed the bus- hell not hard to see it when you walk into a store that looks the exact same as you remember it from 1995!

The footprints of new retail stores might be smaller- and that is ok.

All the better for comfortable interactions and less overhead and inventory- and the days of needing to be on the main drag? Not an issue for the smart business owner- because today it is not sufficient to wait on the customers to arrive to YOU- you have to go out and get them. Metaphorically- but the idea is to make your location a non issue because you will drive your own traffic- with events, shows, wine tastings, unique features of your own place and what you are all about.

But you have to be smart, keep your ear to the ground, strategize on your own best unique selling points and hey diversifying revenue  is always a good thing too-  whatever  it  takes.

Need funding? Check out the SBA!

6 Advantages of SBA Loans Every Small Business Owner Should Know

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