In January I had the pleasure of serving as moderator for the 13th annual IIDA Industry Roundtable. During the two-day event at the IIDA headquarters in Chicago, the discussion among the IIDA board of directors, members of the IIDA college of fellows, and representatives of major manufacturers focused on the changing business landscape between manufacturers and design professionals, and emphasized the importance of knowledge exchange between these two groups. In particular, economic conditions, social media, and client dynamics were identified as key trends driving change in the relationship between designers and suppliers of commercial furnishings and finishes, resulting in new business models that are anything but “business as usual." (Read the full report)
Among the key questions posed in the session:
• What are the new business best practices?
• How is the profile of the A&D community
changing, and what will be its impact?
• How has product specification changed?
• How has the virtual world changed
In some cases, the discussion offered answers; in others, it raised questions. The recently released findings of the roundtable, compiled by Jeanne Fisher, IIDA senior director, communications and marketing, are summarized below.
Allen Parker, Industry IIDA, Kimball Office Furniture, kicked off the meeting with some observations about past recessions giving rise to innovative and enduring organizations that have had the ability to capitalize on economic change, thus setting the tone that times rife with hardship are also rife with opportunity.
Compressed schedules and reduced talent pools at design firms are requiring principals to reevaluate how they deliver design services, while clients are reevaluating internal processes, which requires interior designers to consider new ways to create space. Moreover, design firms of all types are rethinking their approach to marketing in order to find work. Firms that can offer innovation, promote the value of real estate, and communicate the link between real estate assets and interiors will be well-positioned to take advantage of the economic recovery.
Forum attendees see evidence that as clients better understand their own workforce and new work processes, they also are understanding that design can be an innovation tool that can impact their business models, and importantly, how design firms can drive this process. Design matters more than ever in a cost-driven economy. The challenge for the interior design community to communicate that function is at the core of good, innovative design, and aesthetics follow.
The design community, like most business sectors, has experienced widespread workforce reductions, resulting in changing roles for those remaining. Forum attendees noted that many design firms have made difficult decisions to let go of principals and higher-salaried designers, in favor of keeping workers who bring more value, including those with significant project management experience and those well versed in technology. Senior designers and even principals have been required to dive into the design process more; in many cases, management level employees are managing design processes more than they are managing people. And business development has become the new responsibility of a growing percentage of staff.
The manufacturers in attendance gained insight into what is driving product specification today. As design firms with tighter time constraints and fewer staff are deluged with product information, manufacturers must be careful to manage sales and marketing relationships more carefully. This is crucial, as designers acknowledge that relationships with manufacturers’ sales representatives and dealers often are more important than the products themselves.
Designers look to manufacturers—particularly their reps on the front line—to know their products inside and out; understand the business of the firms they call on and the market sectors these firms serve; help manage designers’ time by offering information and solutions; help educate young designers and resource librarians around the vast array of available products; collaborate on custom product solutions; and offer outstanding customer service. Designers least appreciate when manufacturers approach their clients directly, thereby eroding the designer’s role in the specification process.
And everything, from design firms’ best business and design practices to the way manufacturers market and sample their products and manage customer relationships is subject to ongoing evolution as a result of virtuality. E-mail campaigns, blogs, Web sites, social media all are being employed by manufacturers in their quest to market their products to designers. And though design firms, and particularly younger staffers, increasingly are resorting to online resources as their first platform for product information, the industry by and large remains committed to the personal relationship as the primary sales and marketing tool.