Mary Jo Martin asks interior designers and lighting showrooms to speak frankly about the positive aspects of the lighting showroom and interior designer partnership, along with advice on how to create better synergy between them.
Lighting Innovation, San Clemente, California
From a 3×5 index card, a career was born. Judy Ziccardi saw a posting at her high school for a “part-time chandelier cleaning girl” at a local lighting showroom and thought it sounded interesting. She fell in love with lighting and the rest is history. Today she remains passionate about staying educated on all aspects of lighting so that she can be the best resource for designers in her area.
Help the Design Community
“There are so many differences in the types of lighting, energy sources, temperatures…designers aren’t always up to date on all of those factors,” she comments. “We host regular CEU courses to help them, but we’ve found they often prefer to rely on us for the technical knowledge. Continuing education is strongly needed by designers. I even go to design schools and give free classes on life in the ‘real’ design world. It boils down to right- and left-brained people. Designers are very right-brained and creative, but not typically in tune with the technical side of a project. The staff at showrooms like ours are used to working from both sides of our brains because we also understand design and construction.
“I try to teach new designers that lighting is more than what a fixture looks like; it has to be able to work in that application. Sometimes they see a sconce they think is perfect, but haven’t considered what it might look like in that particular space from all directions — or what’s involved in the installation. It’s important that showrooms like ours ask more questions than you might think necessary so we can properly advise designers on the right lighting selections. If we don’t gather this information, they may encounter unexpected problems after the product has been delivered.”
Ziccardi advises designers work with a showroom to make appropriate selections, and then tells them to “flat out, stay off the internet! Second-guessing your selections is a huge time-waster, and designers can sometimes be their own worst enemy. If they say they want a teal pendant, a showroom will use its expertise and resources to give them four ideal teal pendant choices. We isolate what it is they want and strictly show them choices that meet the parameters of their project. But then the designer will go online all night, looking at more teal pendants. When they get too many choices, they’ll never make a decision!”
Almost daily, Ziccardi encounters designers who are unprepared for the lighting needs of their projects. “The first thing I ask when a designer tells me they need an entry chandelier is the ceiling height. All too often, they simply say ‘tall.’ That doesn’t help. It makes a showroom’s job much more difficult when designers haven’t spec’d the details we need to make their vision come true. Instead, many rely on the showrooms to help fulfill their dreams. Showrooms need to be more brave when having this discussion. All too often, we’re afraid of upsetting a potential client.”
Ziccardi does grassroots marketing to keep her firm top of mind with the architectural community. She arranges meetings with architects and builders, and spends time working with all of the partners in a construction project to ensure it runs smoothly. This has led to a change in the way she handles pricing.
Don’t be Shy About Charging
“There was a time when professional interior designers respected other people’s time, were fully committed to working on a project with a showroom, and then submitted a purchase order. Now things are all over the board. Some designers are trying to communicate what they want on a job when they’ve got 10 minutes in the car. It was becoming frustrating that designers would pick my brain to use my knowledge, but then buy the product online from a mass e-tailer who offers very little — if any — service. They’re expecting others to do the work for them.
“When I work with designers, I put together full-blown spread sheets on every aspect of the project from budget and aesthetic to colors. It’s a lot of information, so I’ve had to begin charging for my time just like designers charge their clients for their time. And until I have a deposit, I don’t give them full access to the information I’ve gathered. I hold back until I see they are serious by making a financial commitment. If a designer is a referral to me, I’ll often waive that fee, but if it’s a new client with no connections, I always charge for my time. My level of experience has value.”
The Price Conundrum
“Designers don’t seem to understand that retail pricing doesn’t exist in lighting anymore,” Ziccardi observes. “There was a time when we had a retail price sheet with a three-time mark up. We’d give designers a 50-percent discount — which was 33-percent gross margin. Then some designers started going direct with manufacturers. That’s a dangerous place for manufacturers to be. If they keep opening all of these individual accounts, they might have an occasional rep who will do a lot of business with them, but there will be plenty of others who will just do an occasional job. That leaves the manufacturer with thousands of designers on their books instead of a handful of showrooms. It’s a difficult situation to manage, and it isn’t likely manufacturers will be able to provide customized service for each of those designers. This situation has led us to pull some lines off of our shelves and only use them when specifically requested.
“Now with the internet and virtually unlimited access to information, designers can go online and see prices on various sites. They think they’re seeing retail pricing, but it’s not — it’s ‘market value.’ So they think we should be able to offer them a 50-percent discount on market value prices, but that’s impossible because that’s less than our cost. We have to charge not only for our cost, but for our service in order to stay in business. To be quite succinct, retail was murdered and the internet killed it.”