If you’re an interior designer, you probably learned early in your career that the design process is much more involved than most people think. It starts with an initial concept, long before you even have the materials, furniture, and accessories to transform a space. What some clients don’t realize is that all of those items are ordered by an interior designer who has the skills and knowledge to accurately specify them. The design purchasing process can be overwhelming and time-consuming, especially if you are new to navigating the purchasing side of the business. However, with the right tips and tools, you can ensure that the interior design purchasing process runs smoothly and efficiently from start to finish.
Design Purchasing Prep
It’s a good practice to do a little prep and research on your own to finalize your selections before you reach out for a formal quote. This will save you time in the long run, and empower you with confidence to make the best decisions for your clients.
Start with Specification
As you’ve probably learned from your own experience as a designer, most finishes and furnishings require detailed specification that goes beyond choosing a color and size. Companies and manufacturers usually provide a list of specifications from which to select when placing an order. These may include elements such as:
- Finish (for tile, veneers, and other finishes)
- Handing (for appliances and potentially anything with a door)
- Type/Location of Power Unit (for benching)
- Adjustability (for task chairs)
- Locking Mechanism (for hardware)
- Color Temperature/Color Rendering Index/Wattage/Dimmability (for lighting)
It’s especially likely that you will need to provide these detailed specifications if you are working on commercial design projects. For example, when specifying benching for a corporate office, you select the color and size, but you may also need to determine the type and location of power units, height adjustability, hardware color and style, type of ganging, and more.
Make Initial Selections
It’s recommended to prepare specifications before requesting a formal quote. It will spare you and the sales representative with whom you are working from having to make several revisions that could lead to inaccuracy and error on the final quote. Do your research carefully, consider your client’s specific needs, and compare specifications for quality across different brands.
Order and Check Samples
When you’ve made some initial selections, be sure to order samples of any finishes and materials on the product. Checking a sample before ordering helps to eliminate the possibility of an unwelcome surprise upon delivery.
Seek Additional Support
However, if you still find that you need a little help with specifications, don’t hesitate to reach out to your local sales representative! They are equipped with the skills and expertise to help you make the best selections, and most are happy to work with you to provide input and share their knowledge.
4DBiz also offers access to the Member Benefits Directory and help from product specialists. Register to become a member today so that you can order samples each month, streamline the payment process, and receive discounts through wholesale and trade accounts.
Open a Trade Account
The best part about purchasing as an interior designer? The discounts! Most furniture and finish companies offer discounts to professionals in the trade, ranging from 10 to 60% off the retail price.
Discounts are a useful tool of the trade to help you earn an additional profit for your business. You can mark up the cost of the discounted items when you sell them to your client, allowing you to make money for each piece of furniture that you sell. And when you’re furnishing an entire project site, those profits can add up quickly!
The only requirements are that you complete a trade account. If you have a seller’s permit, you may also send a resale certificate with your application so that you can make purchases with sales tax exemption.
When you fill out an application, be prepared to provide the following information and answer these questions:
- Basic company information: Name, address, years in business
- Preferred payment method: Will you keep a credit card on file?* If the company sends invoices to collect payment, do you need net 10, 15, 30, or 60 terms?
*It’s a good idea to clarify if there is a fee to use a credit card; some companies charge between 3.5-5% of the order total.
- Default shipping location: Will orders typically be received at your office? Does the shipping location have a forklift, lift gate, and pallet jack on site? Do you have a preferred carrier?
- Trade references: Most companies request that you list other references who have done business with you. Your references should be able to vouch for you and your ability to make payments on time.
Request a Formal Quote
Once you’ve selected specifications and opened a trade account, you’re ready to request a formal quote.
Who to Contact
Sales representatives from the manufacturer are a direct line to the product source. They are typically quite knowledgeable about the product they represent and can be very helpful in answering questions about the product. Some manufacturers allow you to purchase the product directly, but more often than not, they will require you to purchase through a dealer or distributor.
Distributors purchase the product directly from the manufacturer, usually at a wholesale rate. They sell to dealers, who work directly with the public. When you purchase from dealers and distributors, you can most likely expect to receive a trade discount. However, keep in mind that the cost of the products will be more than if you had purchased directly from the manufacturer. Dealers and distributors include a markup in their pricing.
What to Provide
You will save a lot of back and forth time if you anticipate and provide the information needed to generate a quote when you first reach out. It’s also a good idea to gather as much information as you can, too. Make sure to cover these points in your request:
- Project Name
- Quantities Needed (square footage, yardage, number of sets, etc.)
- Shipping address
- Delivery and installation information: are there stairs? Do you need a certificate of insurance for the delivery?
- Inquire about lead time and shipping/delivery/installation costs up front
Bill the Client for Design Purchases
Once you have a quote, the next step is to bill the client. It’s important to receive payment from the client before you place the order, as most companies require at least a partial deposit to send the order into production. Typical markup for clients can range from 10 to 45%.
Consider what discount you were offered with your trade account, and then mark it up for the client accordingly. For example, let’s say you open a trade account and receive a 50% discount on a lounge chair. The list price, or suggested retail price, of the chair is $1000. This means that the net price – your price after the discount – is $500. You can then mark up the product by whatever percentage you feel is appropriate. A 40% markup on $500 is an additional $200. This means that you just earned $200 in profits by ordering this chair for your client.
Complete the Purchase
You’ve gathered your specifications and formal quote, and you’ve received payment from the client. Now you are ready to efficiently complete your purchase. While making a purchase certainly isn’t rocket science, there are a few extra steps to take when placing an order professionally.
Send a Purchase Order
Companies expect to receive a purchase order to start the process. A purchase order can be compared to an online shopping cart. It typically lists each item that you are purchasing in detail, including specifications, quantities, and price. Purchase orders can easily be generated using software such as Quickbooks, Coupa Procurement, or Xero.
Be sure to double check your purchase orders before sending them! Useful tip: Keep your purchase orders with copies of the product cut sheets and highlighted specifications. It helps to keep a record of what was selected. Then you can always return to it later for quick reference. It’s a good idea to check your purchase orders against the specifications with a fresh set of eyes to ensure that you are not overlooking any important information.
Check with your sales rep to find out where to send purchase orders. You can often email them to the rep directly, who will enter the order for you. However, some companies have a special email address or fax number that is specifically designated for orders.
If you’d like to avoid some of the hassle of navigating the purchasing world, consider becoming a 4Dbiz member. You will earn access to an extensive directory that enables you to find information for products, such as lead time and cost, in real time. You can also enlist the help of a product specialist, who will save you time by placing and tracking orders for you.
After you send in your purchase order, you will most likely need to either pay in full or make a deposit to get the ball rolling for production. Some companies do send invoices after the order has been placed, but it is essential that you clarify this when placing the order.
Be sure to ask about accepted payment methods. Companies almost always accept checks or wire transfers. Most companies accept credit cards, too, but they may charge a fee between 3.5 and 5%. If this is your preferred payment method, you can request a credit card authorization form. Fill it out, email or fax it back, and make sure you receive a confirmation that it was received.
Some purchases, especially custom and upholstered pieces, require drawing or finish approval before they can be sent to production. If an approval is required for your order, expect to receive a drawing of the custom product with detailed dimensions, or a physical sample of the selected finishes in the mail. Check the drawing/finish against the specification, sign if required, and send it back to the rep or orders team.
Design Purchasing Follow-Up
Hooray, you’ve placed the order! However, remember that the order is not complete until it’s installed at your project site and the client is satisfied with it. There are a few more moving parts and pieces to track as the order moves from production to the installers to the project site.
Purchase Tracking, Delivery & Installation
Tracking might just be the most vital step of the entire design purchasing process. After all, it doesn’t matter that you placed an order if it never arrives! Stay on top of tracking by creating an Excel spreadsheet that details important information you’ll need to know throughout the process. Here are some suggestions for what to include:
- Product model number
- Purchase order number
- Order number
- Order date
- Payment method
- Shipping costs: were they included? Were they billed to the client?
- Order status: estimated time of arrival, any outstanding parts and pieces
- Location at project site
- Tag/spec number for the floor plan
Follow up regularly for updates on the estimated time of arrival. For local projects, check to see if the delivery carrier or installer can call you ahead of time so that you can be at the site to receive the delivery. For distant projects, check with someone at the site, such as the contractor, to ensure that it was received on time.
If you are personally checking the delivery, be sure to bring your highlighted cut sheets, order information, and any finish samples that you have. Open the box and look for any damages or scratches. Check power for lighting and appliances. Make sure that the samples and order information match what was delivered.
Tie Up Loose Ends in Design Purchasing
When you’re working on large projects, it’s expected that there are going to be a few unexpected surprises throughout the process. You may experience shipping delays, items that arrive damaged, or missed deliveries. The best solution is to anticipate these snafus and be prepared to handle them.
When you dive into it, the design purchasing process is much more involved than most people realize. It’s a big job, and it’s a lot of work for just one person. If you find that you need help with sourcing, specifications, ordering, and tracking, you might want to enlist the help of a skilled virtual assistant from 4DBiz. Register today to get the help you need and streamline the design purchasing process!