by Joanne McFadden, BID, PIDIM, IDA, IDC, LEED AP, NCIDQ, Shiona Green BA, BID, PIDIM, IDA, IDC, NCIDQ, and Heather Wagner, MID, PIDIM, Prov.
A vital part of any interior designer’s job is finding the right product to suit the client and project. There is much to comprehend before a product can be confidently specified, as new products continually become available, manufacturing processes are upgraded by technology, and environmental concerns gain importance. Designers rely on manufacturer representatives to provide critical information to assist them when selecting a product. The relationship between an interior designer and a manufacturer representative should be mutually beneficial.
However as more generic presentations, off-the-mark product information sessions, and fluffy webinars come through the door, the value of product presentations is diminished, and can be totally lost. The following are some insights interior designers have identified that would make product presentations more effective, informative, and beneficial for all. Of course, many of the basic rules would also apply to other types of design professionals selecting materials for other components of the building.
1. Talk about the product
It is critical product representatives know their audience. Prior to a presentation, representatives should ask questions to determine the most important aspect of the product for the designers, then effectively communicate those aspects to the group. Although it seems reasonable to give some background information, product representatives often spend considerable time talking about features not useful to the group.
Topics most designers find useful include:
- the history of the specific product;
- the difficulty or consideration in using it;
- how is it shipped, from where, and how long the wait is;
- minimum orders;
- the particular manner of shipping (e.g. special coating or packaging);
- the product’s options;
- the cost (and potential savings when ordering mass quantities);
- potential extra costs if the factory output is modified;
- the factory’s environmental sensitivity and the product content sustainability; and
- any applications for building information modelling(BIM) programs.
Understanding an audience’s needs and knowledge level, and tailoring the presentation to suit goes a long way toward building a mutually beneficial relationship between designer and product representative.
2. Respect allotted time
One should be mindful of the time made available and use it to its greatest effect. A representative should consider forwarding an agenda highlighting or summarizing topics of discussion prior to the event to help designers determine if there is value in participating. If a Power Point presentation is being used, only the main points on the slide should be considered—they should be the key information designers need to understand and remember. One should only go into greater detail if requested. Supporting information should be made available either through discussion or e-mail after the presentation so the audience can save it to their resource library for future reference.
A product representative should be respectful and budget time within the allotted limit for questions and discussion. To do this, a presenter must be a strong moderator and manage time well. Specific questions or information can always be expanded on with a phone call or e-mail. Being selective with presentation content and delivering it in a timely, engaging, and effective manner makes time spent during the presentation valuable to interior designers. The goal is to leave designers wanting to know more, rather than making them bolt from the room in frustration.
3. Know the product
Presentations stand out for designers when they gain new insight into a product, such as:
- how it works;
- how it is made;
- how it is installed;
- how it is maintained; and
- any new technologies or advancements.
This keeps designers current on the specifics of the industry and the company’s product.
When a product representative knows the benefits of their company’s product versus those of the competition, it gives a favourable impression and makes the designer confident in their selection. Comparing the pros and cons of a competing product in an open, honest manner goes a long way in building trust.
Really understanding the product also means knowing the technical data, detailed facts, and the product website. If the product representative intends to familiarize the audience with the company website during the presentation, the representative should be aware of all the website does or does not offer. Some designers may have already visited the website. If they do not find it as helpful or as user-friendly, it is important for the presenter to listen to the feedback. If negative responses about the website from a majority are received, something needs to be fixed. It is important to remember designers are only one click away from the competitor.
Presentations that are dynamic, concise, and informative are the ones where memorable information is put forth and a professional relationship is established. It is appreciated when well-sourced information and substantiated research is simply and honestly relayed.
4. Selecting the product
For designers, evaluating and assessing a product and a company can be a formidable task. To stand out from the crowd, a product representative should explain why the product is equal to, better, or unique from the rest.
A designer will likely have questions about the product, regarding:
- the benefits compared to other similar products on the market;
- the performance benefits and why the product would be better suited for a project;
- the warranty length, and its comparison to other competitive companies; and
- the repairing process and the estimated timeline for maintenance.
If the product has many equals in the market, a possible advantage may be great service and forging a healthy working relationship with the designer. One should aspire to be the ‘go-to’ rep designers have on speed dial.
A designer will be resistant to re-specify a product with hidden or uncommunicated costs that resulted in a past project going over budget. It is not enough to quote the price per unit, as this is never the complete cost. Some additional costs are expected and acceptable such as shipping and installation, but designers must know all the possible costs—even if they are not always incurred.
- are there minimum orders;
- is there a difference in price based on colour or pattern;
- what are the extra costs of custom orders;
- does the product require additional accessories when installed (and if so what are those costs);
- is there additional work required to finish the product; and
- what is the cost to maintain the product and what special equipment is required if any, to do so?
Prices should be quoted based on the industry standard unit so other products can be compared (e.g. imperial, metric, yards, feet). Cost comparisons are helpful when the product does something different or is installed in a unique way that may save the client money. Lifecycle costing analyses (LCCAs) are also extremely useful when presenting options to clients.