Design Services Should Be “Fee,” Not Free

“Do you want to be Pottery Barn when you grow up?”

That’s the question I posed in a live presentation recently to a national group of contemporary furnishings retailers

Their companies sell luxury goods, but many offer free interior design services. Just like Pottery Barn.

Now, this is no knock on Pottery Barn, the popular home furnishings store chain that’s a subsidiary of Williams-Sonoma, Inc.

But it is a knock on the idea of offering interior design at no charge.

“Free” is not part of the vocabulary of the most financially successful interior design and furnishings companies I’ve encountered in my 30 years in the industry. The design and retail professionals who are at the top of their game  charge for all of their time, all of the time. They attach a value to who they are, and what they do.

And well they should.

Designers and furnishing retailers help clients recognize and overcome their biggest design challenges. They provide them with expertise and resources they can’t get elsewhere. They save them time, money and a great deal of aggravation. They change their workspace, their living space and their lives.

And they should be compensated accordingly.

The retailers assembled at my recent seminar gave me all sorts of “reasons” for offering complimentary design service. Reasons like competition from the Internet. And  “customers in our area aren’t used to paying for design.” And  “it’s how we’ve always done it.”

My response? Don’t tell me all the reasons you can’t charge for your design services. Tell me all the reasons you can.

Tell me, I said, about what makes your company special. About your success stories: who you’ve helped in the past, and how. About the problems you’ve helped them overcome. About the collective experience on your team. And  about the awards you’ve won, and the recognition your store has received online and in print.

Finally, I said, share your “Only.” Tell prospects what Only you do, and they’ll buy Only from you.

I mentioned, too, the idea that offering free design services may disqualify, rather than qualify the retailers for establishing long term relationships with luxury homeowners.

After all, those homeowners are used to paying top dollar for top quality products and services. They aren’t used to free services, and would likely question their value.

Then, too, there’s the impact of free service on the design industry as a whole. It tarnishes and demeans the value of what accomplished design firms do.

My parting words to the retailers: Sell, don’t sabotage your value.

Charge for your interior design services.


Fred Berns coaches design professionals and retailers on how to set and get higher fees.

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