Usually with every story I write, I try to source out new AV firms to interview. I get to talk to new people and get new perspectives in addition to the firms that I work with most often. This time around, I was sad to see that several of the custom install firms I contacted had either gone out of business or were in the process of closing down. These firms were in different regions of the country so it didn’t reflect the ills of one state over another.
That being said, it made my topic of marketing to and working with interior designers all the more urgent. Yes, interior designers can be a pain in the arse but, unfortunately, they often have the client’s ear and their wallet. Establishing a relationship with interior designers can be a lifeline when times are slow, but it takes a bit of work for that to happen.
“Interior designers can be difficult to work with and will test whatever relationship skills you have,” says Steve Hooper, president of Audio Video Design Consultants in Nashville, Tenn., who works with interior designers quite often. “It can be hard to get their attention. They’re also used to dictating what happens in a house and how the client’s money is spent. Despite their difficulty, I am not bashing them; I highly encourage working with them. But get to know them first – know what you can do to add to their design sales because they see AV as taking away from them.”
Once again, AV is the bad guy. But knowing how interior designers think can go a long way in changing the perception they have of AV. “Interior designers believe that AV designers are their enemy and not their partner. Why? We have high ticket items so we’re getting into their pockets. For example, interior designers don’t appreciate a flat panel display above the fireplace, so work with them on something like retractable artwork. They may not know all the solutions that you know,” says Hooper. “And just remember that black boxes are revolting to them, even though it’s a nice TV.”
Shawn Hansson, CEO of Logic Integration in Denver, Co., says, “Some interior designers are great but others hate technology and hate to deal with it. We often feel like we have to prove ourselves and work harder to gain trust and respect with interior designers who don’t like technology.” Hansson’s firm, winner of the 2007 CEDIA Expo Contractor of the Year award, has worked with interior designers to hide TVs behind artwork, hide loudspeakers, hide projectors using lifts, and staging homes to help sell a house.
On one project, Hansson explains that the client had wanted a flat panel display and surround sound in the kitchen. They installed a 50 inch screen on a swing arm and were able to work with the interior designer to integrate the sub woofers into a granite bench.
“It’s a huge payoff though when you’re aligned with good interior designers, painters, electricians, and other trades in your market,” says Hooper. “Interior designers are more guarded since most of what they do is intellectual property so they have a lot to lose. All they have is their ideas and they protect them.”
Hansson says that reaching out to this group can be tough since more than half of interior designers in his state of Colorado are independent. He approximates that only about 30 percent of interior designers are affiliated with a firm. Logic Integration is also a member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). “We just hired someone to oversee the outreach to interior designers,” notes Hansson. “One thing you can do better to establish a relationship is to introduce yourself; focus on communication and on developing the relationship.”
However, Hooper says that cold calls and direct mail pieces are not the best way to do it. “It will make you look hungry and unprofessional. You don’t want them associating you with telemarketers. You must build a relationship and that’s not done with a postcard,” he says. “Make sure you make direct contact with the interior designer on every project. Let them know you are a willing participant and that you don’t want to screw up their design.”
Linda Seid Frembes is a rAVe columnist who covers AV technology, installs, market trends and industry news. Linda has worked with high profile AV manufacturers, trade organization, systems integrators, rep firms and dealer/distributors in the industry including John Lyons Systems, Eastern Acoustic Works (EAW), Northern Sound & Light (NSL), and InfoComm International, among others. Reach her at email@example.com