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3 Alternative Revenue Streams for Interior Designers

The business model of interior design has experienced drastic disruption over the last decade. 

Between HGTV shows that have popularized a DIY mentality, the rise of websites that exclusively offer low price point e-design and mass-produced goods, and mid-market brands jumping in and pushing their own virtual design services, the value of highly educated, specifically trained interior designers has taken quite the hit. And that’s before we even account for their ability to offer their clients luxury products only available through connections to companies that don’t sell direct to consumers. 

To survive and thrive in this altered landscape, interior designers must find a way to meet the cost-driven expectations of a new generation of clients with the traditional, high-end level of service and products they have built their business model around. So naturally, they would do well to consider alternative revenue streams to supplement the shrinking aspects of their core business, while still maintaining the integrity of their brand

Here, we explore different types of alternative revenue streams a traditional interior design business can add to their portfolio of offerings.

E-Design Packages 

While we just discussed the problematic nature of the original e-design business model, which dilutes the high-end market, interior designers have the opportunity to customize e-design packages that reflect their level of service and product offerings, successfully portraying and extending their brand.

  • Just because you work with an e-design client exclusively over the internet doesn't mean you can’t customize the experience to each client, offer a high level of service, and recommend the same level of products you are comfortable working with.
  • If offering customizable e-design packages is too cumbersome for your current operations, create a set of fixed packages that maintain your standards. 
  • Just because the original e-design start-ups offer consultation services or packages that include furniture selection starting at $200, there is no reason you cannot charge a price that reflects the value of your time, even if that is well into the thousands based on your price per hour.

Proprietary Product Lines

One of the greatest challenges in working as an interior designer in the mid-market space, where you are not selling items that are available exclusively to the trade, is that clients can easily shop your recommended products and buy them on their own, cutting you out of the process. One way to combat this is to create your own product line.

  • If your business model depends on charging a markup on a product you recommend, clients cutting you out of the buying process is a huge problem. 
  • Chip and Joanna Gaines famously created their Magnolia line for Target, but plenty of high-end designers are doing the same thing, and selling those products exclusively through their websites. 
  • Doing so leaves zero opportunity for clients to shop your product around and cut you out of the buying process. Brooklyn interior designers Home Studios, launched a product company called Homework that has been a great success.
  • Utilizing your relationships with furniture makers and making new relationships with manufacturers with the skill to execute your designs is the first step to creating a line of branded products that can be exclusively your own or represent a partnership with the original maker. 
  • Another luxury designer, Allison Caccoma, is a great example to follow of a luxury designer who sells unique treasures she has collected from her world travels.
  • Taking advantage of Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest’s Shopify plug-ins make it easy to sell your merchandise on social media.

Affiliate Marketing

Welcome to a brave new world for interior designers, one which you’ve probably heard of but may not know well. Affiliate marketing is, in a nutshell, the practice of promoting the goods or services of others, and making a small commission for doing so – usually once someone buys a product after finding it through your promotion. Social media influencers large and small make money this way, as do some interior designers.

  • This is how it works for interior designers: you find brands whose products you want to sell and then set up a link to those products while typically offering a discount code as an incentive. If anyone buys those products using your affiliate link, you will receive a portion of the profit from that sale.
  • If you want to pursue affiliate marketing as an interior designer, do so with the utmost consideration to your brand. There are plenty of product companies looking to partner with designers as affiliates, but you must  decide if those companies represent your brand – would you use their products for your designs in your core business?
  • If you are working in the high-end market, seek affiliations with brands that match your standards. 1stDibs (Design Manager’s parent company) has recently launched a designer affiliate program, opening the door to the luxury market for affiliate marketers. With an enticing offer of 20% commission, with a $300 commission cap for new buyers and $70 commission cap for repeat buyers, what’s not to love?  Of course you can also reach out to brands you like to work with and see if they may be interested in developing an exclusive program with you. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.

There is no question that the interior design industry is changing, but savvy designers will use this as an opportunity to pivot into new opportunities while protecting their core business. It will take some research and possibly some restructuring of your business model, but don’t stay on the sidelines during this time when the industry is evolving and successful businesses will need to adapt.

Margot LaScala
Margot LaScala
Margot is a writer and interior designer based in the NYC area. She is passionate about keeping up with the latest architecture and design news to not only stay informed, but inspired.

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