In January, the international interior design community was looking forward to bright prospects for 2020 and a full calendar of events promising new inspiration, innovation, and business transactions. By early February, COVID-19 had spread across China and quickly traveled to Italy, devastating two of the design and manufacturing industry’s biggest contributors. By the second week of March, the United States was in full lockdown, as the threat of the pandemic forced federal and state governments to issue orders of quarantine, self isolation, and work from home policies.
Now that nearly two months have passed since the initial onset, the interior design community has had the ability to begin making plans to adjust for an altered future landscape. Design Manager is dedicated to guiding interior designers through these uncertain times, meeting their changing needs, and serving the community in every way possible as we propel the interior design industry to become better and stronger than ever.
Interior Design Survey: The COVID-19 Impact
Design Manager recently conducted a survey of 165 of its clients, representing a diverse cross-section of the interior design and architecture community in terms of company size and specialty. The overall impression that designers gave is that they feel adequately prepared, and are optimistic about the future.
One of the most positive revelations from the survey is that the majority of respondents feel their businesses are well-equipped to handle working remotely, with a large subsection feeling as though they “didn’t miss a beat.” and were able to transition seamlessly.
While over half of clients surveyed are most concerned about the economic downturn and the resulting potential loss of business, the same percentage of respondents say they have no plans to change anything about their businesses or revenue streams. The designers who are changing their businesses are focused on the below areas:
- 26.31% E-design
- 15.78% Increasing Sales & Marketing Efforts
- 14.03% Virtual Meetings Internal & External
- 12.28% E-commerce
- 10.52% Paperless office
An open-ended question about whether or not clients have experienced any positive outcomes from this negative situation received an overwhelmingly optimistic response, shedding light on the strength of our Design Manager community and the industry as a whole. The majority of responses addressed how working from home and connecting with clients virtually makes their businesses operate more efficiently, while leaving time to focus on improving internal procedures, bookkeeping, and website/social media development.
Another large portion of respondents described how business inquiries have risen, as more people are focused on improving both the aesthetics and functionality of their homes after spending more time than ever cooped up in their domiciles. This offers interior designers an opportunity to prove their value, as the education and training of a professional designer brings practical functionality to form.
Most encouraging of all are the responses championing the strengthening of bonds among employees, vendors and clients. One anonymous respondent replied:
"I took the opportunity to reach out to all of my clients, both present and past, just to check in with them. It was nice hearing back from them about how much they appreciated me doing that and what was happening in their world during this time. It was great connecting with them on a personal level."
The COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity to show your colleagues and greater network how much you care about their well-being during this difficult time.
Expert Predictions: The New Normal of Interior Design
Industry experts across the board agree that virtual connection will become a much more accepted work practice in a post-pandemic landscape. Many Design Manager survey respondents have found that their interior design clients like meeting virtually, as it saves everyone travel time and costs. Peter Mitchell, Marketing Manager at Marta Mitchell Interior Design said,
“Our clients love the convenience of virtual meetings. They don’t have to travel to our studio, and they can see everything they need to when we share our computer screens. I suspect that doing virtual meetings will be a significant future trend.”
On April 1st, Business of Home hosted a webcast, “Design in the time of COVID: Community Discussion,” during which they discussed the growing demand for interior designers to offer services virtually. The growing sector of online interior design services has been controversial, with many worrying it will devalue the industry as a whole. During the webcast, moderators Sean Low and Kaitlin Petersen agree that digital will become more important, but urge listeners not to discount their services just because they are being offered virtually. It’s more important than ever for each interior designer to be able to articulate exactly what they do best and to account for the intrinsic value represented in their fee.
While projects may have been temporary on hold over the last several weeks, the sooner you are able to move forward, the better. Waiting to order furniture, for example, is delaying your personal earnings, and also the earnings of your vendors who need revenue to stay in business. If you are worried about the physical and/or financial health of your vendors, be honest. Ask them detailed questions that will help you understand if they are able to meet your needs at this time. Making purchases with credit cards that have insurance built in, like AMEX, may offer some protection, although it is best to discuss with your financial advisor.
Working with larger companies at this time may be a safer bet, although it is also important to support smaller vendors with whom you have previously established trust and strong communication. This is also a great time to lean on platforms that specialize in luxury antiques, such as 1stdibs, which offers the safety of a large company while supporting the smaller underlying vendors, plus the peace of mind knowing that the items have already been produced and are simply waiting to be shipped.
Lastly, thoroughly consider the pros and cons of taking on debt to weather this financially difficult time. While the federal government is offering low interest loans with delayed payments to businesses affected by COVID-19, any loan still represents a debt that will likely need to be repaid with interest. Before taking this step, analyze your business expenses and make a plan to dramatically cut costs wherever possible. Even if your business is not currently in a financial crisis, make it a policy to hoard cash in lieu of making capital expenditures, as the coming months will be unpredictable.
Please download our COVID-19 Tax Impact and Relief Package Guide
All in all, the Design Manager survey revealed the strength of character of its respondents, which can be seen as a reflection of the larger interior design community. Each response showed a will to persevere and a deep empathy for others. Design Manager has seen the request for new project management features, and is busy working on the next set of improvements to its interior design software.
We also note that our respondents would like us to continue to publish business advice and industry news on the Design Manager blog, a request to which we are eager to oblige. Design Manager is committed to serving the needs of the interior design community and is ready to adapt in this rapidly changing environment to make sure interior designers can focus on their art while we help you take care of your business.
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