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From Home Furnishing Business

Steelyard’s Survey of Designers Reveals Shifts in Business, and What they Need from Industry Partners

The results are in from a Steelyard survey of interior designer professionals aimed at learning how they felt about the business given the state of the world in 2020. With “challenging” being an overwhelming sentiment, the survey highlighted the resilience of the design industry and how creative people insist on succeeding no matter what. The survey, entitled Impact of COVID and How We do Business Going Forward is part of Steelyard’s ongoing initiative to better align the needs of design professionals and brands that serve that significant market.

 “When we created the survey, we did not want to assume anything about how design professionals were operating during this unique time, nor did we want to speculate about how designers would handle business afterward,” commented Shawn Hughes, CEO of Steelyard. “We discovered that all of the respondents said some portion of their business shifted online during the pandemic, and 30% said that between 50-100% of their business with clients was now conducted online.”

Through a series of questions where they were asked to rate the importance of a wide range of support and tools they needed from their manufacturers, the data illustrated that designers understand that, for many manufacturers, managing samples is tedious and time consuming. But on a scale of 1-10, finish, color and fabric samples rated a 9.2. A majority (70%) of the respondents ranked it 10 out of 10.

In the open comments section of the survey, designers stressed this even more. “Physical samples for finishes, fabrics, etc. will always be important to us regardless of how much we do online,” commented one designer. Another said, “if we must shop online or by catalog, we need samples to touch and feel and romance to our client.”  Many designers talked about the need to have two sets of samples easily available. “We are now having to order two of every sample for virtual presentations,” said one designer. And another added, “[I need] one set of samples to come to me and one set sent to the client/job site in one transaction. This allows for social distancing or, in my case, samples to another state while I remain in NY.”

 A surprising result from the survey was that virtual appointments with sales reps was ranked as the least important tool on the list. With an average rating of 6.0, only 16% of respondents rated this a 10. While some manufacturers are finding virtual appointments to be successful, the Steelyard survey points to several other things that are filling the void to keep business moving forward.

54% of the survey respondents said they plan to do more of their product research and sourcing online even after restrictions are lifted. One designer brought up a very unique idea relating to the hybrid online/IRL needs of designers. She said, “I would love to see someone offer a “sit kit”… [something] you could set out with tied springs that you could put different cushions on. Something compact that you could ship to clients or drop off for them to experiment with, or even have in our office for clients to try. We have no showrooms within an hour and a half from where we are located, so clients having a concept of the feel of upholstery is often an issue.”

The challenging of communicating depth, arm height, and feel digitally, or at least outside of a showroom, was something that came up often in the results. It was noted that designers regularly give their business to vendors whose online sites provide greater product detail and visual imagery.

Another topic that was cited multiple times was shipping. First, offering varied shipping options and capabilities that address social distancing averaged a 7.3 on the sliding scale. One designer summed up the sentiments of many of the respondents when she said that she needs “…more drop ship/white glove shipping options. I tend to have an older clientele, and right now they are quite concerned about the virus. The less hands on an item (not going through the receiving warehouse/delivery), the more comfortable they feel.”

As for another side of shipping, the Steelyard survey found that transparency is key. Speaking to this important element, one designer stressed the need for “honesty about supply chain disruptions and lead times.” Another said, “let us know when ship dates change rather than making us call and ask about it. Hopefully, that can be automated.”

The idea of transparency and communication extended to other areas as well. “Do not be silent,” said one designer who had 50% of her business shift online. “If there is a shift of reps due to COVID...let us know. We are still placing orders and there are lots of issues with back orders, what percentage of the company is working, what to expect with delays. We are still designing and servicing our clients and it can be frustrating with delays especially when companies are not letting us know.”

One final idea mentioned was the desire for product reviews from other designers. As Steelyard checked into that they discovered that those types of “testimonials” are quite rare.

“We see designers and manufacturers learning, adapting and innovating in all areas of their business. Our goal is that this survey, and the continued understanding we can help foster, will give all of us the knowledge and understanding to do more and better together,” Hughes concluded.

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