10 Tips Printers Should Keep in Mind to Work with Interior Designers
It’s an exciting time to work in the world of digital printing as more and more industries discover ways to use this technology. The textile industry has long been criticized as one of the most polluting and wasteful industries. As consumers become more conscious of how their decisions impact this pollution, they are demanding more sustainable options, and interior designers are responding. As on-demand and low-waste manufacturing has come to other industries, interior designers have been looking for it in their own.
Traditionally, interior designers have been sourcing their materials from an inventory-based system. In this business model, a mill would develop an extensive collection of fabrics and show that collection to furniture manufacturers and jobbers. They would in turn, choose their favorites and order materials to make their products. Next, they’d show their collections to architects and interior designers. Finally, designers would make their choices. In this system, there are inevitably best sellers and low sellers at each step of the process. Unsold inventory languishes on shelves and is eventually sold at deep discounts or simply tossed.
During this process, lots of resources are expended at each step. Additionally, each step creates waste. With digital printing, the chain between manufacturer and designer is shortened. There is less waste generated in every stage of research and development. And with no low sellers languishing on shelves, minimal waste is sold at a loss or sent to the landfill.
Yet, adopting this new business model has its challenges. Designers are not used to working directly with manufacturers and vice versa. The desire is there though, and the opportunity to work together to customize projects with more detail and less waste is excellent. Printers and interior designers just need to learn how to work together.
So, what can printers do to work seamlessly with interior designers?
1. Expect to educate.
Digital printing is new to the interior design community. Many designers are still not quite sure how it works. Yet, they are eager to embrace different, more sustainable options to source their materials. Since they are used to buying their material from an inventory-based system, you should expect to educate designers about how the process of ordering directly from a printer works. Explain how you work and what designers can expect every step of the way.
2. Understand the timeline of the industry.
Education goes both ways. Just as designers need to learn how printers work, printers must understand the interior design process, especially in commercial interiors. With projects as big as a hospital or office building, there are many moving parts, and as a result, decisions can take a very long time to make. Designers may gather materials and samples months or even years before placing the final production order. To help reduce surprises, ask a designer at the beginning of your communication what timeline you can expect.
3. Give free samples.
Designers gather samples of materials as part of their design process. They need to be able to touch and feel the actual material, see how the color will look in person, and show it to their team or clients. Traditionally, these samples have always been free, apart from the cost of the process. Recently, there are new companies out there, working to make it as convenient as possible to get free samples into the hands of designers quickly. While it may seem frustrating to give a sample away for free, designers expect it, and you should build it into the final cost of the product.
4. Think about design on your end.
If you’re going to work with interior designers, then you’re also going to be working with textile designers. These are the people designing the patterns you’ll be printing. To offer these services in-house, you will need a designer skilled in pattern design repeats, color, and materials. Some printers work with online pattern libraries as a resource. Other times, an interior designer supplies the artwork they want to be printed. If you don’t want to invest in your own design staff, you will at least need to train someone to work with these files and consider having a freelance designer available for more involved design requests.
5. Remain ethical.
This may seem obvious, but it’s crucial never to knock off other designs. Designers may come to you with a fabric they love that is way out of their price range that they’d like you to print more cheaply. For example, they may have fallen in love with a floral design on an expensive silk jacquard woven fabric. Instead of copying a design, propose a different solution. Try to discern what they like about the design they love, and show them an alternative with similar attributes. Even though you think your final print will look different when printed, knocking off is never acceptable, and it’s also illegal. It’s better to lose a sale than copy someone else’s hard work.
6. Educate yourself on current trends.
Staying abreast of current trends happening in the interior design industry will definitely help you get business. Keep in mind, trends vary from industry to industry. What is popular in offices, hotels, and personal homes usually have common threads but are also very different. Pay attention to all sectors you hope to sell in.
To stay on top of trends:
- Subscribe to industry email lists.
- Follow industry leaders and publications on social media, especially Instagram.
- Send people from your team to an annual trade show such as NeoCon, HCD Expo, or BDNY.
- Consider investing in an official trend service that will research for you and deliver a seasonal trend report.
7. Offer good customer service.
Customer service is likely already a priority in your business. No business can afford bad customer service. As you embark on working in a new industry, train your current customer service team in how working with interior designers may differ from your traditional customer base. They will likely want to have information on the material’s performance and testing, so have this information easily accessible.
8. Establish some type of color management system.
One thing that makes digital, on-demand printing so exciting to interior designers is the ability to customize a pattern precisely to their specifications. Whether it’s matching color to an environment’s palette, or matching a specific color of a client’s brand, printing the exact color needed is very important. Always have a designer approve an actual sample before printing production yardage.
9. Consider how you will respond to questions about discounts.
It has long been a part of the industry that some manufacturers offer discounts, especially for high quantity orders. This may be something you are already used to with your current customers, but if not, think about how you will respond before you are asked.
10. Prioritize your online presence.
If a designer is going to buy from you, especially one who feels like they’re taking the plunge on a new business model, they want to feel confident that you know what you’re doing. They want to know you understand the needs of interior designers, speak their language, and can deliver what they want. One way to do this is by having a robust online presence.
Consider these factors:
- Update your website to be visually appealing. Include testimonials and photos of finished projects, and have a regularly updated blog page on your website. Blogs are an essential tool to help search engines like Google find you and decide you’re worth delivering as a result of a web search.
- Grow your social media presence. This doesn’t mean having tens of thousands of followers or jumping on every Tik Tok dance craze. It means having a consistent presence in the spaces where interior designers hang out, particularly on Instagram. Post consistent, relevant, high-quality content.
- Stay connected with the designers you work with by implementing an email marketing strategy. This will keep your most likely customers well informed of any new products, substrates, or services you may have.
- Finally, hire someone to do all of the above. To have any of the above tasks work successfully, you will need someone dedicated to doing the job well. That person is not your nephew who spends all the time on his
That sounds like a lot of work.
It is a lot of work, but so is breaking into any new industry. Remember, the ability to produce the products interior designers want to use in the built environment is only part of the solution. In fact, that’s probably the easiest part! The challenge is communicating to the design community that you have that capacity and are ready to work with them effectively.
Yet, this is an exciting challenge. Consumers and designers care about how their choices impact the planet and are hungry for new options. Digital printing is a new frontier that interior designers are eager to explore!
Kristen Dettoni is the founder and CEO of Design Pool LLC, the only pattern library created exclusively for interior designers. Since 1996, Kristen has worked for mills throughout North America, designing fabrics for automobiles, furniture, and home furnishings. She developed the first sustainable upholstery fabric for office interiors, the first sustainable upholstery fabric for automotive interiors, and was awarded a patent for automotive suspension seating. Kristen believes strongly in the power of good design to transform our environments and experiences.