Living through the most unexpected and equally challenging time these past few years has transformed our lives in how we live, work, engage with others, and how we approach our health and well-being. I’ve heard from designers (and experienced in my own projects) everything from a missing polymer to cause an eggshell finish paint shortage from a major supplier, to trucking companies with a skeleton crew of drivers to create a several week (if you’re lucky) backlog of shipments. Last week, I received word on my client project that my cabinet maker cannot get drawer glides and install the built-in cabinetry (in a bathroom that’s already 2 months overdue) until who in the world knows when. These are not excuses, but rather…realities. So, now that we can foresee this ongoing theme, let’s make comfort in the uncomfortable.
Here are my best practices for giving your clients the peace of mind they seek by creating a healthy line of communication. And watch your project flow!
LESS IS MORE
Communicating frequently with your client about disappointing news can be exhausting and dilutes the fun. Consider sending an email to your clients every two weeks, on a standing day, with a project update. Offer lead times in a date range instead of a particular date, taking generous freight time into account. For example, “Your goods are estimated to be completed in 8-12 weeks, then will be released for shipping. At that time, we can update you on the current shipping times for delivery to your project.” Depending on how tech forward your client is, create a client-facing, simple google sheet of installation time frames by room, trade (i.e. electrical, painting), or grouping of items (i.e. plumbing fixtures, all window treatments). If it’s a live google doc, carve out the time in your schedule to update it as consistently as you promised to the client.
The words “in stock” listed on a tear sheet will not cut it. Product inventory is constantly fluctuating, not just during this time. Take fabric for example – it can be in stock at 9:30 am before you leave for your meeting and then out of stock by 5 pm on the very same day, after your client approved that “perfect fabric”! In client presentations, I will take a break between rooms not only to catch my breath, but intentionally to check inventory on the significant fabrics and place a quick reserve right then on the phone. Three things can occur:
- If it’s back ordered too long or discontinued, then we pick something else. Before our presentation, it saves face to contact the sales rep of your major fabric options to make sure it is not discontinued. That can easily happen if you have a vast fabric library at your studio!
- If the client doesn’t like anything as much as that perfect fabric, then this is a healthy first step in early communication about lead times – maybe the client doesn’t mind (terribly) waiting for it.
- It doesn’t hurt to choose a backup fabric or let the client know that you may need to sub in an alternate if you cannot confirm stock on the phone since some mills are located in a time zone where they are already closed for the day.
HONESTY IS ALWAYS THE BEST POLICY
Even before signing on a client, lend firm, yet polite honesty about lengthy lead times, postponed deliveries and labor shortages for all of the trades working on their project. Energize the discussion with a reminder that it will all be worth the wait! Setting the expectation will help steer clients away from asking every single day when their items will arrive or when their remodel will be done. This disclaimer is an essential part of my own new client welcome packet!
THE MULTIPLE X3 RULE
Take the finish dates your contractor provides and multiply that by three. Why? Most general contractors don’t have all in-house sub-contractors, therefore they don’t have 100% control over those subs they rely on to execute the work. Even before a project, it would behoove you to inquire with your general contractor if they have multiple quality options for each trade to pull from in a pinch. In this unique time in history, so many aspects are unpredictable, and padding your lead time on labor and product will give you the space to complete your project without your client becoming frustrated.
DESIGN BY interior designer & Circaphiles ambassador marea clark interiors
Remember: You are not Amazon Prime
Your clients likely hired you for a custom level of interior design which isn’t sitting on a shelf somewhere. Even though you may have a reputation of being a miracle worker and master problem solver, the supply chain disruption has strained all designers’ services. Though difficult, it’s paramount to be up front with your clients and prevent your reputation from getting bruised. It will hold you in higher stead and take a great deal of pressure off of you so that you can focus on what you do best, being creative!
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