Friday, April 30, 2010

Choice and Consequences

Some time ago I designed the floorplan and finishes for a new construction house. During the construction phase the economy changed to OMG and the family had many an anxious time over the costs of construction. Some of the dreams of what was going to be took a back seat to get it built and get moved and we'll add to the dreams as economics allow. Time passed then the Mrs. called and said family finances were on the upswing and they were excited to be moving forward with doing the Master Suite. They would be keeping existing furniture but were ready to get the temporary paper shades off the windows, get some real window treatments, a custom bedding ensemble, art, accessories and maybe some seating for the bay window area.

We scheduled an in office appointment to start the planning and selection process. What textiles, what styles, what color combinations, what price points. The next step is then to field measure as necessary, design and draft the concepts, price the projects and write up a purchasing agreement. All of which was done. Except for that last part.

FishyDesigns does charge a professional fee for services. Our clients who are purchasing custom goods benefit from a percentage of those fees being applied toward purchase deposits. This policy prevents folks from " idea shopping" the designers. If we are providing professional design services, we like to get compensated. So when this client came back for her project review conference she was eager and excited. She even took pictures of the presentation so she could show her husband what was designed and ordered. Except she did not sign her custom orders agreement nor did she pay the accumulated design fees. She looked at her watch , rushed for the door saying she had forgotten she was doing the school pick up and we'd get everything finalized by the end of the week and after her husband had seen the photos.

Well that did not happen. I did call or e-mail, I forget which but, the net result was they were so busy with tax stuff they had back burnered the bedroom for now. Fine, but please remit for services rendered to date. In the mail Fishy, in the mail!

That did not happen either.

So imagine my surprise when this same client came breezing through the door with a cheerful greeting and more of that eager excitement.

" Fishy! Lovely to see you again we are ready to do our Master!"
" There is a bit of a change in our plans"
"Well Fishy you know budgets are tight for everyone these days. So I got the notion to sort of shop around for the fabrics we selected. You know, online? I had those photographs I took from your design presentation for reference. Of course I couldn't find the exact fabrics you offer but I thought I could get " the look" for less if I went this way. So I spent just days online searching and ordered these swatches . Now what I need you to do is tell me how to use these substitutes and how many yards of each fabric I will need."
" I'm sorry Fishy, what did you say?"
" No"
" What!"
" But Fishy I know you understand this. I want my dream house to be, well a dream. I don't want to come home at the end of a long day and feel down because we couldn't do everything we hoped. Now look, you are my designer and, my friend, I need you to help me do this. And while we're on that subject why are you not praising my cleverness!"

So I explained. Yes I am an interior designer. Yes I am your friend. However, we are standing in my interior design business not out to lunch or a movie. When we are here, making design decisions for your home I am working. As you know I have a fee schedule for design services.
You by the way, still have an unpaid invoice for services rendered. You are, in effect, asking me to help you bypass my business to aid you in transferring your business to an online retailer. An invitation which I decline. I actually refrained from asking her if she came with camera on presentation day with a pre-meditated purpose of "using" if not "stealing" from me.

Looking stunned the client then said, "Well this is just ridiculous".
On that point I could agree. I did take some time to explain to her the risks of buying textiles online , but if she elected to take those risks most online retailers had help desks which could do the yardage estimates for her, etc, etc. She departed not mad but sort of with a you will see I can do just fine without you demeanor.

A week later I was coming in the back door as she was trying to wrestle bolts of fabric through my front door. She looked a stressed out mess.
" Fishy! come and help me!", she insisted.

I went to hold the door and to take some of the bolts . She proceeded to the conference area and commenced babbling before I caught up to her.
" Damnit Fishy this is your fault. Just look at this! Not all the colors match the swatches and not all the goods are in one piece but in unusable pieces and this one smells bad!".
Before I could display proper gravitas I busted out laughing.
This was not well received.

" What the devil do I do now? I have all these fabrics and spent all that money and OMG 17% shipping and handling fees and Tomas is going to kill me!"

While she was talking I began taking the offensive smelling textile out the front door. It did smell bad and I definitely did not want my storefront to retain any of it. Plus I had an in-shop appointment scheduled in half an hour and I did not want this drama or the textiles still present for that client's visit.

" Fishy! please pay attention. I need you to help me."
" I did warn you about online textiles. Yes there are great prices, but there are also great risks.
Your best option is to contact the retailers you purchased from and see if you can make any progress. If that does not work you can file a protest with the credit card company to which you charged the purchases."
" I've done that damnit! That's why I am here eating crow. Here is your check for the fees due.
Now tell me how to fix this problem".
Accepting the check I said, "I've told you everything I know to do".
" Fishy did you understand I cannot return these fabrics, cannot get replacement fabrics, cannot use these fabrics and cannot get my money back ?"

Somewhere on the back channel I was thinking," Yep, payback is a bitch".

I picked up some bolts and headed to the front door saying,
" Well it's a shame things have turned out this way for you. Let me help you get these back in your car. I have an appointment in a few minutes so I must ask you to leave. I do wish you luck with finding an acceptable solution to this issue."

On her way out she stopped and took a hard look at some new inventory. She freed up a hand long enough to flip a price tag into view. She made a throaty sound then said, " You know I think I saw something similar to this at TJM and really it was a third less expensive".
I paused before saying, " Why didn't you buy it?"
" It wobbled and wouldn't stay straight. This item of yours actually looks a lot better quality and it is straight but I'm not going to pay this price for something I can get from a discounter."

Lesson learned.
I need to become an online retailer.


moi said...

This post is so timely! I was just discussing something along these lines with a friend of mine who is also self employed. Her big heart often leads her to do many things "for free" for friends of ours, mostly when she finds herself with nothing else going on. "If I have free time, why not?" she has said in the past.

But a recent mishap has led her to finally grok to the idea that there is no such thing as "free" time. That her years of accumulated knowledge and smarts are in fact of value – as is her TIME – and she should bill accordingly. And if friends expect her to give those things away, well, then, they're not really friends.

I mean, can you imagine a lawyer walking into his office on a Monday morning and deciding that just because he has nothing scheduled for that day that he should do any consults that come his way for free?

Karl said...

Good evening Fishy,

A very common problem, folks seem to forget that time is money. And in these tough time many decide they have expertise, they don't have. When they get in trouble, you get treated like your tech support at a major corporation. "Please help, no I shouldn't pay". Stick to your guns, in the end, quality and consistency will win the day.

By the way, if you didn't understand yesterday's Haiku "When visiting fish" it's a reference to me being underwater.

Enjoy your weekend.

fishy said...

Really disturbing this new trend. One of my other clients recently mentioned she had a hard time discerning where the line was drawn between profession and friendship. I told her it was easy, did she ever ask her friend the dog person to groom her dog while she was there for dinner or board her dog for free when traveling? Of course not was her surprised response. But then she said it was different with me because " you are my designer".
I swear I am going to publish a brochure on etiquette as applied to your professional friends.
No lawyer has yet to offer his services gratis.

What a great insight "free tech support" as a pervasive attitude.
I've been thinking there is an age gap in what once was thought of as "correctness" Clients 55 and older almost never cross the line, 40 somethings sort of know where the lines are but always hedge whenever possible. Maybe this is indeed the results of living/working in the techno world.

I liked your haiku (I am honored) and had remembered you too live in a Pond.

Jenny said...

oooooh, hello! This happens to me all of the time. People come in, have NOTHING on paper, just ideas in their head and they need/ask/use me to put that into something that actually looks like a product. THEN, they take my ideas/design and shop it around, many times returning to ask if I'd like to re-bid an item I created. %#$#%$$^$ Like Moi's friend, I've learned to charge for ALL prototypes and I'll credit that amount back if they order. I can't tell you the number of times I've been told "but online it only costs this" and I've gotten comfortable saying "then go buy it there and I hope it all works out." I'm impressed with how you handled this situation and I hope your client/friend learned "you get what you pay for."

Jenny said...

p.s. I now have a line of products I sell online. Ha! But guess what? people still call and want to order from a real person.

fishy said...

Maybe we should get signs made which say,

"Creative Problem Solver/
Brains On Sale!"

Something needs to change to adjust the general perspective of the value of what we offer. In my case, as it applies to the space planning and construction phase of a project, the clients are great and pay promptly. Perhaps that is an area like doctoring or lawyering where they believe they need to spend for expert direction. When it comes time to do the furnishings there is a higher level of self confidence so clients rarely see as much value to the design services offered for this stage of the project.

At least part of what is a problem for me is I am not as techno efficient as I should be. I did have employees who handled that but they were jettisoned in 2008.

The other issue I need to address is psychological. I believe most Americans feel like they have been "taken". For good reason! This has spawned a deep distrust of not just government but business as well. Haven't we all just paid for the greed of others? Now consumers are wary and they need to believe they are savvy enough to "beat the system" or astute enough to negotiate "a good deal" and these days people are looked at as fools if they pay full price for anything. Maybe I need a sign on the door that says:
" Coupon Code: LOL2010"
That way I can offer them my standard policy, available if they know the code. Nothing will have changed except their perception of reality.

Pam said...

ARGH!!! I imagine it is a tough enough industry anyway without "friends" like this..... you either want to do it all yourself, or you don't. In which case you HIRE it done. Good for you for sticking to your guns. Your time is worth it. P.S. wish I could shop your shop ;)

fishy said...

The new American psyche does not bode well for my business model. As for shopping my shop would not believe what happens now. Folks come thru the front door with smart phones and if they cannot successfully scan a code they photograph the item and often rip the manufacturer's tags off the items. The reason? They want the item but believe they can either find that item or come close by shopping online or at the discounters. Now my business and other small business owners take all identifying manufacturer tags off our merchandise. We are being used as free "showrooms" or as one friend said, " I no longer own a shop, I am now the propriortress of a quality control center". She claims many of the online retailers suggest callers go to local shops, check out the item, then buy from them. Great! The consumer feels like they are making a smart, risk free purchase.
The online retailer makes the sale and the local retailer? Well that would be the chump still paying overhead to run a free showroom.

I have been teetering on the fence for some time about keeping or eliminating my small storefront. For a while I considered switching to antique inventory but now most of those are online too.
I have kept my storefront as an advertising tool. I put vignette displays in the front windows and leave the lights on at night. A fair percentage of my client base makes that first trip thru the doors because of the window displays. Bad news is how will I keep that fresh and current if I'm not buying new goods? I definitely need to establish an online business. As someone recently said, " Really this is normal, think how blacksmiths felt when Mr. Ford got rolling"

I need to accept the way I have always done business is now the old model. If I want to continue forward I must adopt the new model.

h said...

Not sure if she was oblivious or rude. Or if it matters.

Asshat: I'm making 75K now at ABC Corp. and I've got an offer from a rival for 80K. Do you think you can get me an offer for 100K?

Troll: Maybe.

2 Weeks of work go by.

Troll: Acme will pay you 100K if they like you at the interview.

Asshat: Yay!

1 week goes by.

Asshat: Great news! I showed my current employer the offer-letter from Acme of 100K and they agreed to bump me to 90K to keep me. I'm staying cause I like it here and the money's close. Aren't you happy for me?

Troll: If I ever see you again, I will tear your arms off and make you eat them.

1 year goes by.

Asshat: ABC was purchased by Acme and they eliminated my job. Can you find me something?

Troll: CLICK!

Aunty Belle said...

Hmmn...well, as to yore client/friend--thar's a reason NOT to do bidness wif' "friends."

But, now Fishy, as to Amricans lookin' to git good deals...ah, din't ya work HARD to git a good deal on yore FizzMobile? Ain't nuthin' wrong wif wise use of one's meager resources.

What's wrong is duplicity an' yore "friend" dern well took them pics on purpose to cheat ya'. END OF STORY.

Happens in every industry:

Lady Bountiful to Aunty:
"Won't ya jes' write a teeeny tiny bit of copy, oh say, 20 pages, fer our organization's history--we's a non-profit ya know. And it's our 50th year gala!"

"I know, but I ain't a non-profit, I have a habit of working with the lights on. Does ya ask the local utilities to cut ya some slack since youse non-profit? no? Why is that?"

Professor to Aunty: "I really admired yore recent article on quantum psychological synergy. How do you suppose that would look applied to artificial intelligence synapses? Jes' a rough idea? Jes' curious, ya know?" Six months later professor publishes paper wif' Aunty's analysis. Prof gits speaking tour, Aunty wears "DODO" sign again.

Meanwhile Fishy, can ya send me a swatch of the blue stag fabric????

sparringK9 said...

yeah - that stag fabric is killer.

this happens in art quite a bit -same way aunty said. but how it typically happens is in usage. when you get an illustration from me -you have rights to that image for the usage it was purchase for. you do not have rights to the image to slap on tshirts and book bags or make framed prints.

people often ask how i price art. well, you are not paying for materials - you are paying for my life investment in learning the skill to professional level. if it were about materials - a buyer could go to the art store, buy a canvas paint and brushes and git r done.\\*good luck with that*

but in the age of walmart and sams club and big lots...well, people have lost their way