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Stephen Nobel shows designers how to reach 'the next level'
Mar 13, 2015

After Stephen Nobel’s presentation for the Decorative Furnishings Association, interior designers left equipped with tools to better market and grow their business. Hosted by Dan Cahoon, the president of Jerry Pair as well as president of the DFA, the presentation keyed in on strategies for moving on from a plateau of success, touching on leadership, business management and maintaining relationships as a proactive part of gaining new clients.
Nobel’s presentation was informed by not only personal experience but also by a survey conducted by the DFA where individuals responded to questions about why they chose to use interior designers. Questions ranged from specifics about the process to why clients chose to use an interior designerIt asked clients what they got out of the decision to hite a designer and how they found their interior designer.

One of the takeaways: effective leadership means having a clear idea where a business is heading not only in 20 years, but within the next two or three years as well. Clear vision can be used as a “north star,” Nobel said, insisting that interior designers constantly reevaluate their intended direction by asking “where do I want to go so I can get what I want to achieve out of this?”
Nobel said designers need to act like they “are the CEO,” meaning, that in their business, they implement a vision that others cannot necessarily see despite the minutiae and conflicts that might get in the way. Good project management, and internal leadership that encourages all parts of the process to feel invested in the larger outcome, also builds a more attractive business for both clients and employees.
Next comes implementing a plan as to accomplish their long-term goals, keeping their associates in mind, as well as defining what the business itself is in terms of pricing, implementation and the types of projects and clients taken on. The mistake commonly made by those without a clear vision is designating too much time to attempting to fix small problems. Though it may seem counterproductive, the more effective method is to stop and take stock of the big picture.
Once the larger picture is understood, designers can focus on what their particular brand is, and what it stands for. Nobel stressed that “designers are by definition a luxury brand, because no one really needs a designer. They want the emotional appeal of what a designer can provide.”
Thus, designers should remember and internalize that as a luxury brand, something “demonstrably superior and pleasingly different that all the others available.” By being extremely selective about how they are utilized by others as a luxury brand and internalizing this philosophy in terms of their web presence and client relations, the designer’s efforts can yield the highest rewards.
Nobel warned against “flowery, abstract conceptual language” as it “doesn’t mean much to anyone except your copy writer.” Figuring out how deliveries, invoices and proposals are handled, how designers “realize creatively the clients’ visions for the future in their lives” and how designers decide what they will and won’t take on in terms of jobs or clients are all important to identifying a designer’s service as a luxury brand.

Images courtesy of Stephen Nobel.
More than the access to products and the overall service provided, it is the process of working with a designer that surveyed clients identified as a reason to hire an interior designer. It is that distinction that makes or breaks a luxury business. Also important was the perception by clients over whether the designer understood their tastes, if the end result would reflect the client or the designer, if the designer would be respectful of time and money and if the end of the project will yield a custom result and experience.
Nobel identified “touchpoints” for before, during and after a project, where designers could evaluate the client experience provided, such as ensuring that phone and email contact is timely, tasteful and polite, what the planning process and installation are like, and how they interact and keep in touch with the client at the end of the project so that the next client is the result of strategic direction instead of chance, as “the shortest distance between the current best customer and the next best customer is through one or the other.” This last point is one of the most important things that designers can do for themselves and the industry as a whole.
He encouraged design centers, showrooms and designers to remember that they “are all in this together,” and that a cohesive presentation, where designers treat showrooms as an extension of their studios, and showrooms become more personable and attentive to the needs of clients brought in by designers, will result in a better future for the industry.
In sum, Nobel wished to impress upon designers that when it comes to reaching a new level of success and marketing themselves as a luxury brand, simple practices such as maintaining relationships, being selective about what kind of projects are taken on, and having and maintaining a plan for the future can boost a designer’s profile. As he put it, “it is not what you do, but what you know that makes you valuable.”

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