Working With Designers


What is it like, the pros and the cons, to do work for Interior Decorators and Designers?
After doing upholstery, and a little bit of drapery work, for retail clients for over 25 years, I did work almost exclusively for Interior Designers for about 5 or 6 years. During this time I made all types of swags, valances, shades, cornices and custom created window coverings, as well as doing some upholstery. For the last 6 or 8 years, I have primarily done upholstery and slipcover work for mainly direct retail clients, although I still done a limited amount of decorator work. So I have written this from my experiences with decorators.


Some of the benefits of working for Designers are:

  • Very little advertising expense.
  • Potentially lower shop costs. No need to have a store front, or to have a fancy shop to impress clients.
  • Build relationships with repeat clients (the designer)
  • Life can be pretty simple. You only have to do the work. The Designer takes the orders and does all the work of figuring out what the client wants.
  • Potential for a lot of continued work.
  • It can be quick and easy to get started doing work for decorators (assuming you do good quality work, and you find a Designer who needs another upholsterer).
  • Almost instant work, you don't have to do a lot of advertising to slowly build your work. You are getting work from the decorator's reputation.
  • Once you've established a relationship with a designer, you don't have to "re-think" every job. You will know what the designer likes (e.g. should chair be pattern match or should the dominant bouquet be balanced throughout the chair?). You will also know if this designer gets high end clients, or cheapstakes, or in between, and you can plan your work accordingly as well as order bulk supplies accordingly. by Agnes(Ann-Yes))
  • You don't have to spend time choosing fabrics, trims, etc. Although some charge designers a trade rate, aka wholesale, you only have to concentrate on the part of the business that actually makes money. By design, my trade discount to designers is the same as my upcharge for COM... clever, huh ? by Agnes(Ann-Yes))
  • You don't have to worry about trying to continually find new clients. Your clients (the designers) keep bringing you work over and over again. (As long as you keep them happy.)


Drawbacks (negatives) of doing work for Designers.

  • Constant conflicts in schedules. You are working by numerous schedules, yours and theirs.
  • They usually want quick turn around, irregardless of how swamped you may be.
  • They often want nearly exact completion dates.
  • You often have to adjust your schedule (work like crazy) to fit your work into their schedules. Designers are often coordinating a lot of decorating projects to be completed at specific times. They want the work you do for them to be finished to coincide with projects from other workrooms, so that it can all be delivered and installed at the same time.
  • Your direct retail clients may get unhappy, because it takes longer to get their work done. (To keep the Designer's work, you may often have to push your own clients back to get the Designer's work done by their completion dates.)
  • They often want to pay less than retail clients (they want your "wholesale" rate.)
  • You are not building your business, but the designers'.
  • The Designer is the one who builds her reputation from your work. I even had one designer who wanted me to put her labels on my work.
  • No matter how much work you do for the designer, or how good of a job you do, it is the Designer who gets all the credit (and future clients) from your work.
  • If your designer gets unhappy with your work, or finds a better deal with another upholsterer, you have no income and can loose your future work.
  • The Designer has a big leverage over you, since they are your primary source of income.
  • The designer usually provides the fabric, trims, etc. and makes that profit. by Agnes(Ann-Yes))
  • If you only work for designers, you are working from a smaller "pool" or market. This is a risk and anyone considering catering to designers should be sure to cater to several. I know of a few workrooms who only had one designer, and when that went sour, after many happy years, the workroom was in big trouble. Do not put all your eggs in one basket! by Agnes(Ann-Yes))
  • If most of your work comes from only one or two designers
    • You may find it hard to tell them that they can't have it by their chosen dates.
    • You may be so afraid to loose them as clients that you'll accept unreasonable demands or time deadlines.
  • You may be afraid to say or do anything that will upset them. You won't want to loose your only source of income.  



If you want to do work for Designer, here are a few suggestions to make your life easier.

  • Use at least several Designers to supply your work.
  • I would suggest that you write out a policy and guidelines for working with Designers and put it on your website and/or give a copy to any Designers who want you to do their work. Here is an example of what I have written: Policy for Working With Designers . 
  • Don't let any one Designer supply you with most of your work. I would suggest that you keep any one source of your income less than 20% to 25%.
  • Keep some kind of reasonably accurate work schedule, and keep it regularly updated.
  • Never give a Designer a completion date the moment she asks. Always tell her that you will call her back with the estimated completion date. This will give you time to look at what other work also has to be done.
  • Do High Quality work. The clients of the decorators are paying a lot, and they expect quality.
  • Make sure you charge enough; Charge your full rate for COM material. Don't work cheap.
  • Get the price of each job settled up front. To do this you can:
    • When you first start doing work for decorators, make out a detailed price list that you give to the decorators. They can use this in giving the client a rough estimate as to cost.
    • Have the decorator take pictures of the furniture and email it to you.
    • Go out to the client's home to see the furniture before writing up the final work order.
    • If, while doing a job, you find an unexpected extra cost item, call the decorator and get the extra cost approved before proceeding.

    In Conclusion

    Nowadays I do a limited amount of work for Designers. I only make cornices for one drapery shop now. I have a good relationship with that shop, and they really value my work. The work I do for them gives me a little less than twenty percent of my yearly income. 

    I much prefer to do work for direct clients. I do a lot of advertising to get direct retail clients. The reputation I am building is my own. It takes longer to get work when you are building a business from scratch, but in the long run it is much better. However, when you are first starting out, doing a limited amount of business from Designers can help you keep the doors open while you are building your business. 

    Best Wishes 

    I started this article in the webboard message board here: Doing Work For Decorators 

    See Agnes' original message