When selling design is like selling furniture

As designers we continually need to decide at what level we pitch our skills. Some might think that during tough economic times it’s best to lower rates, but there’ll always be a rational choice for quality.

Conran CEO Roger Mavity shared his thoughts in a recent BBC Radio 4 podcast.

“Quite a large number of people are in a mindset that if they haven’t got that much money they’d rather buy a few things that are good and are going to endure, than lots of stuff which isn’t.

Eames lounge chair

“In the Conran shop, for example, we sell a lot of quite classic pieces of modern furniture like the famous Charles Eames lounge chair which you couldn’t possibly describe as cheap. It’s about 4,000 quid. You can get knockoffs of that for half the price or a quarter of the price very easily, but there’s clearly a group of people who would much rather pay the full amount knowing that they’re going to get something which will last them a lifetime and they’re going to pass to their children, rather than pay a lot less, and have something which will last three years and then be passed to the skip.

“So I think even when money’s under pressure, perhaps even more so when money’s under pressure, people want a quality experience as well as a cheap one.”
— ROGER MAVITY, CEO, CONRAN

Quoted from The Bottom Line podcast (01 November 2012) with Evan Davis.

Roger Mavity is also co-author of Life’s a Pitch: How to Sell Yourself and Your Brilliant Ideas (2008).

Earlier, on pricing: Don’t forget to ask about the budget.

Eames lounge chair photo via lofthome.ch.

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6 comments

  1. Very true. Budgets are a little tighter at the moment but I’m finding that if I take the time to explain to my clients what they are getting for their money then they are still happy to invest it into the projects.

    They key part is the explanation. A lot of people are selling directly over the net and are doing so at rock bottom prices*. That’s because they can’t explain their value very well so they have to compete on price alone.

    As always, do your best work and spend the time with your clients and prospects. Invest in them and they’ll invest in you.

    *http://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2012/january/what-kind-of-logo-does-25-buy-you

  2. “Buy cheap, buy twice” – a policy I’ve learnt to avoid when making major purchases.

  3. Great post David, I was thinking that exact same analogy the other day after listening to the same podcast.

    It’s great to hear that businesses that offer high standard products can survive in frugal times and that (some) people are seeing the value in investing in the more enduring.

    Totally agree with Steve, your clients need to know why a good piece of work can’t be knocked together in little time for little cash.

    After a career working for agencies and large companies, I decided to go solo and made the mistake of trying to work for people that just don’t see any value in spending the time necessary to do lasting, distinctive work. A lot of small companies, such as manual trades, have no long term plan or vision and just want work doing because someone else they know has a ‘trendy’ logo, or a website.

    One of these clients once said “I want a Rolls Royce for the Price of a Mini’ – I don’t work for him anymore.

    (As an aside, he drove a Mercedes McClaren which retailed at around £200,000, do you think he managed the get the price down to under 10%?)

  4. It would help if prospects would provide their budget. Majority do not, so how is one to educate them or provide alternatives/project scope comparisons?

  5. @Sean

    I think it’s a good practice for any designer when trying to decide to work with a client to ask what the budget is for the job. If clients aren’t willing to share this type of information with you then it’s probably a good sign the budget is either far to low, or they just didn’t think about it. If the case is the latter your next questions should address how much they are willing to pay for the project so you can craft a “budget” for them.

  6. Mario Vieira

    While I agree with the idea of paying for quality that lasts, I have issue with the Eames chair example. The chair was designed a long time ago and has achieved iconic status. I would suggest that while the build quality may be excellent, I believe the cost is more a reflection of the chair’s status and desirability, rather than the actual costs of producing a quality bit of furniture. Ultimately it is mass produced product, designed a long time ago. A very lovely piece of mass produced furniture I might add.

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