Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Perpetual motion

If you want your business to be a success and have self-sustaining growth, make sure you look after your customers and your suppliers – I know that it sounds like I am stating the obvious, but it is amazing how often this simple principle is forgotten, particularly as you approach the ‘business end’ of a project, or when things get a bit more stressful. As both a supplier of services and a user of suppliers on a regular basis, I thought it might be a useful exercise to reflect on what customers what (at both ends of the chain) – after all, in my experience this is ultimately what results in return business and referrals and is therefore a critical success factor in the growth of any business…

Having been a media consultant in a previous life advising executive boards on their strategy, I thought I would put some of my skills and experience to work and investigate what it is our customers want and what we want from our suppliers. I’ll say it again, the answers won’t be a huge epiphany for most, but having worked in the interior design and construction sector for several years now I am consistently astonished by how many suppliers get the basics so, so wrong. A lot…



(Image from www.viedigital.com)


In my view, here is a rudimentary summary of what customers are looking for - by focusing on these simple principles, you will build a critical mass of loyal customers over time that will often result in self-sustaining growth for your business;

  • Value for money - Many see ‘value for money’ as being something more significant than just cost or price; customers want to feel that the whole experience has been of value 

  • Quality - Higher quality increases customer satisfaction and decreases returns; this is true more than ever in today’s market, where customers still expect quality at highly competitive prices 

  • Timeliness - Timely deliveries/installations are crucial in shaping how customers view your reliability – if a suppler fails to meet the promised timescale it negatively impacts the relationship with the client (more often than not because of the adverse ‘knock on’ impact on other aspects of the project) 

  • Keeping promises and reliability - Customers want and need to be able to trust their various suppliers/advisors to do the things they say they will do. Where promises are broken, it will have a fundamental impact on these relationships. What is the point in trying to ‘wow’ a customer if you are failing to do the most basic things right? Call when you say you are going to call, do what you say you are going to do and meet the timeframes you have committed to – it isn’t difficult… is it? 

  • Customer Service - If customers do not feel that a business is ‘looking after them’ from a service perspective, it is significant enough in itself for them to be irritated – and, just to be clear, this is not just when things go wrong and you need to take remedial action. Irritated customers are not happy customers. Unhappy customers are not likely to remain customers for long. One of the most sustainable ways to grow your business is to have a disproportionate customer focus and aim to meet or exceed customer expectations all the time 

  • Employee Attitude and Knowledge - poor attitude and lack of knowledge is a fundamental part of the service experience (and often a fundamentally bad part of the customer service experience in this industry) – if you get this wrong, it can be hugely detrimental to your business from a reputational perspective 

  • Ease of doing business - Customers crave ease and simplicity – they want things that make life easier. That’s why we all have iPhones… unnecessary complexity around any product or service will leave customers feeling distinctly unimpressed, more often than not because they see through it in a second…  

  • Innovation - Suppliers can make major contributions to your new product development and innovation in the design industry. The good ones will understand your company, its industry, your needs and specific circumstances and, importantly, they will help you accordingly in your new idea execution – bespoke customer oriented innovation! 

  • Finance – Boring, but true – suppliers can also be a major and constant source of financing for you. Your payment terms with them can be an important source of cash flow because their extended terms don't usually carry interest… when you have a good relationship with suppliers you can make this arrangement work for both of you…

Fundamentally, what interior designers want is for suppliers to provide them with a competitive advantage – while we aren’t stupid enough to demand exclusivity, we want you to help us be competitive – in simple terms, this is based on your pricing, quality, reliability, innovation and your knowledge of the industry and our clients.


For the suppliers out there who may be reading this article - look at your own organisation and honestly answer the questions below – I am sure you will find somewhere where there is room for improvement. Are you good value for money? Do you offer good payment terms? Do you deliver ‘great’ customer service? Are you reliable? Are you easy to do business with? Do you recognise the impact that good relationships with designers can have on your business over the long term? – I use many of the same great suppliers on all of my projects…


As I mentioned at the beginning of my ‘soapbox rant’, once you find a good supplier hold onto them and be loyal – as you will have concluded by now, it is an incredibly important symbiotic relationship in our industry. That said, this doesn’t mean you can’t be demanding – however, you must be fair. State your quality and time expectations clearly. Hold your suppliers to their agreements. Make sure they stay competitive. Let them know that you are there for the long term as long as they perform and can keep pace with your growth …and importantly;

  • Pay your bills on time - Always pay on time. If for some reason you can't, call up your suppliers and tell them why and when you will pay. Don't play games with suppliers' cash. You'll be absolutely amazed at the goodwill and benefits you will earn by observing this simple rule 

  • Provide adequate lead times - share with them your honest projections of your needs – don’t make unrealistic promises about the volume of business you are going to give them over the long term to get an incremental and often immaterial discount in the short term… 

So, in summary, educate your suppliers around your needs and standards, treat them fairly, be demanding, be loyal, be communicative, and pay them on time – all these are key to the success of your relationship with your suppliers and to ensuring the growth of your business. Almost every company, whether product or service oriented, is dependent on suppliers. You need good and reliable suppliers. When you find them, treat them like gold. They are essential to the health of your business and your growth. Not rockets science by any stretch, but I am sure food for thought for everyone, whether you work in the interior design industry or not….


Jane Price-Stephens runs her own Interior Design business, to find out more visit: www.janepricestephens.com, follow Jane on twitter @jpricestephens or call 07970 547433.
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