During a recent visit with a seasoned and talented designer in Denver, I asked him to share some photos of his work. Moments later, he emerged from a back office with a huge leather portfolio that he proceeded to plop onto the counter. He unzipped it, flapped both ends down and produced wonderful pictures of his fabulous projects.
I could see the pride in his face as I enthusiastically perused his photos.
When we were finished, he closed up the portfolio and back it went into an office, hidden from the eyes of millions of potential customers.
Samples of a designer’s work are valuable marketing tools. They shouldn’t – and needn’t – be hidden from view. Today, there are many opportunities to display and market your work, even when you’re not working. Today’s social media provides opportunities for you – and the showroom you work in – to be accessible to the world 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
For designers today, promoting ourselves and the showrooms we work in requires the use of social media. If you plan to be in this business for a while, you’re going to have to be social.
Social media refers to Web sites and mobile applications that enable users to create and share content. The most popular example is Facebook, through which more than a billion monthly active users generate and share news, commentary and photos – sometimes personal, but often professional. Other examples are video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo, photo sharing sites like Pinterest and Instagram and business networking sites like LinkedIn.
“Investment in social media will become a necessity, not a luxury,” predicted marketing expert and blogger Jayson DeMers, in a July 23, 2014 Forbes.com article, “The Top 7 Social Media Marketing Trends Dominating 2014.” According to DeMers, founder of AudienceBloom, 92 percent of business owners recently indicated that social media is important to their business, up from 86 percent in 2013.
The market is competitive. Information is flowing faster than ever and today’s consumer has instant access to it. We cannot afford to fall behind the latest marketing trends. Our online and social media presence is critical for drawing customers into our showrooms, and more precisely, to our work stations. Talented and creative designers, promoted through social media, can be major drawing cards for today’s showrooms. What are showrooms and designers doing to take advantage of social media opportunities to draw in new customers?
Most of us know that our industry has its own social media site – Houzz.com. – a Web site and online community about architecture, interior design and decorating, landscape design and home improvement. However, in my travels I’ve found that many designers aren’t using Houzz to optimize their careers or promote their showrooms. Many of them believe that Houzz is just a tool for consumers.
It’s true that Houzz, with more than six million users, is where consumers go to shop. And when they do, you’ll want to be the designer they find when they hunt for the proven professional with the right style and the right skills in their area. Think of Houzz as the Match.com for the kitchen and bath industry. Houzz gives you the opportunity to show off your work and make new connections.
As of July 2014, Houzz listed almost 16,000 kitchen and bath designers who maintained their own pages on the site. By far, most of them were showrooms. But did you know that individual designers can also have their own pages? You can find mine, for example, by visiting houzz.com and typing “Sarah Reep” in the search box at the top of the page. This will give you an example of how you can develop an online portfolio of your work to enhance your career – while also attracting consumers to the showroom where you work.
“As a designer, it’s important for us to be in tune with our clients’ wishes and desires,” says Amy Gallo, a designer at Reico Kitchen & Bath’s showroom in Richmond, VA. “It’s also part of our job to help make clients feel comfortable with the process, and to make their selections as convenient as possible. Partnering with my clients through their Houzz and Pinterest pages helps me quickly understand what they’re looking for, and helps keep their travel and phone time to a minimum. We’re all busy; the more that we can utilize social media outlets to help our schedules, the better it is for everyone.”
Along with being social media savvy, Amy enjoys the benefit of having an employer that encourages her to take advantage of the new promotional venues. Reico Kitchen and Bath, based in Springfield, VA, has 21 showrooms throughout the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. The company has created a presence on about a dozen social media sites, including Facebook, Pinterest and Houzz, to connect with consumers and promote its showrooms as well as its designers, according to Jim Grace, director of marketing and training.
“Customer behaviors have changed,” Jim told me during a recent discussion. “We have always been a visual industry. Tearing pictures out of magazines has evolved with technology into being able to do more research online. Houzz has found a formula to pull it all together in a way that works for consumers. It’s an opportunity for a showroom to show off its work.”
Jim emphasizes that the global reach of the Internet means consumers are no longer limited to the kitchen and bath experts who are in their neighborhoods.
For designers, Jim says, Houzz is an opportunity to connect with existing and potential clients on a higher level – to share ideas without the necessity of meeting in person.
“The connection can happen at any point,” he says. “It can happen before a customer visits the showroom, or following a personal meeting the designer and client can seek out new ideas and share them with each other by posting photos through an Idea Book on Houzz or sharing photos on Pinterest.”
While maintaining its own page on Houzz, Reico encourages its designers to have their own pages as well.
“There are a lot of opportunities for designers and showrooms to collaborate on mutual promotion,” Jim says. “We educate our designers about what opportunities are out there. Then we let them decide where to start and how to get involved.”
Amy says she uses Houzz in a variety of ways.
“I use it personally, as a way to gain new inspiration from fellow designers, and as a way to save ideas that I’d like to use in my own work,” she says. “I also refer my clients to my page to see my past work, and to create their own inspiration boards so that I can more accurately gauge their style and their wishes for their individual projects.”
She adds that several clients have found her through Houzz.
Jim isn’t concerned that social media will become a substitute for the showroom.
“It isn’t a threat to the showroom,” he said. “It’s actually an opportunity to attract more people to come in. We know that customers are out there doing the research before they come in. But this is still a touch and feel business. Eventually the customers are going to want to come in to see the colors and feel the materials in person before they make their final decisions. They may come to us further along in the pipeline but they are going to come to us, and they will have better formed ideas than ever.”
One of the best things about Houzz is that it’s free.
Starting your own page – whether you’re a designer or a showroom – is simple.
First take some time to explore the site. Search “Find a Pro” to see what other designers are doing – maybe you’ll find a few friends or colleagues online. Think about some ideas that will make your page stand out.
When you’re ready, create your Houzz account. Be sure to upload a nice friendly but professional photo for your profile – and remember to smile for the camera. This is the first impression people will have when they meet you online.
Then, upload samples of your best projects. This is where you get to show off the great work you’ve just done – or have in the works.
“The time needed to manage my profile is very minimal,” Amy shares. “After the initial set-up, all that’s needed is an occasional update to my portfolio photos. I try to photograph all of my completed projects and load them onto my Houzz page as soon as I’m able.”
Don’t forget: Houzz isn’t just for getting found – it’s a social network, too. You’ll connect better if you contribute. It’s important to be active on the site. Get your feet wet with a few discussion posts. Maybe start a discussion yourself. Think about a topic you’d like to write about and become a Houzz author. If you’re wondering who writes all of those articles featured on the Houzz home page and newsletter, it isn’t only Houzz editors. Many are written by freelance design writers. They post roughly once per week on their home design specialties. If you like to write, this could be an excellent PR opportunity for your business.
Back in the day, designers were proud to plop down their leather portfolios to show their work to an interested party. Today, our portfolios should be always open and on display to a world of intrigued viewers. It’s good for us designers – and it’s good for our showroom.