• Susan Dickenson

Where The Trade Shops

Interior designers on their favorite retail sources, and what makes them great

Sponsored By

AmericaMart Atlanta

Interior Designers And Decorators Have Access To A Number Of Trade-only Buying Sources, But Many Also Have Favorite Retailers – The Galleries, Shops And Antique Emporiums They Go To When Suddenly Faced With A Late Shipment, A Tight Deadline Or A Situation Requiring A Certain “something” To Complete A Room, Project Or Presentation.

While collaborations between retailers and interior designers can bring about great results for both sides, it helps to understand some of the key elements that make such relationships successful, especially if you’re a retailer looking to grow that side of your business.

H.D. Buttercup, Los Angeles Angeles
Randy Randy McManus Designs, Greensboro, N.C.
Schoolhouse Electric, New York Schoolhouse

In April, I moderated a panel discussion on the subject at Universal Furniture’s High Point showroom with retailers Teddie and Courtney Garrigan, owners of Dallas-based Coco & Dash; interior designer Claire Bell of Chic Abode Interiors, Atlanta; interior designer and architect Jeffrey Bruce Baker, also based in Atlanta; and Jamie Merida, interior designer and owner of Bountiful Interiors, a 15,000-sq.-ft. retail showroom in Easton, Md.

Teddie and Courtney Garrigan, the only non-designers in the group, estimate that about 85% of their business is with the design trade. Their shop offers a mix of classic and modern home furnishings, including “quirky finds with interesting elements” and they’re in the process of expanding Coco and Dash to a larger space that will include a workspace for designers.

“Designers are super important to the kind of retail we are; we all love that business, and it’s a great business to cultivate,” Teddie Garrigan said. “They’re people who understand what we’re selling. They’re people who already know what they want most of the time. So it’s well worth any discount we, as retailers, can give.”

For designers, retailers are a valuable source for accessories, architectural pieces and items that help customize and illustrate the value-add.

“We love working with retailers and anything that helps the environment become more diverse, more collected,” Baker said. “In one recent project in which we were the interior designer and architect, we collected all the furnishings… crystal candlesticks from a great silver and crystal shop, vintage linens, for example. We also do restaurants and hospitality spaces. I love architectural components from Italian manufacturers… and we’ve collaborated with retailers specializing in barn wood objects.”

“Sometimes we’re on deadline and there’s no time to plan for accessorizing, or perhaps a shipment gets held up,” Bell said. “In those situations, I can go to my retail folks and we’re able to get the complete vignette done. Also, when presenting in clients’ homes, if I bring a few high-end accessories it makes a huge difference. The client sees this lovely down-filled pillow and gets it immediately. The connection is made that this isn’t Homegoods, and in that moment the whole visual and the level of what we’re presenting is communicated.”

Here are a few more things the panelists shared about their successful retailer-designer relationships.

As retailers, what specifically do you provide or do that appeals to interior designers?

Merida: We provide everything we can to make that experience easy. We allow them to use our libraries… take things out on approval … and we work really hard to have things you won’t find in a big box store or anywhere else. We often hear, “I come to your shop because I know I’m going to find really good quality items that I don’t know how to source anymore.” We have one customer who does yachts, for example. She knows she can come in and walk out with 30 pillows and see if 20 will stick. And she doesn’t have to spend hours trying to source those out.

Mark Sikes, Alexa Hampton, David Netto, Moll Anderson and Marshall Watson at Mecox, Los Angeles, during last month’s La Cienega Design Quarter Legends event. Mark
Florida Florida Craft Art, St. Petersburg
The End of History, New York New
Angeles Accessory Preview, Los Angeles

T. Garrigan: Designers tell us they get so inundated with doing all the heavy lifting, background work, initial drawings, the followup. We go shopping all over the world and bring in the final touches. They come to us and know they’re going to find this wonderful range of items to use in a project and still get a good price. We also carry Dash and Albert rugs, Bunny Williams Home, some Celerie Kemble pieces, designer hardware from Addison Weeks … so they don’t have to do the big buy-ins.

Do you market to interior designers?

C. Garrigan: We’re very up front. We make it clear in our advertising that we offer consideration to the trade, and we give a 20% discount to designers. We find that a lot of designers put us on their rotation. They’ll say “You’re always our first stop; we thought we’d run by and see what’s new,” that kind of thing. We’re not expecting them to buy every time they walk through the front door, but it’s nice to know designers keep us top of mind and know we’re a good place.

Merida: We do a lot of store events for the trade… reach out to the local ASID, send mailers to designers, realtors, etc.

How important is the retailer’s product selection?

Merida: As a designer, if you’re like me and you have those favorite sources, you’re always going to find something, which is why you keep coming back to the same place. As a retailer, we always try to make sure we have something new and exciting. It’s hard to keep things fresh, but I think that’s what makes a shop a destination and separates you from everybody else.

Baker: We like staging our showroom gallery space with items that are going to be there when a particular client is coming in – items that fit their style and price point. That way we can do suggestive selling. We don’t put price tags on anything, we just have it there. So they’ll come in, kind of collect around the project, and in the end we’ll pull it together and add suggested pieces. I think it’s very easy to lose money as a business when it comes to accessorizing. If you go out as a professional designer, or you’re not a retail front, you can spend hours and hours sourcing all the pieces.

Bell: I agree. As a design studio, to manage the growth of it and do all the legwork is a lot, sometimes too much. So you do start to count on these partnerships.

What are your terms for loaning things out on approval?

Merida: I will let things go out on my delivery truck on approval because I feel the odds of selling to a client in their own home are a lot better than selling to them in the showroom. In this day of internet sales, if you go above and beyond, it pays back.

C. Garrigan: We’ll take a credit card number, but we don’t keep it on file, because I don’t want to be responsible for that. So as soon as the transaction is finished, it goes straight into a shredder. It’s very important, as retailers, that we let them know it’s okay if it comes back. We don’t want it to come back of course because we want to make that sale, but it’s okay if it comes back.

T. Garrigan: And to that point, ask yourself if you’re really going to be okay. Because the minute you act irritated or put out, that person is gone. Personally, I wouldn’t go back to somebody that did that.

What’s the most important advice you can share with retailers who want to build their design business?

T. Garrigan: The number one thing is for people to feel welcome. It’s no fun to go into a shop and feel uncomfortable or like someone is judging you. We have a very relaxed atmosphere, dogs in the shop, and other than that there is a general feeling of some theater along with great design pieces.

C. Garrigan: And we present ourselves as who we are… relaxed, friendly to everybody who walks through the door whether they’re just looking, or there to spend $20,000. Treat all the same. We get designers from all over the country, including some big names, but we really love these designers just starting out. We love to see them grow in their business. When you start seeing that growth, we feel like we’re there with them.

Bell: Yes, as a designer, so much of it is about that. You don’t want to feel like you’re inconveniencing anyone. You want to feel that sense of community.

T. Garrigan: Most important, if a designer comes into your store, let them know that you work with designers. Tell them “We’d love to have your business.” At Coco and Dash, we have a printed to-the-trade program that tells them what we do, the considerations, our rules… and it makes it very clear to them that we want their business.

Susan DickensonSusan Dickenson | Editor in Chief

Susan Dickenson is the editor in chief of Home Accents Today, where she has spent more than a decade covering trending topics, best practices and news items pertaining to the manufacturing, retail and interior design segments of the home furnishings industry. A graduate of UNC, Dickenson spent 15 years in the Washington, D.C., area, writing and researching in both the public and private sector. After relocating to her native North Carolina in 2003, she freelanced as a writer of general interest, business, garden and home items for local and national publications before joining Home Accents Today in 2006 as retail editor.

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