IFDA’s Virtual Gab Fest Shop Talk

by Jim Nowakowski

IFDA (International Furnishings and Design Association) Illinois Chapter held a virtual “Gab Fest” on May 21, 2020 over ZOOM. I was invited not only as a member, but having participated as a speaker for this organization in the past. For over an hour, we had a great discussion about what members were doing in this COVID environment, and participation was terrific. I take copious notes as always during such meetings, and decided to share some of what I heard with all of you. Thank you Camille Sullivan and Beth Arntzen the co-chairmen for the Illinois chapter for inviting me!

  1. The backgrounds of these designers is awesome. Some started their design careers after having successful careers in other areas. Others were interior designers from the get-go. Either way, their experiences have a profound impact not only on their approach to design, but to the current difficult business climate in which we all operate.
  2. The IFDA is doing everything they can to support designers. The IFDA’s mission is to inspire collaboration within the furnishings and design industry to support its people, their products and services. They do a terrific job. You can find out more about them on their website.
  3. Many were doing kitchen and bath work. Several used the word “paused” when discussing business, but also expanded on how they are working, including doing work on kitchens and baths.
  4. Collaboration is taking place. One of the participants mentioned that business is actually “easier” because they don’t have to visit physically. This led to a discussion about doing things virtually. Like discussions I have participated in the past since the virus began, there are always two sides to this story. The majority, however, felt that the physical contact with the room – even though technology exists that facilities the virtual experience – is still irreplaceable.
  5. Personal Development. Some of the attendees said they were using this time for “personal development.” This is true in other groups I have attended, as the time of being at home affords this luxury, which when you are busy simply isn’t there. Chats like the one I attended also facilitate the development as the designers share and learn ideas from each other.
  6. One of the questions the group brought up is: what will happen as restrictions are eased? “Once we go back, a lot of price increases are going to take place,” said one designer. This suggested cash flow as a problem right now according to another designer. Products are purchased, but can’t be shipped “just yet.” But, clients of these designers have a deep understanding of the situation and actually step up to ease the designer’s financial burden.
  7. Getting in the House. The designers (some of them) discussed how they still go into the homes of clients. “I hold up my mask and ask if they want me to put it on,” said one attendee. “Most say no, so I walk in.” Generally more care is exercised when physical interactions occur, but what I heard is that customers and clients want design help.
  8. One of the ideas presented was “mood boards.” These are ideas – similar to boards on Pinterest perhaps –that the designer and the client can discuss. Sharing these “mood boards” virtually is easily done with today’s technologies. “Tele-design” was a word that came to mind, similar to the “tele-medicine” that is being used today. Of course, there is still the discussion of whether or not a doctor can really examine a patient online without touching them. The same can ultimately be said for a room. Out of state business easily transitions to virtual contact, saving plane fare.
  9. The importance of leads was discussed, and in addition to referrals, which remain the central way designers get business, contractors as a lead source was mentioned. That is, the contractors these designers use refer business back to the designers when appropriate. I brought up the fact of a webinar I had attended earlier that day from the Farnsworth Group. In speaking to manufacturers and suppliers, Grant Farnsworth noted that what contractors need from them has changed. Leads, marketing, sales support, availability may be more important today than labor and project management. Arguably, the same is true for designers: they need quality leads. Designers have always been coveted by manufacturers because it is the designer who controls the end user, the client, where the products eventually get installed.
  10. The Future. The meeting concluded with ;projections on what this world would look like in terms of business. While no one had a definitive answer, one of the comments was, “I find I have to make things happen.” I reminded the group of Jim Lovell, commander, Apollo 13 who said, “There are three kinds of people in the world: those who make things happen…those who watch things happen…and those who wonder what happened.” I told the group that this is not the first time such a sentiment was expressed and reminded them of Niccolo Machiavelli who wrote THE PRINCE in 1513 and said, “There are three different kinds of brains. One understands things unassisted, while the another understands things when shown by others. The third kind understands neither alone nor with the explanations of others. The first kind is most excellent, and the second also excellent. The third, however, is useless.” Time and time again, designers have proven to be among the first group, the one that makes things happen.

I followed up with attendees and called attention to KB-tivity, which is a section exclusively for designers to showcase some of their work. Kim Eggert who the VP Communications and Marketing for the Illinois Chapter, is already featured and was the first to take advantage of this section. I invited attendees to participate as well, and KB-Resource is extending this invitation to all who read this blog. Just contact the [email protected] and one of their writers will guide you in the process. It’s very simple, they just need materials from you. In addition, if you want any of the manufacturers you specify to participate, simply tell them to forward their releases to Maria Lester, our editor ([email protected]).

Editor's Note:

A new industry report conducted jointly by the National Kitchen & Bath Association and John Burns Real Estate Consulting examines current kitchen and bath industry demand, future expectations, and issues and challenges that industry professionals are facing in their businesses. Called the Kitchen & Bath Market Index, the Q1 2020 report is available online and is based on findings from 651 NKBA members across four primary industry segments including Design, Building and Construction, Retail Sales and Manufacturing. According to the report (like many reports being produced now by research firms and associations), the KB market has not surprisingly begun to contract in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It shows “demand and declining optimism as current and future business conditions both rate below the prior four quarters.” But what Nowakowski heard in this brief discussion were designers “making things happen.” The question is always: what are you going to do with the information you receive. For example, Ali Wolf, the Chief Economist for Meyers Research, is a terrific speaker and presenter who provides practical information each Wednesday online on the building marketplace. Builders and KB are markets we are all interested in, and you can register and see them online at the Meyers Research hub. In one recent presentation she described the future with a slide that showed spaghetti-like lines mirroring what a human brain my look like with nerve connections to express the uncertainty. “We could use the great recession as a guide,” she said, “but no one really knows.” That thought — that no one really knows — is expressed underneath virtually all future predictions. Which means, if no one knows, your opinion is as good as anyone else’s. Keep a positive outlook, and things will look positive and will become positive. Make it happen!

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