What Level is Your Design Business?

Trade vs. Retail

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    Vita, at what point did you decide to go trade only? Was it a difficult transition? I’m struggling with best route for my business.

    The previous (30 years) owner of my business charged designers net+30%, which was not sustainable. I have been slowly increasing mark up with previous designer clients, and charging full retail with new designer and retail clients, but even that is not enough to reach the 55-60% profit margin goal.

    I find some designers need a lot of assistance picking out fabrics & trim, choosing which window treatments will work best in a space, and of course yardage requirements, and asking me to communicate directly with clients on design choices and invoicing…. making the jobs equal in effort to retail clients.

    Is there a tiered approach to pricing based on service levels? I started to explore that route but feels burdensome for quoting process.



    hi Nikki,
    great questions.
    i decided to go to the trade only around 2013, when my daughter was born.
    for me, it’s a simpler business model.
    i’m used to dealing b2b from my previous corporate experience, i’m more ‘business and to the point, less ‘doesn’t it look wonderful and you’ll feel amazing in the space’ :-). Plus, the back-and-forth on pricing and being shopped around felt really bad for me.
    so for those reasons, the decision was kind of organic and it felt right.
    i charge retail pricing to the designers.
    for example, 1WOM is around $150. plus lining, plus trim, plus hardware, plus install.
    the pricing covers multiple estimates, etc.
    i think you should do what makes financial sense for you. And also pursue what feels good and simple.
    This business is too complicated to make it even more so 🙂


    Hi Nikki and Vita,
    I am struggling with this topic as well, as I am Retail and I also service around 25 designers in the area. My problem with designers is, I make money on fabrication only with them – they buy their own fabric, hardware, shades, etc. Not only that, but somehow their problem becomes mine at the end, when something needs to be fixed that has nothing to do with us (like the fabric they sent has stretched after install,,or they picked a ripplefold fabrication with a plastic-y fabric that doesnt fold well and now client doesnt like it because it looks like a tutu). I don`t charge them retail for fabrication either. They do use my expertise for measuring, calculating yardages, even ask me for guidance on what to do. I charge a small fee to do that but it is a joke. My designers are a pain. Maybe because I allow them to be:)

    On the other hand, i feel Retail is easier for me – we have a showroom in the front (the back is a workroom), clients come in and we can pick the fabric, hardware, everything they need and we sell it to them. My profit margin per project is way bigger. Hpwever, The problem with Retail is, sometimes projects are so small that they are not worth the time. I struggle of how to put a minimum and say it in a classy way.
    So based on what we want : To Fire ourselves!, , I am not sure what model is less stress and more cut and dry for me.

    Also, the newest problem I have is, a few designers have approached me to be to the Trade only. They know how busy and popular we are here, Instagram is part of the problem. I do a few very known designers, they never tag me on Instagram but they do everyone else involved with the project. Our work is showcased in magazines but they never mention our name. I install so much for them but I dont post their project either, I have never addressed that issue with them. Id like to hear more (I know it`s coming in next lessons) how you handle social media with designers…

    Vita, wow! how do you get away with charging them retail, you are amazing. !

    I guess I will know all alot more after I see how the Project Managemnt system works for estimating because there are so many things to consider!
    *Retail vs Trade pricing, charging consult fee,
    *if a client or designer brings a COM, fabrictaion cost should be higher.
    *if fabric is difficult like velvet or needs to be handstitched, there has to an upcharge…
    and so on

    I will do anything you say :), if it makes my life easier!
    Thank you Vita!!
    Vessie (Plush House)


    hi Vessie,
    i hear you, sweetheart, i hear the angst, frustration, exhaustion – all of that in your voice.
    i soooo want to help b/c sometimes at a bird’s eye view, things are so much clearer.
    let me take it step by step.
    1. retail vs. to the trade. What FEELS better for you? 3 options: retail, trade, both. Take some time, pray on it, journal, do some soul-searching. Then make a decision and stick with it. Just go with how it feels to you personally. there is no right or wrong answer. just whatever you prefer. it’s your business, you do what you want. you won’t go wrong with either decision. Where you will go wrong is if you continue vacillating. it is when we are unsure of something and keep going back and forth, that it takes the most bandwidth and tires us out.
    2. start charging designers pricing that is commensurate with your service. Ask yourself: “At what price will I enjoy working on this project/with this designer?”
    3. Instagram. have you asked designers to tag you? just a simple ask. Conversely, do you tag them on your IG?
    4. Be ok with not chasing every designer and every project

    Base your decisions on what will make it simpler for YOU. One price is simpler than two. One target audience is simpler than two. it is simpler for me to ask for what i want and get a no, than to not ask and always wonder (i.e. in case of IG tagging, charging a higher price, etc).

    there is so much more to say, but let’s leave it at this for the time being,
    xo, v.


    I started as retail, added designers and then dumped the retail. Trade only is the only way for me. It works with my personality and skillset. I’m not interested in selling fabric and talking about design with homeowners. I generally don’t like other peoples taste and I’m not interested in pretending I like it. I do offer advice/ideas to designers but they generally have a good idea of what they want. There are many projects where I never even meet the homeowner. I love that!!!

    I’ll never understand pricing retail vs. trade differently. It takes as much time to make a roman shade regardless of who the client is. I think labor pricing should be the same for anyone you work for. The extra “retail” pricing comes in when you have to provide design advice. Are you behaving like a designer? In that case the retail client should pay for that service. There should be a price for every service you provide…regardless of who the client is. Measuring, consulting, quoting, advising, fabric sourcing, design ideas, renderings. A good designer generally has all her ducks in a row. Doesn’t waste your time.

    I think it comes down to “What kind of work do we want to do?” Do we want to design, fabricate or both? I don’t have the capacity or interest to do all of it.

    Also…FWIW…many designers do not tag their workrooms. I suspect they don’t like to share their “secret weapon”. I have mixed feelings about it.



    What has helped me in figuring my services is what pain points am I solving for my client?

    1. Am I ordering fabric? Well, then I’m doing Project Management.

    2. Am I figuring fullness against a scale or function? Well then I’m doing design.

    3. Am I fabricating against specs? Then I am fabricating. If I made the specs, I also did the design.

    Retail vs wholesale isn’t the question. It’s what pain am I resolving and what service am I offering? And then, what is the cost of me to do it (to cover my time, and operational expenses)? Plus risk, plus my planned profit.

    I can offer design service to a designer or to a homeowner. But what pain am I resolving?

    As a designer, they don’t know what hardware is best for that one way functioning drape and how much fullness to account for as well as any deductions or ease to add for function. That’s my design and experience.

    As a homeowner, they don’t know the above, either, but they also may not know what fabrics to choose for the aesthetic they want. That’s also design.

    Consider the services you offer and price accordingly. I bet you offer;

    -project management (beginning to end)
    – subject matter expert in hard treatments
    – fabrication
    – support through the end of the project
    – installation and troubleshooting

    What else?

    Think about it for a few projects and I bet you’ll see your real services and wow—— you offer a lot! Then you start your language and pricing conversations and get the pricing right so you’ll be there the next time you need them.


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What Level is Your Design Business?