Need etiquette advice from designers

tcufrogApril 4, 2013
About a month ago we discovered that our master bath was infested with mold and we had to have large portions of it ripped out. I currently in the process of returning it to its former glory.

I hit a roadblock though with some trim tile. I visited 5 tile stores and struck out with even finding something the right height to replace all of that tile including the intact tile.

Out of desperation I asked a friend for her designer's phone number so I could ask her for some tile store suggestions. She instead asked for a photo of the tile and its dimensions. That afternoon she emailed with the name of the manufacturer and address and phone number plus a staff name where I can find. I went there today and it was a close enough match that I will hopefully be able to make it work.

It turns out that its a designer showroom so the designer will have order the tile for me.

I never hired her and she never asked for payment but this going above and beyond what I requested. I really appreciate what she did since I know she's busy. I still don't have the final bill from this mess so I don't know if I can afford to pay her.

How do I thank her? This help was invaluable since I was about to tear my hair out.
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PRO
HERE Design and Architecture
Sorry - I am not clear: did she order the tile for you or are you going to ask her to do so?
    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 9:33PM
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tcufrog
I have not asked her to order the tile yet because I have not chosen it from the samples I picked out. I will have to ask her to order it though because the the tile store will not allow me to order it. They deal only with designers.
2 Likes    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 4:37AM
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orangecamera
When you asked your friend for the designer's phone number, I imagine your intent was to call the designer and ask them to help you. At that time, you would have discussed fees, but remember that you were prepared (at that time) to pay the designer *something*. Just call to thank them, and ask what their commission is for finding and ordering the tile for you. You're under no real obligation to hire them to place the order for you if you feel their fee is out of line. But the fact that they found the tile very quickly without asking to be paid lets me think they're not going to overcharge you at this point.
3 Likes    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 4:50AM
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S. Thomas Kutch
Tcufrog........this isn't unusual. Matter of fact, most high end design material retailers will limit their interaction through registered designers only.

Ask her what she would charge you to place the order for you.....if it's just placing the order, at most a very nominal fee for her time. If she doesn't charge you anything, ask her what her favorite restaurant is get her a gift certificate for 2 for dinner and a bottle of wine.
13 Likes    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 4:58AM
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tcufrog
All I wanted was some suggestions for where to go to look for tile. I thought that she might know of some stores i didn't know about which would only take a few seconds of her time. I was completely surprised when she asked for a photo and when she did I just thought it was so she'd know what level of finish I was going for so she would know what to recommend. I'm very grateful that she found the tile but in this whole process I never expected her to locate it for me which is why it didn't occur to me to discuss fees.

I'm not trying to take advantage of her or devalue her expertise. If I had planned to hire a designer for this project I would have. I found all of the tradespeople myself and sourced everything except this particular tile myself.
    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 5:00AM
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tcufrog
Thomas Kutch, thanks for the advice. I will do that once I figure out which tile to order.
    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 5:01AM
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PRO
HERE Design and Architecture
tcufrog - I see where you are at now. Since you know what tile it is (right?) you can probably look online to get it (or have your contractor get it) and send the designer a bottle of wine.
    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 6:25PM
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judianna20
Your friend's designer helped you find tile which you could not find on your own. She did what you asked, she found the tile and to get it you need to order it through her. And you are afraid you need to pay for her service? This is her profession. You asked for her help, She gave it to you. You pay her. For heaven's sake.

If you asked your friend for her dentist's name to help you out with your toothache, and he did, you would question whether to pay him?
    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 6:39PM
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PRO
HERE Design and Architecture
judyg - It would be very bad practice on the designer's part to go ahead and do what she regarded as billable work without having some kind of contract in place. (Depending on where she practices, she might find herself in some pretty hot water.) To me It sounds like the designer was just trying to help the woman out. Here on Houzz, we do it all the time. :)
8 Likes    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 6:50PM
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tcufrog
HERE...
Thanks for understanding.

judyg...

As I repeatedly stated I didn't ask her to find me the tile. I asked for suggestions for tile stores that I could go to to look for tile. She took it upon herself to look for the tile.

I have hired designers twice before. The first time was a very wrong fit. Everything she suggested was totally wrong. The way she got paid was by ordering furniture and other work and charging a percentage. Even though I didn't like her ideas I ordered some furniture through her that I picked out myself without her help so she would get paid for her efforts even though I didn't like them. The second designer I had a clear budget with and a clear understanding of what I needed. I paid her promptly and we had a great working relationship.

I am perfectly willing to pay professionals for their work. I was confused because she did something for me that I never asked for. Unlike what some people may have done I recognized that she had done some professional work for me even though I never asked her to do it. I could theoretically decide not to compensate her in any way since we didn't have even a verbal contract but I thought that was wrong.

I am offended that you would accuse me of doing that.

I didn't hire a designer in the first place because I already knew what I needed and money is really tight. My homeowners insurance isn't paying for the more than $10,000 the mold disaster is costing.
2 Likes    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 6:51PM
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PRO
Tom Strott
As long as her price is reasonable, I would order the tile from her and tell how much you appreciate her help and refer your friends to her. You could always ask, but I suspect she was not expecting more than the tile business and to be helpful. Generally, a professional would be clear up front if payment was expected.
2 Likes    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 6:54PM
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Amy Stanley
Honestly you should be able to ask a designer about possible tile stores without being billed, my BIL is a doctor, people ask him all the time outside of the office his opinion on this or that- he doesn't bill them out for the answer. Unless you specifically discussed a fee then you are under no obligation to pay this person..if you want her to order the tile for you, then I would call her back and ask her how much she would charge you to do so and make a decision from there.
6 Likes    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 7:17PM
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K B
@eztia--you hit the nail on the head. Even now it sounds like the pseudo-client is not sure what her relationship or obligation to the designer is. It sounds like the designer did not arrange for compensation prior to doing the work and, once asked by the "client", the designer took it upon herself to assist the "client" beyond the scope of what the "client" initially requested. I am not a designer, I do not know what the industry custom is. As the professional who is paid for her services, however, the designer is the one obligated to spell out what, if any, compensation is expected. (Just like attorneys, doctors, or mechanics). Designers may view this as "Duh, of course she should be compensated for the time she puts into assisting this woman." But, while this client may know what the industry norm is, many clients will not, so it serves all parties' interests to establish the compensation at the outset. After all, I'm just a layperson depending on your expertise, knowledge etc., I should not be expected to know your compensation schedule (Yes, it is in my own interest to find out; don't want to receive services that I only later find out I can't afford, but you will not be in ANY business for very long if you aren't clear about when compensation is expected) My advice, don't be coy--spell out what you want this designer to do for you and ask her what is appropriate compensation. (And, yes there are times when doctors, lawyers and mechanics provide services for free, but that too is established before any work is performed.). Last, we may all find out that all this designer expects is a thank you and maybe that you use her next time you need design services or refer your friends to her--as they always say "Referrals Welcome."
    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 7:34PM
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K B
@eztia. Wish you had kept your comment up. Really so many matters can be easily resolved by clear(er) communication.
    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 7:39PM
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judianna20
No need to be offended. Plain and simple. YOU called the designer. YOU asked for her help. YOU went to the showroom. YOU took up her time to respond to you. Should you order the tile through the designer, she will get her professional discount. Then she will bill you…often 33% over her cost. After all, it is HER account with the vendor. Why would you expect not to pay for a service? The designer would not introduce you to a contact and expect, should you place an order, not to be compensated.

You called her expecting to get information because of her professional knowledge and because you could not do it yourself. Acknowledge that professionalism and treat it as such.
    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 7:46PM
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Susan Jacobs
I would send her a thoughtfully worded note explaining your situation as you just did on HOUZZ. I thought you expressed your point of view very diplomatically here. She would (I hope) not be offended by a note from you asking her if you are expected to pay for her time even though you did not ask for the amount of help she gave you, if she gets paid by ordering the tile for you, etc. It is her responsibility to lay out the terms of your interaction. I can't imagine she would have a problem being asked a completely understandable question. When in doubt, always be honest, yet kind. You cannot go wrong.
3 Likes    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 7:49PM
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Susan Jacobs
oh... and after you are honest and kind, stick up for yourself!
3 Likes    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 8:00PM
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PRO
Staged for Perfection
I am sorry but I cannot assume that you would expect a designer to do something that is the their way of putting food on the table for free. Even though you did not discuss price and terms upfront. Do you work for free?
1 Like    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 8:15PM
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chicagom
No, it's not billable work. Many professionals in every field give advice and references to family and friends without expecting payment. If you were a client she would have discussed what the scope of the work was and given you pricing.

Just because she does this for a living doesn't mean she charges everyone she talks to. A thank you bottle of wine would be a nice token.
7 Likes    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 8:34PM
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tcufrog
I will ask her Monday about payment. I regret not asking her in the first place but it never occurred to me that it would get to the point beyond a quick toss off of names of tile stores the same way when I was a research consultant and someone would ask me where to get certain info and I'd give them the name of a few websites. When I spent a couple of minutes doing that I didn't charge for it because I wasn't doing any legwork.
1 Like    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 8:39PM
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Cindy Quinton
As a real estate agent I often have friends, family, and former clients call and ask what their home might be worth for a refinance, or if I can provide what homes near them have sold for in order to battle reducing their taxes...that sort of thing. Often it eventually results in business, often it doesn't. Not every question I answer is profitable. The answer to this is quite simple, you call her and ask what it would cost to order the tile through her and if you feel the price fits in your budget and is reasonable, ORDER the tile with her. If it doesn't work for you, find it or something else somewhere else, but I'm betting the tile is about as reasonable through her as any other source. Regardless, I doubt she is the least bit concerned.

Even if you don't order the tile with her, undoubtedly you will remember her helpfulness and consider her the next time you do need design help. And that is how business are really built.
3 Likes    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 9:04PM
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kimdee24
I totally agree with Cindy. I think she was just trying to help you out and if you choose not to proceed through her, I doubt she will be bothered by it.
2 Likes    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 9:15PM
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Ed
Cindy, kimdee, thanks. TcuFrog -- please update us after you ask her, I'm curious to know how this develops. Thanks. :)
    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 9:32PM
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tcufrog
I spoke with the designer this morning when I called about tile costs and asked her about the consultation fee. I told her that I realized this weekend that I had forgotten to ask her about it and I was wondering how she preferred to handle such matters. She said not to worry about it since she was just ordering tile for me. I do plan to go tomorrow and get her a nice gift basket at World Market.

Thanks for the advice.
8 Likes    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 8:17AM
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orangecamera
Fantastic!
    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 8:48AM
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kimdee24
Glad it all worked out! I had a feeling it might!
    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 8:50AM
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trebinje
"She said not to worry about it since she was just ordering tile for me." Did you ask her if she was charging you the full retail price? If so, she's 'getting paid' by buying at wholesale and reselling to you at retail. If that's the case, a gift basket is unwarranted.
1 Like    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 9:01AM
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0825sam
Great! Also not surprising. In my profession it would be completely unethical to charge someone without telling them your fees and engaging them as a client up front.
    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 9:06AM
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PRO
nFORMAL design
@tcufrog...this isn't meant to seem negative, but think of it this way. I make barbecue that people in Chicago literally beg me to buy when I make it. But, when people want to do it on their own, they say, "What's in your rub?" or "What type of wood do you use?" Both of those answers are key things that make my barbecue special. I just won't give out that information. In a similar light to what you are doing, I also wouldn't ask a carpenter where to find materials to do something that they typically do for a living.

I had a potential client want to not pay me because I didn't give her dimensioned drawings...but we hadn't gotten that far. However, I spent HOURS/DAYS researching materials, etc. So, that designer could have given you the names of some tile stores, but she/he might have driven around, bought tile, etc., from a ton of tile stores and whittled down the few that he/she trusted and liked. So, there is much more to the back story than just giving you the name...plus, there are relationships with the stores, and if she just gave you the name of the tile store, you still couldn't have bought there anyway.

Although this worked out, and I probably wouldn't charge someone for the same service she did, it is just something to keep in the back of your mind for the next project. Part of a designers repertoire is building a knowledge base of reputable dealers and that takes a lot of time and trial/error.
1 Like    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 9:17AM
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tcufrog
trebinje...
I'm not sure how I would ask that without being rude. I received the tile prices from her today and the prices she quoted me didn't seem out of line from what I had looked at.

nFORMAL...
That customer was out of line. As I mentioned earlier when I tried a designer whose plan didn't work for us at all, I made sure she was compensated for her work. As for the tile store, I had no idea until I arrived at the tile store she recommended that I wouldn't be able to order for myself. After all, I had just visited several stores that would allow me to order my own tile.

I agree that a large part of a professional's value is in the knowledge that they had accrued but I have given public website suggestions when asked without compensation. To me there's a difference between giving the name of a few public websites and giving out my professional secret sauce such as the user name and password for a paid database. Both take the same amount of time but one is only available through hiring a professional. I viewed, perhaps incorrectly, asking for the names of a few tile stores the same way.

As for your anecdote about your bbq recipe I can see why you don't want to share it. I am a Texan, and as such am used to being surrounded by people who are passionate about their bbq. Some like to keep it secret while some consider it the highest compliment to be asked how they created such wonderful food and will go on for hours about why they ultimately chose cedar over pecan wood if you let them. It's impossible for a person to know how you feel unless they ask. It's rude of them though to get upset if you don't want to share.
2 Likes    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 9:31AM
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PRO
nFORMAL design
@We never get upset...just are usually straightforward about anything. Personally (and not a representation of our firm), I just have a hard time asking anyone professional for free advice unless that is what they typically do.

Don't get me wrong...I've done it many times, but I always feel weird. Here's a great story, and one for everyone of us to think about. I used to manage an outdoor retail store, and our store was known far and wide for our technical knowledge. I had a poor college student come in and have me fit him for backpacks to find which brand fit him best. He was about to buy the pack at our store, but a regional competitor were closing out that brand and discounted the pack 33% off retail. As a poor college student, I totally understood that he couldn't pass that up. He even came and asked if he could bring it back and have it fitted because he didn't trust them to do it right. I was a little irritated that a guy was going to buy a backpack at our competitor after we spent 2 hours fitting him with packs and then he was going to come back to have us fit the one he bought. However, for good customer relations (and the fact we all know what it is like to be broke-a**), I told him that would be fine. When he brought the pack to me, he brought me a 12-pack of microbrews (this was 15 years ago) for fitting him with the pack.

Point is...he asked first, explained his situation and then rewarded us for our kindness and generosity.
2 Likes    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 10:01AM
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Susan Jacobs
Some designers who post on Houzz don't answer "what color is this?" type questions. But sites like Houzz are basically here for sharing information, so it confuses me. I am in no position to find fault - I suppose a designer's colors are their "secret sauce". But... many do share, and what's more, they put in hours of work helping people with their dilemmas on Houzz.
    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 1:43PM
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PRO
HERE Design and Architecture
Susan Jacobs, I think for homeowners, the purpose is sharing information. For designers, it is primarily marketing.
1 Like    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 1:53PM
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Nancy Walton
What irks me is the blatant advertising "suggestions" here on Houzz. "Go to my website and see my art for your living room..."
2 Likes    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 3:14PM
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PRO
Julie Thome Draperies, Inc.
Just another perspective on this tile ordering dilemma.......often I have people (non clients) ask me to hunt down a fabric for them. Because I have a lot of sources at my fingertips, it is relatively easy for me to hunt down a particular pattern...HOWEVER..when it comes to placing the order...that is "work" that needs to be compensated for. For instance....designers can only buy from the trade only sources if they have an account in place with the tile shop for instance. If the account is not in place , there is paper work to be done to first set that up. Assuming the designer already has the account in place, the order is paid for through the designers credit card.

Now when I order on my credit card for a client I will NOT do it for it for a flat turn around..there HAS to be markup. They are essentially using my credit to buy their item so markup is totally necessary otherwise why would I do this?
These days more than ever, goods are usually backordered...so my time taken for following up on the backorder is considerable. Then I have to worry about shipping and whether the product arrives to me in good shape (or not). Assuming it does (more than often there is a problem though), I then have to take time to contact the client and arrange pickup/delivery......

all of this as a "favor" because it's not part of a bigger job that I am doing for "considerable" markup...these "favors" to friends and acquaintances are actually quite time consuming.......the online searching not such a big deal.
1 Like    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 4:16PM
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tcufrog
Thanks for the information Julie. I was surprised when she declined the consultation fee today. The tile price she quoted seemed reasonable so I doubt there was much of a markup, if any.
    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 4:23PM
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PRO
Julie Thome Draperies, Inc.
Consider yourself lucky that she is placing the order for you!! and I don't mean to be snobby about it, but she could have easily declined. She is probably making very little out of it unless its a huge volume that you're placing. I'd still buy her that bottle of wine if it were me.
2 Likes    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 4:25PM
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tcufrog
Julie... It's a small volume. Don't worry. She will get a very nice gift basket including wine from World Market. :)
2 Likes    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 4:30PM
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tcufrog
I had a gift basket made up at World Market this morning and dropped it off at her office. The store will make up the basket for free while you wait if you pick out the items and container.

I just got this email from her:

"Hey tcufrog,
Thank you so much for the nice little surprise waiting for me when I got in this morning.

That was really sweet of you and I appreciate it so much!
I'm so glad that I was able to get you in the right direction for the source for the damaged tile....That made my day!

Again, thank you."
7 Likes    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 11:15AM
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kimdee24
Nice!! Glad it all worked out!
    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 11:27AM
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carolins
This was a very interesting thread, I just read the entire thing.
Glad it worked out so nicely.
1 Like    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 11:38AM
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orangecamera
tcufrog, thanks for coming back and telling us how nicely this all turned out.
    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 12:11PM
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PRO
OnePlan
It's always nice to hear happy endings !!
    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 12:45PM
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Susan Jacobs
So glad to hear it all worked out. This designer invested wisely in some good will, which may someday turn into business.
1 Like    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 1:55PM
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