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How to Cultivate Vendor Relationships When Business is Booming

Trusted product sources are essential when you’re in high demand, we share how to find and keep them

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No interior designer is an island. Great products, from raw materials to finishing decor touches, are essential to completing any type of home design or remodeling project. That means you’ll need to find high-quality, trustworthy sources that reflect well on you and your work. And when demand for your work is high, it can be even more challenging to cultivate sources that can keep up while meeting your standards. Here we’ll share how to find high-quality, trustworthy vendors and maintain those relationships for the long haul — so that you and your clients can be confident in a job well done.

Why Are Good Vendor Relationships Important?

Any design project is the sum of its parts, from subfloor stability to wall art, and even minor cosmetic adjustments require new products. So you’ll want to develop sources you can count on to deliver every product to your standards, and in the time frame you’ve promised your clients. Product vendors also should run their business in an ethical manner and be responsive in communications.

When demand for your work is high, the pressure is on even more. You’ll need to be extra efficient and constantly stay on top of communications to make sure no item falls through the cracks. Houzz Pro lets you keep all your messaging in one place, so you manage it on the go and not have to scramble to find info among emails, texts and voicemails. 

Just how important are vendors? “If we didn’t have good relationships with vendors, we couldn’t sell anything to our clients, so [they’re] very, very important,” says Laura Irion of Laura Design Company near Chicago.

“Our vendors are the ones that keep us informed and educated about new product lines and future product lines,” says Kaitlyn Wolfe of Iconic Design+Build in Scottsdale, Arizona. “They also provide us with our selling points to our clients — usually the detailed information that we need about the performance of the product.”

1. A Less Obvious Benefit 

But there’s another aspect many designers don’t take full advantage of: Vendors can refer potential clients to you. And referrals can be a lucrative source of ongoing work. Vendors “will gladly [share referrals],” says designer Deana Duffek of Laguna Beach, California. “They’re in the business of wanting to sell a product. We have high-end hardwood floor distributors or tile manufacturers, etc. Those relationships we fostered through the years, and then they gladly [refer clients to us] because they know us and know our work.”

2. How to Find Great Vendors

Whether you’re just starting out or need to round out your team of trusted product sources, first figure out what types of vendors you need. You may need suppliers of:

  • Raw materials
  • Lighting
  • Fixtures
  • Finishes
  • Furnishings
  • Decor

Once you’ve decided on what types of vendors you need, it’s time to find them. While it may seem efficient to choose the top result in an internet search, a better way would be to seek out vendors personally. That way you can better gauge if you’re a good fit and see the quality of their work close up. Consider:

  • Visiting showrooms
  • Attending trade shows
  • Looking at trade magazines and websites
  • Asking other designers

Once you’ve decided on what types of vendors you need, it’s time to find them. The Houzz Pro Vendor Portal is a great resource for this! You can search professionals in four categories: bookkeeping/accounting firms, business coaches, purchasing agents and virtual design assistants — and some even offer discounts to Houzz Pro members. You can also seek out vendors personally by visiting showrooms and attending trade shows, which will let you see if you’re a good fit and gauge the quality of their work up close. Also consider:

  • Browsing any industry organization databases
  • Looking at trade magazines and websites
  • Asking other designers

It’s a good idea to ask the vendors themselves for references too, and to do a search on them with the Better Business Bureau as well as check any licensing and insurance requirements. 

Whether you have time to seek out a trusted network of vendors or not, consider making product sourcing easier by joining the Houzz Trade Program. Your dedicated account manager will provide personalized service — sourcing top-brand products for you from among millions of items, handling bulk and custom orders, and even arranging white-glove delivery. It’s like having your own design assistant, and will give you an edge in terms of both saving time and getting products at competitive prices. 

How to Maintain Good Vendor Relationships

1. Be a People Person

First remember that you’re dealing with people, not faceless corporations. That means always being courteous and considerate. “We try to be nice to them and treat everyone how we want to be treated,” Irion says. “I feel like that’s the golden rule of our business. I try not to email them during business hours or outside of business hours, things like that.” 

“We show appreciation for what they do for us,” Wolfe says. “We allow them to feel welcomed at our office and drop off new samples that they feel we would gravitate towards. We schedule them opportunities to meet, educate and present to our entire team.” 

It also means showing you care beyond just business. “I think it’s important to say, ‘How are the kids? How have you been? How are you making it through this crazy COVID time? I know your mom was in the hospital. How is she doing?’ That kind of stuff,” Duffek says. “That comes back to, again, fostering relationships, communication, trust.” 

When demand for your services is high and stress levels rise, it’s especially important to remember these types of courtesies.

2. Give Credit Generously

Remember that every product source, no matter how small, is a business. Giving credit where credit is due, publicly and regularly, will go a long way toward building goodwill. Use the tag feature on social media when you post project photos. And regularly uploading gorgeous photos of finished projects to your Houzz Pro profile isn’t just a terrific way to attract new clients from among Houzz’s more than 65 million homeowners; it’s a great way to credit your sources. Simply tag product sources on your Houzz photos and share the names of any relevant vendors.

“When [vendors] see our work on our social media in any way, or even traditional marketing collateral, that’s just an advertisement for them,” Duffek says. “That relationship is symbiotic, goes back and forth, and there’s a lot of value in that press.” As the saying goes, one hand washes the other. Share your sources freely and refer potential clients to them, and they may do the same for you. 

Learn how to get amazing project photos for your Houzz profile and social media in this complete guide.

3. Pay Attention to Professionalism

You’ll also want to exude professionalism in your communications, payment practices and work environment, so that vendors want to work with you time and again. Houzz Pro can be invaluable for this, with tools that help with invoicing and payments and much more. 

When everyone on a team is on the same page, working hard and in harmony to design a home from scratch or remodel it to suit the owners’ tastes, the result can be more than just a stunning space. It can be the foundation for mutually beneficial relationships for years to come.

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