Those who practice interior design know, intuitively, that improving one's surroundings can change one's mental outlook, level of productivity and physical well-being. We need, however, to loudly communicate that positive impact to our clients and to the public. In an ideal world, our happy clients, who experience these changes, will spread the word about the "impact of good design." Such is the case with Stuart Rose, CEO of Marks & Spencer (M&S), who recently authored an article in the Harvard Business Review describing the company's dramatic turnaround.
M&S, considered an icon retailer in the United Kingdom, had experienced a nose dive in profitability-down 85 percent from its height in 1998. Rose was hired in 2004 and immediately knew he had to focus on three key areas: improving the product; improving the stores; and improving the service. But it was his comments about retail environments that caught my attention. "In the stores we'd remodeled, we were beginning to see a return on our investment of around 17 percent. We needed an environment in which people felt good about the premium they were being asked to pay for the quality of products we sold. Our food halls, for example, were now decked out with matte steel refrigerators and shiny black tile floors," he states. I do not know what other improvements were made in the stores-chances are they encompassed improved lighting, more upscale finishes and reconfiguration of merchandise displays. The important point is that in November 2006, M&S posted half-year profits that were up more than 32 percent from the previous fiscal year. Improved store environments directly contributed to improved profitability.
A common opinion voiced by many in the design community is that a majority of clients don't need an addition to their house. Instead, they need to clear out their clutter. Therefore, the following observation by the M&S CEO was refreshing: "The most symbolic thing we did was to have a massive housecleaning. Because there were so many different sub-brands in our shops, we had lots of signage and titles and names on cardboard cluttering up our stores. We had a ‘skip' delivered to all of the stores-every single one-and asked them to toss everything out. On the scale of things, that may not seem like a big deal, but it quickly made quite an impact on the way the stores looked and how employees felt. Retail analysts had long noted that the stores were too dark, too cluttered, and too bland-and they were right. It was the beginning of a major store-by-store refurbishment program, which cost us more than £500 million by the end of 2006, with an additional £800 million earmarked after that," explains Rose.
With a high-ranking business readership of 240,000 worldwide, comments like these published in the Harvard Business Review could mean good things for interior designers. However, Rose does not specifically mention the interior design profession by name in his article. I would hazard a guess that most business professionals who read the article would never consider an interior designer as the right consultant for the job because they do not truly understand what interior designers do and how they work. Putting the Harvard Business Review aside for a moment, do business owners in your community know the impact your work can have on the bottom line? If not, what can you do to make sure they find out?
As interior design continues to mature into a full-fledged profession with minimum requirements of education, experience and examination, we need to forcefully and effectively explain the difference between a certified/licensed/registered interior designer and everyone else. Pushing the edge of my comfort zone, I now boldly tell clients when they refer to me by another name ("architect," "decorator" or even "interior architect") that, "No, in fact, I am a NCIDQ-qualified interior designer, and here is why that makes a difference ... ." My clients typically apologize and graciously state that they are happy to know the difference.
As professionals, we need to ensure our clients understand the connection between good design and improved profitability, productivity and wellness. Most importantly, we must communicate that NCIDQ Certificate holders have the knowledge, experience and expertise to design improvements that will also lead to an improved bottom line.
Jan Bast is president of NCIDQ and is currently the program director at Design Institute of San Diego. Prior to that, she spent 15 years as a partner in Bast/Wright Interiors, providing programming, space planning, contract documents and project administration for both commercial and residential projects. Bast is an NCIDQ Certificate holder and a certified interior designer in California. For more information on NCIDQ, visit www.ncidq.org.