For the second year in a row, I have had the pleasure of moderating the annual International Interior Design Association (IIDA) Industry Roundtable discussion, which brings together members of the IIDA’s Board of Directors with a preferred group of manufacturer sponsors to discuss issues of mutual concern between designers and suppliers of commercial interiors furniture and finishes. Following up on last year’s discussion about navigating a challenging economy, this year’s 14th annual Industry Roundtable focused on best business practices and the new normal; the relationship between designers and manufacturers, particularly the relationships between design firms and sales reps; and the latest thinking on sustainability.
What emerged—in addition to the sense of camaraderie that always characterizes these kinds of intimate events—was a clear picture of the interdependency that exists between designers and manufacturers as they all work toward the same goal of providing good and functional design to their commercial and institutional clients. On the design side, the onslaught of product information and the ever-evolving issues around sustainability and standards, coupled with A&D staff reductions resulting from the recession, have left many designers depending more and more heavily on their sales representatives to provide reliable, accurate product information. In some cases, design firms are also looking to the manufacturing community to provide, via their sales reps, value-added services that have more to do with educating and informing than actually selling products.
On the supplier side, the manufacturers present took a great interest in understanding designers’ attitudes about the impact and value of social media vs. more traditional means of communication and networking, and the influence of sustainability on their design work and specification process. They also talked about their own challenges in the tumultuous economy, and impressed upon the designers the value of keeping communication lines open at all times.
Bringing these two groups together for candid discussion on a regular basis continues to be a valuable initiative of the IIDA, and it was an informative and sometimes eye-opening weekend for all in attendance. The event is more or less an exploration of the symbiotic relationship that exists between specifiers and suppliers in the commercial design industry, and underscores the belief that sales relationships can also be successful business partnerships.
Manufacturers in attendance included Allsteel, Crossville , Haworth, InterfaceFLOR, KI, Kimball Office, Mannington Commercial, Milliken, and Transwall. A full summary of the roundtable discussions will be available in March.
Jennifer Thiele Busch