The Fast Food Furniture Industrial Complex: Who’s to blame for the crisis of quality.

After last Sunday’s radio show, I felt compelled to follow up on this important topic with a blog post to further expound on a few thoughts. There’s another obesity epidemic in America that has nothing to do with anything we’re eating…but many things we’re consuming. As a primer, the topic of my radio show focused on the erosion of our collective understanding of quality, specifically related to the way popular digital design resources pitch their products. In addition, I framed many of my observations in terms of our apparently insatiable appetite for good design vs. the dynamics surrounding our mission at The Design Coach as proud purveyors of quality, substance and style. And my friends let me tell you, I believe we’re at a tipping point…and although there’s plenty of blame to go around…I believe there are a few remedies that may be able to reverse the effects of the pervasive poison posts and products so many of us so willingly ingest. The feeds and fantastic offerings that appear stylish on the surface, but are anything but fulfilling in terms of quality…and are digitally dumped on us daily, deteriorating our perception and understanding of real value. Welcome to the era of Fast Food Furniture. Quick, affordable and stylish…all designed to be just tempting enough to keep us coming back for more. And more. And more.

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We’ve all seen the commercials from Wayfair, Amazon, Target and the like. You know the ones, where someone longing glances at an empty room, then back at their phone or tablet coveting the “perfect” piece, then just by presses add to cart…magically the room and their interior is complete! Or the happy family, shopping together grabbing “great” design right off the shelf all in an effort to “get it done.” Not to be outdone by the never-ending cycle of formulaic design shows that regurgitate the most unrealistic of budgets and timelines. Most of them sponsored by some of the very same companies who in many ways control the switch off the media hamster wheel I call the trend treadmill. This is not a conspiracy theory…it’s life in the world of interior design at all levels these days. Ask anyone in the industry, from manufacturers to design professionals to consumers. They all have stories to tell. And in many of them, the sacrificial lamb slaughtered at the altar of the religion of the new retail experience is quality…and the customers basic understanding of its very meaning. Today’s decorating landscape is littered with so much disposable design, and so many poorly constructed products, one cannot wonder where this is all going to lead?

Water-Marked Photo 3Right about now some of you are screaming “Amen”, and nodding your heads with a sense of conviction, maybe even donning a half-cocked smile of approval. While others, a sizable number of you, are becoming increasingly annoyed, defensive and may even be ready to move on from this blog. But before you do, let me make something very clear. My purpose in writing this blog, as was the case on the radio last Sunday, is to educate and bridge the gap that between what we think we know…and what is actually available to us in the way of affordable and attainable, quality design resources. Because I must tell you…the digital design universe is full of black holes with will swallow your money, as well as your understanding of quality design, faster than a hockey team at a post-game drive-thru. So before you click away…please allow me to explain further.

Everything…and I mean everything in life boils down to play of percentages. It’s all about creating a sense of balance in an interior…and in your life for that matter. All work, no play. Bad. All fun, no self-discipline. Eventually bad too. Design is no different. A certain amount of disposable design in your life is not only expected, but absolutely has its place. Sometimes it’s a room or a life in transition. Other times it’s totally a matter of budget…or just because we like to celebrate a particular season. But always be mindful that the cost of something is only relevant as it relates to its value. And quality is often the key driver of somethings true value. For too many of us cheap, fast and stylish enough is trumping quality. So much so that the consumers don’t even now what they’re missing. After 20 plus years in the design and contracting business there’s at least one thing I know…if your interior suffers from a lack of quality elements, they will never reach their full potential, and are destined to become increasing unsatisfying over time. Leaving you searching for the magic decorating fix or rapid rearrange. I’m here to tell you that solution to elevating your design is easier than you think, and involves fighting the endless temptations that lead to the digestion of the devilish deals offered by the digital design demagogues. Just as there’s a fast food place on every block these days, there’s a digital design resource worming its way into your feed looking to sell you style that is more times than not too good to true. And if you want authentic interiors that last, ones that really satisfy your creative soul and function fantastically…then you need to limit consuming the offerings on the menus of the digital design drive thru. By the way, that goes for you Home Gooders and Hobby Lobbyists as well. Smash & grab, spray & pray and “But I got it on sale.” does not a design strategy make.

As I said earlier, there’s plenty of blame to go around. From the manufacturers to the design professionals to the consumers, we’ve all had hand in allowing this to happen. We’d like to think we make the case for quality, but all too often we’re just sultans of seductive style. I believe that the solution starts with us. So here’s my advice for manufacturers, design professionals and consumers to begin bridging the quality gap before its meaning is lost forever, or even worse is only available to the chosen few.

Water-Marked Photo 1Manufacturers: First, manufacturers of quality goods need to do a better job inspiring and educating potential customers looking to elevate their design with next-level design offerings. In so many ways, you’re all still preaching to the same old choir of consumers and then left wondering why your customer bases are shrinking, sales are stagnant, or are shocked that people are unfamiliar with your products. If you what to grow your customer bases, you’ll need to educate and engage on more than just great style. Luxury/quality goods can be made attainable to everyone if sold and presented in the right percentages. Customers choose to afford what they prioritize. Make and approachable, inviting case for your unique quality AND style position…and you’ve got the start of an amazing relationship with a new customer. As the consumer continues to be bombarded with the case for cheap and fast, you’ll need to counter with substantive, value-based arguments for goods. Second, please stop hiring inexperienced representatives to pitch us your products that seem to be on an endless carousel through your organizations. It’s like rep roulette. We just never know who the next one’s going to be. As design professionals, we see ourselves as ambassadors of quality and style to our clients. But all too often the focus of the visits to our offices is high on style…and relatively uninformed on the true value and quality of your product lines. Over 20 years…this has gotten worse. And guess what, the digital design resources have figured you out, and in many cases ripped off your aesthetic and style for cheaper production overseas. How is the design professional or customer to know the difference, if you do not articulate the quality and artistry of your products equal to volume you amplify the style? The salvation of your brands moving forward will depend on our shared success articulating the value proposition of your offerings as it relates to both quality and style. Years ago, the luxury car industry created entry-level models in hopes of attracting customers outside of their traditional demographic. The result was once seemingly unattainable automobile brands, were seem to be accessible and approachable as they aggressively looked to cultivate relationships and build loyalty with a new type of customers. Too many of our industry’s best manufacturers still market their products like works of art, rather than art that should be put to work in lives…and in our interiors.

Design Professionals: Here’s where we can help. Many of us came into the industry with very little or no professional sales experience. The dirty little secret no one ever told us that we’re not really in interior design…we’re actually in creative sales. We need to learn how to play match-maker with all of the offerings in the marketplace, and look to apply them in the right percentages for each client. This means striking the right balance of items at all levels of quality. But many of us become too attached to our high-end look, process, idea or product lines, and forget to be the ambassador and adviser to quality, style and value so many of our clients need us to be. When something doesn’t go our way we professionally bruise. And even worse, our lack of sales experience, combined with a limited understanding of the important balance of substance and style, means we’re at a horrible disadvantage when attempting to make the case for the value of our idea, product or solution to our client. Many in the industry are uncomfortable when being cast in anything resembling the mold of a salesperson…as to do so in some way diminishes the art of it all. Nonsense. Real sales and customer-centered creative outcomes are about the relationship between a clients need, and the trust involved in the appropriate application of time energy, effort and investment to satisfy that need. Sometimes it’s furniture. Sometimes it’s contracting. Sometimes it’s art. Whatever the case, thoroughly educating ourselves on the brands and materials the we choose to market, means committing more of ourselves to the responsibility of helping the client, and less of a devotion to our idea, direction or creative desire. I’ll leave you with this. No one cares about your amazing idea or product if you cannot articulate it’s value to the customer. They need to know why they need it, and why you’re recommending it. And in today’s design marketplace, “Because it’s pretty…or isn’t it cool.” is not enough. It’s really that simple. Make your case. And if you can’t you’d better learn.

And finally to Consumers: For the love of God, have some patience for the process. Good, thoughtful, creative, quality design offerings take time to find, create, produce, deliver and install properly. But too many of you think it can be done on your schedule, and even worse, the digital universe and design networks have conditioned us to believe everything is available now…and can be completed in a snap just in time for the big reveal. Or before that party you should never have scheduled in the first place. Allow us to opportunity to invest time into introducing you to the amazing resources that lead to beautiful and functional design outcomes. Let us educate, elevate and create. And guess what…if we’re not doing this, I can’t blame you for moving on. But remember, when it comes to the budget, it’s okay to implement great design over time. Don’t be in such a rush, rather, be consistent and thoughtful with the effort and communication you put into the partnership. Just so you know, for most of us…it’s not about the money. It’s about the opportunity to create something special for someone else. The sense of enjoyment we get when you love where you live. Please view your design professional, your contractors and our resources as a team of trusted and valued creative partners. And lastly, if you want to elevate your interiors and get the most out of your design team, be open minded to the custom elements that in the right percentages are within reach. A task that becomes much more difficult if we continually default to the lower quality offerings so prevalent in digital design dynamic.

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I’ll leave you with this. I’m not saying there’s not a time and place for temporary or transitional design offerings. All I’m saying is that quality products and services take time to create, produce and execute…and if you really want to elevate your design to the next level, you’re going to need more than the Fast Food Furniture outlets can offer. And in our rush to have it all now, on our terms, and with a skewed perspective of quality, we’re losing so much of the critical understanding of what’s actually involved in bringing lasting products to the marketplace. And at some point, if it doesn’t turnaround, the saying “They just don’t make them like they used too.” might just become “I didn’t realize they ever did.” And wouldn’t that be the real the shame.

For lists and links to our preferred, quality interior design vendors go to The journey to begin elevating your interiors starts here!