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How Building Product Manufacturers Get Selected By Interior Designers

Are you guilty of lumping architects and interior designers together in your marketing plans? Today's guest explains why you should be separating those two groups and how you can get designers' attention.

Photo of Zach Williams
Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov

More About This Episode

The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insights on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

Joy Lynskey is the founder of Jewel Toned Interiors (JTI), an interior design company located in South Florida. She talks with Beth and Zach about the background of JTI, the current role of interior designers in construction and ways manufacturers can gain their attention using non-traditional tactics.

JTI: Changing the Face of Interior Design

Joy, born and raised in Florida, started JTI nine years after she graduated from the University of Florida. It's an architecturally-based interior design program that Joy created because she saw a need in the design industry for a work-life balance and she wanted people to “be humans at work and actually enjoy their life."

JTI's clients choose them because they listen. "I can't believe that that's actually a differentiator, but we hear it a lot, and we do work in all markets." About 80 percent of their work is commercial-based with clients in education, corporate, retail, restaurant, healthcare, fitness, wellness and non-profit spaces.

Non-profit work is Joy's favorite because it affords her the opportunity to have conversations about housing affordability. "There's [a] huge need in so many areas of the states, and we're not slowing down any time soon. We're really all about raising awareness around the fact that there is that disparity and that people need homes that they can afford to live in."

The True Role of Interior Designers in Construction

One of the things JTI does best is flip assumptions on their heads. When you look at the JTI website, it's positioned much more like a construction company than an interior design firm.

Joy ensures that her team gets involved early on in the process "when the project is a twinkle in the client's eye."

She explains, "We need to be in line with the architect and really having conversations with the client and the architect all in conjunction and collaboration. If the builder can be a part of those conversations, even better. A lot of times people want to bid, and so I'll push for a builder to have a fee that is appropriate so that they can still be involved in those initial conversations and they can feed what's actually going to happen in the end space."

As Joy points out, with all the rapid change in the building industry over the past years, it's essential that every single person on the project has the same vision, regardless of their title or role.

However, it's also important to realize that different roles bring different perspectives.

"Architecture comes at it from a building systems perspective, where interior designers come at it from an experiential perspective, meaning, how do you want your clientele to feel? How do you want your employees to feel, investors, patrons at a restaurant, spa-goers, whoever it is. How you actually want them to feel in the space, we reverse engineer our design to fit that and make sure that that vision can be realized."

Many building materials manufacturers focus on architects and designers as if they're the same thing. But in reality, there's a big gap between the two. Interior designers are much more involved in choosing and specifying products than most manufacturers realize.

Joy confirms it. "I'm mostly from drywall out, so I'm not going to tell a builder what kind of drywall to use or what kind of studs or any of the means and methods that go behind building. But when it comes to what's actually being applied or what's being installed from the lighting systems, absolutely. We guide all of that, and we specify all of that. We have our favorites. We have our go-to's."

Which of their go-to's they use, however, depends on financial parameters. When working on affordable housing projects or non-profit work, designers need to get very creative with inexpensive materials. And to ensure that their choices don't result in the contractor having to RFI, they create plans with extreme levels of detail.

"We have builders that are like, ‘I've never seen a set of plans like this before,” and it's because of the level of detail and the notes on how everything should be installed and material transitions and all those details,” explains Joy.

While Joy explains that she’s in the industry fully, her role goes beyond just being a participant. She's leading the industry. She's President of Construction Executives Association in South Florida — the first woman president, in fact.

In her years leading JTI, Joy has learned to spot the red flags in projects quickly. She's often had clients come to her after their building is complete and have realized that, though they've worked with a builder and architect, their project has "ended" but the building is empty and incomplete. She then has to explain to those clients that while her team can help, they can't transform the space that's already built, and they're going to end up paying an additional cost due to a lack of upfront foresight.

However, JTI ensures that these clients understand the importance of vision-casting conversations early in the process. As Joy explains, "We try to really inform people, 'We can offer this. It's not our full-fledged, best range of services, and what we really feel like is setting you up for success, but on your next project, we hope you hire us sooner’ and they typically do. Once they experience it later in the game, they're like, 'Oh my gosh, you're going to be the first people that we hire.''

These vision-casting conversations can seem "fluffy and weird," but they're essential for Joy's team to pull a design concept together. Often, prior to these conversations, clients don't actually know what design concept they want.

This image shows paint samples, fabric swatches, three markers and greenery laying on a table.


When Should Interior Designers Be Used in Construction Projects?

"Prior to lease or purchasing" is Joy's prompt answer. She gives Beth and Zach a current example of a client that they are doing a test fit for.

They show the client how their program — meaning how many people, how many conference rooms, break room, pump storage needs and other factors — fits into the space. “It's basically a feasibility study. If that space works, great. If it doesn't, we help them. They'll know they need to go up or down in terms of square footage, and then they find the right sized space for them."

A lot of clients think they need to downsize with fewer in-office employees. But Joy says it's not about downsizing — it's about finding the right size space for them. Open offices became popular pre-pandemic, but employees are not fans. They want more space. Joy encourages her clients to think about the amount of space they are giving each employee when considering square footage requirements.

Attracting Interior Designers' Attention

So how can manufacturers get an interior design firm's attention to become their go-to? For Joy and JTI, it starts with company outings.

Once a month, the entire team gets out of the office to visit a manufacturer for some untraditional fun. Instead of a factory tour or lunch and learns, these vendors take them to do an activity. Recent outings include blowing glass, throwing pottery, a cooking class and ax throwing.

Ax throwing was hosted by a lighting vendor they hadn't used before. While sharing a few cocktails and throwing axes, the team learned that this vendor had a domestic inventory of beautiful lighting that wasn't overly expensive and was quick-ship ready. They were checking all the boxes, but without this low-stakes, fun event, JTI wouldn't have known about them. "It's very out of the box," Joy admits, "but I think it's really [about] reaching your customers where they're at."

The ROI on these types of events is incredible for manufacturers. As Beth points out, an ax-throwing event cost the manufacturer about $25 per person. And JTI has 20-25 multi-family projects running at any given time, all of which need lighting.

Joy tells her vendors, "We specify who's in front of us," with the caveat of being graceful about it. Don't just drop in, demanding to see the owners. They have work to get done too. But Joy wants to hear from manufacturers who are passionate about their products. And when you attach an experience to it, It's even better.

The biggest selling point the lighting vendor hit with Joy's team was quick shipping. "We're so used to hearing 14-16 weeks. It's so hard," Joy admits. Now that JTI has used them, Joy will keep using the new vendor even once the other vendors start getting product stocked again

"Now [that] we've had the whole range — meaning learning about the product, specifying it, pitching it to the client, ordering, installation — we've seen it soup to nuts. That's where the rubber meets the road. You have to nail it on each aspect of that interaction with a company for you to really have a solid relationship because something can go wrong at each moment."

Getting It Right at Every Key Point

Beth asks, "Timing aside, how do you know that a manufacturer is going to be who you need them to be at each of those key points in a project that you just mentioned?"

"A lot of it is relationship," says Joy. An example is her favorite wall-covering vendor. JTI works with several wall-covering vendors, but when Joy has a client with very, very high expectations or she suspects things on the project could go wrong fast, she always uses this vendor.

"He has driven hours to my clients to troubleshoot for me multiple times. I don't forget that, I can't forget that. And I tell my team, 'Hey, this person has your back,' because at the end of the day, if it doesn't perform, it doesn't necessarily look bad on the product. It looks bad on us because we specified it. We've had to rip things out and replace it."

It's the small things that end up becoming the big memories your audience has of your product and company. Sometimes these small things can get lost in the sales calls, meetings and lunch and learns. But they can easily make or break a relationship.

Want Even More Insight?

Joy ends with a reminder that digital marketing is still essential for her team. "We are constantly sharing Instagram posts or LinkedIn posts and e-blasts with each other like, 'Hey, this is what I saw over the weekend, isn't that kind of look like your concept?' We, as a team, are very, very collaborative, and we try to share things and know what each other is up to so that if one of us finds a cork to fill the hole, we're going give it to them."

If you're not in their digital space, your product won't be shared with the rest of the team. "That's where everybody is living," as Joy puts it.

To learn more about the importance of attracting your interior designer audience's attention, listen to the entire episode here. You can reach out to Joy at LinkedIn, visit Jewel Toned Interiors on LinkedIn, check out their website or subscribe to their newsletter.

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