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Why Your Product Needs to Win Over Designers (and How)

Winning over the designer on a project is crucial for building products brands, especially in the early stages of their project. This week, Zach and Beth talk with a special guest about how to guarantee architects and designers will spec your product when it’s time to start shopping.

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.

Tom Conley is the president and CEO of High Point Market, one of the design industry’s premier trade show events. The ways an architect and designer finds and chooses products have changed, so we asked Tom how building materials brands can connect with them and sell more effectively.

What’s Hot At High Point Market

High Point Market (HPMKT) is a trade show event unlike any we’ve seen before. It’s a closed, invite-only event and happens twice a year in High Point, North Carolina.

“It is probably one of the more unique trade shows in the world, in that it's spread out over 13 square blocks and has 180 buildings, and there are literally over 100 different building owners,” says Tom Conley, president and CEO of High Point. “We like to refer to it sometimes as herding cats, but it really is a fun environment spread out over a large geography.”

HPMKT is hosted in North Carolina, but it’s a global event, with “buyers from over 100 different countries,” explains Tom. “We have designers, we have architects, we have, of course, retailers [and] e-tailers, and we hope to get more of your listeners and viewers to come to our market.”

Various people are gathered in a showroom. There are plants hanging from the ceiling, and plants scattered around the space.


High Point is one of many trade shows in the building materials industry, with a heavy focus on the designer and interior design. “What we're seeing is the designer becomes more and more important into this whole process because the designer is getting involved earlier on,” explains Tom. “They're brought in, and they're partnering with the general contractor, they're partnering with the architect, and they're specifying a lot of different products.”

Ultimately, this holistic approach to home design results in better projects. “And so it's really important that I think all the building materials folks understand that and begin to build those relationships so that their products can be specified,” says Tom.

Trends in Building Materials: The Role of Designers

Something we've talked about before is the role of the interior designer on a project. “We've seen interior designers who are consulting on how a family who might be designing a new home or doing renovation is thinking about how the family moves from the inside of the living space to the outside and what materials are chosen,” says Zach with Venveo.

Tom and his team at High Point Market have also noticed how much more of a role interior designers are playing during a construction project. “The designer is being asked to consider not only the movements of the individuals, but the environment — with a huge emphasis now on green and going green, staying green, renewable [and] reusable,” explains Tom. “It's a really evolutionary kind of a process that we've seen taken place over the past five, six, seven years.”

Tips for Trade Shows

The trade show world has changed drastically in the past few years, which we’ve covered a few times on the podcast. Today’s manufacturers just can’t sell like they used to, and Tom talks more about what he’s seen at High Point and how brands can reach designers in the building materials market.

Showcase Your Solutions

Tom encourages brands to rethink how they show up at trade shows today. “The old way of displaying product — or the manufacturer/importer, pile it high and let it fly — that's not the case,” says Tom. “You're seeing products that are designed in a vignette style, and there are multiple vignettes created in these massive showrooms so that, in fact, all of the issues that the designer faces can be dealt with by that manufacturer.”

What Makes You Different?

Tom suggests collaborating with your competitors and other brands and celebrating the differences. “You're seeing partnerships with manufacturers or importers who have certain unique products, they're bringing in other products to complete that vignette so that when the designer walks in, they can see how that particular exhibitor's product plays well with the other products,” says Tom.

Create an Experience

Tom emphasizes how important it is to make your product experience memorable for designers. “We believe that there is a need for face-to-face interaction, especially when you're looking at [a] product like our industry represents, colors, size, how well it sits, how well it feels,” says Tom. “So we're seeing a much more cohesive, unified approach to solving the issues that the designer is facing.”

The Marriage of Ecommerce and In-Person Sales

COVID made an impact on trade shows and in-person events, which forced many brands and businesses online. “I will tell you that the trade show business, especially even in our business, is being threatened, because folks don't need as many interactions,” Tom says.

“We looked very hard about whether we should be involved in the digital side, and because of our unique makeup, we decided not to,” he explains.

But that doesn’t mean ecommerce isn’t important, and Tom agrees. “I think that the whole digital experience is critical. It will grow in its utilization,” he says. “Designers, architects, builders — they're situational. They've got a project. And so what they need for that project will vary from, say, a retailer who is constantly selling and then restocking and selling. So I think that the digital aspect of the business is much more beneficial to the building industry, to designers [and] to folks that are project-based.”

We asked Tom about how the architects and designers he interacts with are shopping and how brands can help them in the purchase experience. Designers might not always be the ones making the purchase — often it’s the homeowner who pays.

“The [purchasing] models are so diverse, as are the people that are out there doing it. Part of that has to do with pricing, quite frankly, being able to establish what is that internet price,” says Tom.

For designers and architects, it means being transparent about their services and pricing. “They go through a whole checklist of how they work and how they get paid,” explains Tom.

Building product manufacturers and brands can help that process by being upfront about cost and providing product education to designers. “They have to be able to describe the quality of the product,” says Tom. “There's a reason why you're specifying it — you're specifying it because of the quality or you're specifying it because of the look or the color or the wearability or whatever.”

Want Even More Insight?

“It's much more about solving problems than it is about selling product,” says Tom. “You've got education, you've got relationships, and then you've got the new product. All three are equally important.”

Listen to the full interview for more great tips and trade show ideas.

You can get in touch with Tom via email or check out High Point Market’s website for more information on the twice-a-year event.

Head over to our library of podcast episodes for more strategies and tips for selling to designers and architects. And be sure to subscribe to Smarter Building Materials Marketing wherever you listen