Use interior designers as a lucrative sales source; art dealers who work with interior designers offer advice and guidance

Use interior designers as a lucrative sales source; art dealers who work with interior designers offer advice and guidance – news

Debbie Hagan

“II f you’re just a salesman in this relationship, you’ve got nothing,” said Marvin Rosenbaum of Rosenbaum Editions talking about how art dealers can sell and work with interior designers. The Boca Raton, Fla.-based publisher speaks from 40 years of experience. He knows that winning designers’ hearts hinges on one key philosophy: “You’re not just selling paintings. You’re acting as a consultant.”

Experience, credentials and expert advice are key factors in this relationship. He added that services like discounts, selection, art on approval, flaming, installation, commissions and delivery can help, as well.

“We’re in a custom business,” said Rosenbaum. “Interior designers come to you not only to buy what you’ve got, but because of what you can put together … You have to be Johnny-on-the-spot.” It’s a service-with-a-smile business. Those who can deliver the goods, in spite of adversities, pressures and last-minute changes, end up with repeat buyers who purchase a lot of art.

Getting Started

A gallerist can hang a sign in the gallery that says, “We sell to designers,” said Rosenbaum, but it won’t attract many sales. He insisted, “You’ve got to go beyond the four walls.”

A logical way to get started, Rosenbaum advised, is to seek referrals from your customers. Ask them for the names of their interior designers or friends in the design business. Look for new construction going up. Comb the newspaper for new projects and major renovations. Call and find out who’s in charge of interiors. Make appointments with those people, and show them what you’ve got and what you can do. All of this takes time, Rosenbaum said, so you may need to hire full- or part-time help.

Another way to start, said Marilizabeth M. Polizzi, gallery director for Arts Alive in Scottsdale Ariz., is to join the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). As an ASID member, a gallery can exhibit at local tabletop shows, interact with designers at local meetings and list its services on ASID’s national Web directory. Polizzi said the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), based in Chicago, offers similar benefits.

To showcase your skills, you can exhibit your art work in designer show houses and model homes. Polizzi also advertises in magazines, such as Phoenix Home & Garden. “We changed the general layout of our ads at the end of 2002, where we now have a `human element’ in the ad, not just product,” said Polizzi, who is featured standing among a grouping of large, framed paintings. “Designers are very tactile and typically very personable. They want to feel and touch the product.” It’s this personal touch, Polizzi believes, that has made the ad so successful.

Direct mail is another good way to zero-in on designers, said Carlie Edward, marketing director for Progressive Editions in Toronto. She belongs to ASID’s Canadian equivalent–the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario (ARIDO). Edward said “every major interior designer in Ontario” belongs to this association. By being a member, she can use the association’s mailing list once a year. (ASID makes its list available to members, too.) For instance, Edward used the list last fall to invite ARIDO members to an educational night to give designers a better understanding of Progressive Editions’ handmade prints. She plans to do it again this year.

Selling to Designers

“Art is the most important item in a room. It’s what hits you when you walk in,” said Daniel Deljou of Deljou Art Group in Atlanta. “Good interior designers are aware of the importance of art. They’re sophisticated clients, and you have to assure them you can [give them what they need]. They want you to act as an art consultant.”

Deljou added, “It’s important to listen to what they’re trying to do with the space,” and then go the distance to help them put it together.”

“Technically it’s their job, and they have to have the concept,” said Polizzi. But she added, “They want some assistance. They want someone who can go out and eyeball an area. They want the dealer to say, `This is what you need, and this is what will fit.’ They can’t be specialists in every single field, and they have to have someone reliable to help them.”

Lilliana Braico of Lilliana Braico Gallery in Carmel, Calif., said the most important aspect of this business is to “pay attention to detail and to the [designer’s] plan.” Using a catalog that she mails to ASID members, Braico sells her own paintings, giclee prints and posters. Because she can order the giclee prints one at a time, she can make the pieces whatever size the designer wants and print them on silk, paper or canvas–whatever material the designer desires. Being an artist, Braico is willing to work on commission, catering to whatever needs designers have.

Designers also want trade discounts, which can range from 10- to 50-percent off retail prices. “You need to offer at least 20 percent, or it doesn’t sound good enough to visit,” Polizzi recommended.

“If I go into a place cold, I don’t expect more than the normal rate, which might be 10 to 20 percent,” said Mel Jones, a New York City interior designer. “But after while, if I establish a relationship with the dealer and bring in a lot of business, I expect to get more than that.”

What to Sell

“If you want to cater to this market, your resources in the gallery are not enough,” said Deljou. When designers cannot find what they’re looking for in his inventory, he has 40 to 50 artists on site who will create something original.

“It’s a nice benefit if you have a couple of artists who have a wide range of work in their palettes,” said Polizzi. “Even if you don’t have their works in the gallery, you can have photographs of what they can do.” Similarly, you can keep a slide and photograph library of artwork, particularly pieces that you don’t normally show, which might include sculpture, fabric, glass and photography. Offering a broad selection, in addition to installation, gives designers one-stop shopping capabilities–a big plus for them.

“Showing photographs of the work helps, but designers are very tactile; they want to see it and be able to touch it,” said Polizzi, who tries to keep a sample of everything on hand. “The same thing is true with framing. Designers want to see moulding samples and make sure that they match the floor.”

And designers want to take out the samples and artwork on approval so they can show them to their customers and see how they will look in the space. From the designer’s perspective, it’s advantageous, Jones said, to work with a dealer who will let him take out 10 pieces, even though he may only purchase five.

“One thing about working with interior designers is that you have to have the pulse of the market” said Deljou, who attends the NeoCon and High Point shows for that purpose. He also reads shelter magazines.

“We are magazine-aholics,” admitted Sue Schlabach, art director of Wild Apple in Woodstock, Vt. The company, which publishes art to meet interior trends, tracks color changes through Color Marketing Group and sends staff to U.S. and European design shows. “This helps us see what we might be missing and what the trends are,” said Schlabach.

Professional Ethics

There’s one big caveat in this business. Polizzi warned, “You have to remember the client belongs to the designer” In other words, an art dealer should not sell directly to the customer unless the designer OK’s it. Polizzi said, “If the customer calls me directly, I say, `You probably need to talk to your designer.'”

From time to time, designers will come into the gallery or showroom with their customers. When that happens, Polizzi said, she avoids discussing prices. Sometimes designers give customers their trade discounts. More often, however, they factor in the discount as part of their earnings. Therefore, if Polizzi must discuss prices with customers, she quotes retail.

“A designer might bring in 15 clients who all want three pieces,” said Polizzi. “You can lose it all with one job. You want to keep designers happy, because they will bring repeat customers.”

Other successful dealers in the market agree. “A lot of people don’t like to deal with designers because they feel that they’re looking for deals” said Braico. “I feel that they don’t understand. We’re not talking about just one sale. We’re talking about multiple sales. If you care for designers and give them lots of attention, they will keep coming back.”


An excellent place to catch up with designers and take note of trends in home designs are design shows. Here is a sample of important industry events:

International Home Furnishings Market

High Point, N.C.

April 3 to 9,(312) 527-7600

SOFA New York

New York

May 28 to June 1, (800) 561-7632

NeoCon World’s Trade Fair


June 16 to 18, (800) 677-6278

Maison & Objet


Sept. 5 to 9, 33-01-58-07-1800

SOFA Chicago


October 16 to 19, (800) 561-7632

International Home Furnishings Market

High Point, N.C.

Oct. 16 to 22, (312) 527-7600

NeoCon East


Nov. 6 to 7, (800) 677-6278


* Arts Alive, 800-298-ARTS

* American Society of Interior Designers, (202) 546-3480

* Deljou Art Group, 800-237-4638

* International Interior Design Assn., (312) 467-1950

* Lilliana Brako Gallery, (831) 624-2512

* Progressive Editions, 800-487-1273

* Rosenbaum Editions, (561) 9944422

* Wild Apple, 800-756-8359

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COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group