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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Free design services: A good or bad idea?

Would a free design service give John Clark's @DesignRemodel in Cape Cod a leg-up against the competition? I'm not sure, nor is he. He welcomes your feedback and comments.

Yesterday, I received this email from John Clark at @designRemodel in Mashpee. Cape Cod., Massachusetts:
Good Morning Mark,

I have enjoyed (and) read your Construction Marketing Ideas blog for some time now. I'd like to take up your challenge.

Offering free kitchen/bath design services:

Many of my competitors offer free design services for bath and kitchen remodeling. Perhaps to the point where homeowners expect it. We on the other hand, will request a design retainer on projects that require such. Of course we get resistance which invariably ends up with us not doing any work on those projects.

My thought, is to offer complimentary design services to those that qualify, as a way to attract new business. To qualify for the complimentary design services they would have to commit to the following. 1. Provide a realistic budget range. 2. Meet in our partner's showroom for a 2 hr meeting to define scope of work and select the products and fittings that they want in their project. We would protect our investment of resources by retaining ownership of the designs and provide no paper plans until a contact is signed and deposit received.

The goal here is to create opportunities to meet, build a relationship and get commitment from qualified prospects.

I have noticed however that few if any of my competitors advertise free design services. By offering and promoting the complimentary services, it may give us a leg up. That been said we would have to be careful that we don't give away the store.

Any thoughts, comments or suggestions would be appreciated.


John Clark, CR
My initial reaction, "Don't head down that path" -- except perhaps as a bonus/supplement to an organized repeat or referral program. I answered him with this email:

I'm not sure . . .

"Free design services" might seem appealing, but will it attract the clients you really want to see, and will the restrictions and controls to protect your intellectual property (necessary, presumably) alienate the potential clients? I'm reminded of several conversations with the late Sonny Lykos who decried the variations of "free estimates" and "free design" that ended up costing contractors much time and effort for low ball if any work.

"Free" is a powerful word, I understand, but it also is overused and can devalue your end product.

Have you considered how your existing clients feel about this type of arrangement?

Maybe it would work in the context of a referral program.... you tell your previous clients that you will provide free design support for their next project, and for the friends who they refer. This way you have a qualification in place anyways and are attracting the type of business you like.

I would be very cautious in going out to the public with this type of free offer, however. Think about your brand, the relationship development process and the like. Are you selling to the low end?

If you give permission, I can post your question (identity removed if you wish) and see what others think . . .
John's response:
Hi Mark,

Thanks for responding.

Sonny was a man ahead of us all!

Yes, I have my misgivings also.

Sure! Let's see if we can stimulate some debate on the pros and cons. I for one would really like to hear from those that offer free design services.


What do you think? Is a "Free design service" a viable option to announce publicly, or do you need to embed it in your pricing/offer system once you are at the selling stage (or restrict the service as a reward for repeat or directly referred clients.)

I've hyperlinked back to Sonny Lykos's The Process for readers who are interested in the system he used to get around expectations for "Free Estimates" and "Free Design Services".

1 comment:

Valerie Conyngham said...

As soon as you've uttered the words "free design" you've devalued yourself as a design professional. You're telling the prospect that your designs are not worth their money, it's a commodity, something that should be expected. Your design skills are what should be setting you apart from your competition. It's a valued skilled (otherwise people would be doing their own design work) and you should be compensated for it. If you think your prices are a barrier to the clients you are trying to attract you may have a larger positioning problem. Either you're going after the wrong clients or you're offering them the wrong services.