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Tough-love Business Coach. Marketing Magician. Inner Imposter Buster. Cocktail Connoisseur. And Queen Of Unpopular Opinions.
Since we reviewed WHY you’d want to participate in a decorator showhouse in a recent blog post, I want to share HOW to make that happen in this post. It takes both digital smarts as well as strategic real time connection and readiness to be selected for a showhouse.
(And in case it’s bugging you that I’m flipping between the word designer showhouse and decorator showhouse, get used to it. It’s what consumers do and you’ve just got to be okay with it. I know plenty of decorators who out earn designers because they aren’t caught up in their title. Your profitability doesn’t care what they call you, just that they do call!)
My first decorator showhouse I wasn’t even out of school yet, and I got it because no one else asked to do the carriage house that was located behind the main showhouse. In addition, as a student, I’d assisted in a previous showhouse and my skills in procurement of goods from vendors became a bit legendary. I do have a background in hospitality purchasing and have been known to be quite persuasive. You have the same ability you simply may not have honed it yet.
The next 5 designer showhouses I participated in came about through application and connection. Let me explain.
So if you want to participate in a decorator showhouse, you need to apply. In some cases, big name designers may be specifically invited to anchor the house; everyone else needs to apply. The bottom line is you want to find out what the application process is, ensure you meet all deadlines, and get your completed application in. Painting a picture with words, referencing key vendors, and highlighting your portfolio is always a good idea. You do not need to be an established designer and many showhouses welcome new names.
In order to participate in a decorator showhouse, you need to be aware that they are published and produced by design magazines. Editors of these publications all have Instagram accounts, some are also on Facebook and Twitter. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to engage in quick conversation, make relevant remarks, and get noticed by significant editors online.
In addition, check out who participated in the last decorator showhouse follow them and engage with them. This isn’t rocket science, it is about being sincere and strategic at the same time. And if you aren’t sure of their names or handles on Instagram, look at the page at the front of every publication that has the list of editorial staff, today it includes Instagram handles often instead of emails. Don’t abuse it with a lot of private messages.
Okay, now this is embarrassing to admit, but I had a grand moment over 15 years ago when I got my first acceptance to participate in a decorator showhouse. I’d bid on the living room, a bedroom, and a library (you usually get to select 3 rooms you’d like to do and get 1, if you’re a fit.) They offered me the foyer and stairs, and this was the symphony showhouse (I still cringe to remember this.) I figured I’d been in business almost a decade and deserved better so turned them down. I had a grand moment.
This year’s Kips Bay Showhouse stairwell was without question the most talked about space in the entire house and seen by everyone. That kind of PR is priceless! I did end up being out of the country in Australia anyway, so it all worked out, just embarrassed about my ego moment. When you participate in a decorator showhouse, let go of your ego and any illusions you have of being grand!
Every showhouse has a producer. In Atlanta, for example, there is one particular man who produces all of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles showhouses. (I’m not naming him here in case he gets inundated.) You can find out who he is by going to the publication. He is also at a majority of designer events in Atlanta, so am I. Get it? Nothing beats being visible first hand. Magazine editors and showhouse producers regularly attend design events, get out of your office, wrap up that client meeting and get seen and heard in order to participate in a decorator showhouse.
Be the one designer who doesn’t hound this individual or constantly ask how you can be in the showhouse. My recent showhouse, I didn’t apply or even consider it. Yet, when they had additional spaces to be designed, I was one of the first calls they made and I said yes. I’d had quick conversations with the producer at least a couple of times a month at a variety of events. He was intrigued because I’d never asked to be in a showhouse (he didn’t know I’d done 5 via other publications.)
While I was one of the last designers selected to participate in the decorator showhouse I’m in now, I was one of the first to have my spaces (yes, two of them) designed and furnished completely by donation from vendors, artists, craftsmen, and fabricators. I knew immediately who I would ask and they totally stepped up.
This kind of goes back to WHY participate, but I’ll distill it here to a single concept so you know how to pitch it to your vendors, even if you have never worked with them before (my case entirely on this house.) The showhouse not only has thousands of visitors during it’s open time, it is also published and seen by many more and kept by those same folks on their coffee table for future reference, and it’s online. That kind of PR would normally cost tens of thousands for you and your vendors. By giving them a chance to participate in the decorator showhouse with you, you’ve essentially just written them a check for marketing.
Now, I go above and beyond and deliver a dedicated blog post that I share across all social platforms, stories and posts on Instagram, videos of their showroom and products, and more. What you offer is up to you, and some vendors will contribute without any of that. I still offer it. And I get my spaces professionally photographed and if they want to use those shots they can. I couldn’t do the space without them (without spending tens of thousands of dollars!)
And above all, HAVE FUN. A showhouse is a glorious opportunity to do something out of the box creatively, something that a client may not buy but will create buzz that gets you noticed.