Phew! Well, we’re thankfully back with our last and final post of “How Are You Handling This?”! This has been quite a journey, and quite a learning opportunity. I certainly hope it has been for you as well! Each and every designer has a slightly different way of handling this crisis that we’re in, but like I mentioned before, also a strikingly similar attitude – digging hard and fast to find that positivity.
Our guest this week, Gwen Debruyn of Bayberry Cottage, is no different. Anyone who meets Gwen immediately can see what an absolute delight she is, including her clients, and as such has experienced a great deal of success over the years. We’re talking owns three different businesses, two of which are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, and has had an 11 page spread in Coastal Living for her home in Saugatuck, Michigan. That kind of success. Now let’s talk about how that kind of lady is handling all of this.
A Lot of Stress & Tough Decisions
Well, she’s handling it just like you would expect, with a positive attitude and a smile, even though she’s endured a great deal of stress and tough decisions. She had an entire store’s worth of inventory ordered that was set to arrive, that she then had to make the decision to cancel. Now, she has only a few things to fill her store once it opens in just a few weeks. She’s had clients overly distraught and disappointed because construction can’t happen on their summer home being built. So she’s had to work hard and get creative to get them back to content and understanding. She’s had clients sign up for a new project, and then had the manufacturers shut down right after. So for the first time in her career, she made the decision to return their deposit check as she knew she could no longer deliver what was promised. Like I said, a lot of stress and tough decisions.
But she’s handled it all and keeps moving forward to the best of her ability. She’s in a state of taking it one day at a time and moving and readjusting as needed. Right now, we probably all feel like we’re in a bit of a game of Frogger. You move this way and that, but rather than dodging cars coming at you full speed, it’s dodging new (and never could have imagined) struggles.
Client just handed over a deposit check. Uh oh, now the manufacturer shut down. Quick, move to the left before that issue hits you and return the check! The order line is growing long for the factory once it does reopen, and you’re going to be last. Quick, move to the right before that issue hits you and put in the orders to hold your place in line! And on and on it goes.
Keep Your Clients Engaged
Like I said though, she’s handling things in stride. For clients who are disappointed that their projects can’t move forward, she’s reminded them of all the progress that has been made. She’s shown them what has been chosen, what has been ordered, what decisions have been made. She’s sent them fabrics and samples so that the project can literally “feel” real again (a tactile connection to projects is SO important for the client experience, especially now).
She’s also had to handle the delicate and awkward conversations that sometimes have to happen, the uhh, …. well…, things are a bit behind where you’d like because …. you changed your mind a few times or wanted something completely redone or took a long time to make some decisions. You know that conversation. It’s not fun, and has to be handled with the utmost diplomacy and delicacy, but is sometimes necessary.
For clients who are bit bored and need a bit re-engaging? Well, she’s getting them in on the fun. She’s including them in sourcing the project, sending them links to show them what she’s thinking of rather than saving everything for the design presentation, which is what she would usually do. Different times call for different measures. In a time where projects are being put on hold, stopping indefinitely, and new projects are harder and harder to come by, now is not the time that you want clients to lose interest in moving forward with their own projects.
So what to do? Get them a bit more involved. Make them a part of the project rather than a bored onlooker just sitting in the bleachers waiting for something to happen. That doesn’t mean you need to let them take over the project of course, but sending them teasers and surprises of what’s on the horizon, what a fantastic idea!
You could even create a quick little presentation or video to email them with whatever ways their project is still able to move forward. It doesn’t need to be major, just spend fifteen or so minutes on it using Canva for a presentation. Or you could use a screen recorder to show clients what’s happening with their project while also recording your voice, Gwen uses Loom for this. Necessity is the mother of invention, and as creative types, now is definitely the time to use your creativity for the client experience!
One Advances & Another Retreats
Now, as some states are either opening up or getting close to it, we also covered how she’s planning to handle that. With her store, she’ll be rearranging it so that there’s a clear entrance and exit, to avoid customers getting trapped in the same spot together, and hand sanitizer will be aplenty.
With design projects, she’ll be having conversations with each client to find out how they feel about restarting in person interactions and what those might look like (masks or not, hand sanitizer, etc.) or if they’d prefer to stay virtual for as long as possible. Whatever the clients want, need, and feel comfortable with, she’ll work around and work with. And if clients change their minds or level of comfort? She’ll adapt again. Like I said, it’s a constant game of pandemic Frogger.
The tough reality is, life won’t settle upon “a new normal” for a long time. At some point it will, but not right now. Things are changing weekly, sometimes daily. The timeline is stretching out farther and farther. The cancellations are getting more and more. But simultaneously, things are also starting to open up. It’s becoming this game of one thing advances as another retreats. It’s confusing and overwhelming, and also mentally exhausting. But, there’s obviously hope.
There’s No Perfection Here, or Anywhere
As we’ve seen with these four designers over these past few weeks, they all have hope. They’re all working hard to figure this thing out for their business, their employees, and their clients to the absolute best of their abilities. There’s no perfection, there’s no flawless model. It’s all about doing the best you can, with the time and resources you have.
There’s newly minted designer Emma Navajas of Emma Elizabeth Interiors who was just a short time ago studying to be an epidemiologist in one of the top programs in the nation, and is now quickly trying to figure out how she can deliver a fantastic client experience through online design services. We have luxury designer Kirsten McCoy of Meadowbank Designs whose made it through 20 years and 3 recessions, and is now doing all she can to just serve, serve, serve her clients in the best way possible.
We have award winning designer Kimberly Scanlon of Vela Creative, whose now teaching Spanish to her daughter without even knowing anything about it, and simultaneously pivoting some of her services into something that’s profitable, sustainable, and serving the client base she already has. And then we have 11 page spread Coastal Living designer Gwen Debruyn of Bayberry Cottage, whose doing all that she can to keep her clients engaged, moving forward, and as comfortable as possible.
There is no perfect. I mean, there never is, but especially now. And as we’ve seen, each and every one of these designers, just like you, are enduring this every day. It’s just about getting up every morning, and doing what you can, each and every day. You may have more time than ever before, or less time than ever before, depending on what your home situation is. So what you’re able to accomplish may be more than others, or less than others, and that’s ok. Do the best you can with the time and resources you have. That’s all you can really do at this point.
Trudging Through the Mud
This is hard stuff we’re dealing with. Really hard. Even for designers who are well seasoned and have seen a lot of success. So on those tough days, remember that you’re not alone in feeling like this is too much to handle. We’re all struggling in some way or another. But just as these struggles are unprecedented, so are the showings of community, kindness, and generosity. The things that we’ve all seen, heard, and done to show support, to provide assistance, to give what is needed, is nothing short of miraculous.
So stay hopeful, my friend. One way or another, we’re going to get this thing figured out. I’m here. You’re here. We’re all here. Trudging through a murky, mucky, muddy swampland that may slow you down, that may get you dirty, and that may even stop you for a moment while you catch your breath, but that you will eventually step out of. One day that land will no longer sink under your feet, but instead, be firm right under them. So just keep trudging.
Let me know what you’ve learned from the “How Are You Handling This?” series in the comments below, I would love to know!
And if you’d like help focusing on the client experience at this difficult time, check out the listing of guides and resources available to you here!