New research reveals what matters most to designer dealerships

In our 2018 article, “The Rise of the Dealer Designer,” ThinkLab explored the evolving role the dealer designer plays in the project process. We caught up with one of our interviewees, Alexandra Tseffos, founder of Silent T Consulting and The Design POP, to see what has changed since then. At the time, Tseffos identified four changes in the traditional concession:

  1. Technology
  2. The focus is on service rather than product
  3. The need to position designers with varied skills (there are more production style designers than presenting designers)
  4. Increased importance of the relationship between design and sales: salespeople are responsible for building relationships, but they need the designer’s product knowledge, cost-cutting measures and visual production to meet expectations growing customer base today.

Tseffos says these four changes still stand. The biggest change? Acceleration. “The technological changes that we expected in five to ten years finally happened in three to five years,” she explains. “The changes that were then underway are already happening now, only accelerated.” She noted that when we spoke to her four years ago, the current M&A landscape was not expected to create “forced changes” in certain categories. Tseffos cited technology as a great example of this in cases of dealer alignment changes: “Many need to learn one or more new software platforms and the intricacies of countless new product lines as quickly as possible. ‘it is humanly possible.’

Since that 2018 interview, ThinkLab has studied the role of the reseller designer, digging into their preferences and pain points. What we know from recent ThinkLab research:

  • Where they are: In 2021, nearly half of dealership designers said they live outside of a commutable distance from the office.
  • Where it hurts: In the chart below, the “heat map” shows where and how much “pain” dealership designers experience in a typical furniture bidding and buying process. The deeper the red in the gradient, the more pain was reported. Compared to other members of the ecosystem (A&D, end users, and real estate), dealer designers experienced the most challenges with the most frequency throughout the process. “Their pain is very much related to communication. They try to manage a large number of players with competing priorities: what the designer wants (look), what the customer wants (price) and what the retailer wants (product lined up)”, explained Erica Waayenberg, researcher Principal at ThinkLab.

*In the table above, the heatmap indicates the amount of “pain” dealership designers experience throughout the project process.

In the latest ThinkLab hackathon survey, we asked more than 850 designers from all corners of the ecosystem about their preferred balance between digital and human during the product specification process. (Read more about how hackathons work here.) Respondents were a mix of enterprise architects and designers (A&D), end-user designers, and vendor designers. While there are key similarities across the board, what’s important to a brand’s designer is markedly different.

Here are the three key things dealership designers expect from brands:

  1. Dealer designers prefer brands that allow them to serve themselves on demand with digital tools. It should be noted that this was twice as important for this audience as for any other category of prescribers surveyed. Dealer designers are most likely to identify as “fast followers” ​​(not the first to try something new, but not the last either). Yet they are the most likely to want to serve themselves digitally, which you might assume is most important for an early adopter (the first to use a new method).
a chart detailing what dealership designers prefer most in brands
  • They are eager to learn new technologies that will make their job easier, even if it takes more time to learn them initially. They are most likely to specify products from new brands they discover on digital aggregators, such as Material Bank, My Resource Library, etc. When narrowing down product options, they were most likely to say they prefer digital self-service, while everyone else in the ecosystem preferred talking to a specialist within the brand.
a chart detailing how dealership designers prefer to refine product options
  • They think they can be served by a remote team of brand people as well as a local representative. But when he wants to talk to a human, the dealership designer wants to interact with his representative early on, when he learns general knowledge to do his job, not project-specific information.

When asked why they would prefer to work with a local representative, here are their top four reasons:

  1. A single point of contact
  2. Best service and response
  3. Personal connection and trust
  4. In-depth knowledge of the nuances of my market

What does this mean for you as a brand connecting with an audience of retail designers:

  1. Prioritize self-service digital tools in these areas above all: prices, deadlines and requests for samples. Dealership designers wanted to offer these self-service items more than any other segment. Make sure you’re on the aggregators they frequent the most.
  2. Staff them with a team of people from your brand. Even though digital tools and resources are the most valued and adopted by this segment, when they need help, they are comfortable being served by a team of experts, especially if it allows them to get a faster or more accurate answer. As Tseffos says, “digital access to product information is not enough. Cross-functional training on the sales and design process, product specifications and the technology involved is critical to success. »
  3. Improve the skills of local representatives to bring value from the start in the “general awareness to do my job” phase. This means directing them to available digital resources and keeping them up to date with industry trends and best practices. When it comes to product, focus on strategy, not just features and benefits. Understand the nuances of their local market and share them internally, so the team of people serving them remotely also speaks the same language.

Want to learn more about the hackathon research findings and how to apply them to your business? Visit ThinkLab’s Design Hackathon page to get involved.

Meredith Campbell is a member of the research and content development team for ThinkLab, the research arm of SANDOW design group. At ThinkLab, we combine SANDOW mediathe incredible reach of the architecture and design community across brands like Interior Design Media, Metropolis, Luxe and Material Bank with proven market research techniques to uncover industry-relevant trends and opportunities design. Join us to discover what awaits you on

Betty K. Park