Slave labour?

Is it fair that companies ask several interior design firms for a concept for free before deciding which one to go with?

It is utterly unfair for companies to have more than one interior design firm working on a design concept at the same time without payment, according to Lee Wylde, lecturer interior design, American University of Sharjah, who said the trend started around three years ago when the first wave of financial dismay hit the industry.

“Quite literally overnight many companies took the stance that if you wanted their work, then you would have to show them what you could produce. Gone are the days it seems when design firms were hired on the strength of their portfolios and the notoriety of their previous projects,” he added.

Wylde believes this significant shift in attitude towards the interior design industry has seriously altered the way firms operate today and needs revising.

“Companies who offer interior design firms ‘potential business’ if they put a concept together for them for free need to be educated on how we operate, not only from a creative side but as a business. Quite simply, we do not work for free,” he said.

“In today’s market not only does the client expect a free concept proposal but an indicative BOQ (Bill of Quantities). It seems ultimate transparency is required in all elements of a concept design, but for what reason? Why should we create a concept, price it, and hand it over to a company without receiving a stage payment? Why should we show where we make a profit?

“Is it feasible to imagine that this potential client will take your concept and pricing and see if he can have it fitted out at a significantly cheaper cost? If you have not asked yourself these questions then you should, as the answers will determine the success of your company.”

Wylde added there have been many occurrences in the past, where small, medium and large interior design firms have not protected themselves by having a contractual framework in place.

“On the other hand, are times that tough where interior design firms are willing to risk losing fees and committing resources for potential? How do you measure potential? Potential can make you, but equally potential can break you.The golden rule is cash flow is king,” he said.

“It is a competitive market but I truly believe that if you want to be successful, you need to establish standard operating guidelines and stick to them. In doing so, the client will equally respect you and your working relationship will be stronger, especially if you know you are being paid.”

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