Laguna Design Center is taking a new direction in the face of a changing economy.
According to Lisa Queen, acting director of the center, many consumers are looking for ways to cut costs, even when shopping for high-end home furnishings. Queen says transparency in pricing, due to availability of information on the Internet, is a large part of this change in spending patterns.
Since the beginning of the economic downturn, the showrooms at the Laguna Design Center have been feeling the squeeze. The center currently has four unoccupied showrooms and has been working on new ways to generate public interest and traffic—including an attempt last January to convince the Planning Commission to allow a 20-foot sign on the property despite local zoning laws that prohibit signs over 6 feet. The plan was rejected.
The Design Center's newest response to economic changes has been to allow its showrooms to open to the general public. Not all showrooms at the Design Center have chosen to take this route, but many are.
As the center opens the doors to its new visitors center and negotiates the transition to a partial retail atmosphere, the center as a whole is gearing up to accommodate the new, more informed and independent-minded consumer.
In an interview with Laguna Nigule Patch, Queen contended that this change in marketing is not meant to cut out the role of the designer at the center, but rather to expand the market to new consumers and even attempt to facilitate new designer-client relationships. To do that, the center is allowing local designers to use its visitors center free of charge, in addition to providing referrals and featured designers. The new visitors center features a theater-style presentation area, conference room and full-time front reception.
Laguna Niguel Patch: Whose decision was it to change the marketing structure of the center?
Lisa Queen: The center's owner, David Colton. And I have to say this one thing to his credit: A lot of the time, businessmen come in and assess a situation and if they see 10 things that need to be done, they just do one thing. Mr. Colton came in last November and had manufacturers and designers and showrooms tell him what they need. He evaluated where the industry is going, took it in and created an action plan.
Patch: What was the reaction of the local designers to the center's new direction?
Queen: I think there was definitely some fear at first. But now that they can see the facility, and they understand how the hire-a-designer program works, they can understand that the intent is not to take business away from them, but to draw more consumers across the threshold—which benefits everyone. We are seeing tangible, measurable results that designers are benefiting from this already. We know of a couple of interior designers that have gotten referrals from the website or because we have featured designers here.
Patch: Do you feel that Mr. Colton truly understood the needs of the design community when he undertook this process?
Queen: Yes, I absolutely do. He put in place solutions that honor all three aspects of the market. In addition to that, he honors the fact that the showrooms in the center are used by designers that they each conduct business in their own way, as they see fit, and that they have the right to do that.
Patch: Let's consider two different scenarios. In one, the consumer will come in and say, 'Here's my designer,' or 'I want to hire a designer,' and in the other, the person is going to say, 'No, I want to do this myself.' How are you planning to handle those two different scenarios?
Queen: Well, first we want to find out what their intentions are. Even if they don't want to hire a designer and only want to know which showrooms sell directly to the public, we will still ask them to please look at all the showrooms, and if there is something that they like, we will help them find out how to acquire it. If they come to us and want to hire a designer, we can direct them to the hire-a-designer website. We also have a couple of designers who have offices here in the center.
Patch: It's a tough economy, and some people are looking to save money. A lot of people are looking to do this themselves. Do you feel that there is a possibility that the designers might be left out of the process completely?
Queen: I think that in many ways, the designers are already being left out of it. I have no doubt that, because of the economic impact, there are a lot of people that may have hired a designer before but are afraid of that economic equation. I think that once they understand that they can actually save money overall, even when you include designers' fees, then they will understand the entire process. But as far as the retail sale transaction goes, I'm just glad that the transaction occurred here at the center and that someone found the solution here that they wanted.