Let’s start with describing what is a design center, and where they are. A design center is a resource for interior designers (residential projects), contract designers (commercial projects), architects who specify interiors in their work, and other interior design professionals.
Typically, patrons of a design center will find an array of residential and contract design furnishings, including wall coverings, fabrics for drapes and furniture, floor coverings, architectural products, lighting, kitchen and bath products, plus art, accessories and specialty design products and services.
Design centers are located in virtually every large metropolitan area in the U.S. and Canada. Most are open only to interior design trade buyers. Designers sometimes bring their retail clients to shop there with them. The size and scope of design centers run the gamut from mammoth multiplex operations to relatively small, single-story structures. While nearly all cater exclusively to the design trade, some centers have open days where the public is allowed in.
There are cases where some smaller centers are open to a mix of both trade and public buyers. For instance, I once worked at an art gallery in the Scottsdale Design Center that was open to the public, as were some furniture stores in the center. Yet other businesses operating in that location were open only to the trade. Still others had open days when credentials to enter the facility weren’t required.
The International Home Furnishings Center and associated operations in High Point, North Carolina is the world’s largest design center. It is located in a huge complex where it and other design-related showrooms incorporate more than 180 buildings covering more than 10 million square feet of showroom space. At the other end of the spectrum, the aforementioned Scottsdale Design Center is a single-story building housing approximately 13 businesses. By comparison, the Pacific Design Center, located in West Hollywood, CA, and affectionately known locally as the “Blue Whale” due to its unique exterior, has 1.2 million square feet of showroom space.
Technically, selling your work through design centers is different from selling directly to interior designers since the businesses located within the design centers, not you, are the ones doing the selling art to interior designers. For that reason, if you’re an artist as opposed to an artist’s rep, you may decide to pass on attempting to prospect within these centers.
A rep has a better shot because they usually carry the work of multiple artists with a wide range of images to present. If you can arrange getting your work accepted into a design center showroom, or have it picked up by a rep firm with a showroom in a design center, it becomes an additional distribution channel and source of sales for your art. Top art print publishers all do business with volume print buyers who either sell directly within these centers, or sell to the vendors whose customers are design center exhibitors.
The simple answer is the more you diversify your distribution channels, the more you spread out the risk of any one of them collapsing and crushing your business in the process. Moreover, individual vendors in these design centers are in the business of selling art, primarily to interior designers, so the potential for multiple sales of primarily reproductions to one vendor is very promising. Many have connections, if not showrooms, in multiple design centers, thus potentially expanding your sales through a single point of contact.
Depending on the size and location of the center, you may find vendors that cater strictly to designers and others that are also selling to major retailers such as Pier One, Target, Kirkland, Crate & Barrel, and many top notch retailers. Buyers for big-box stores may only go to national shows such as the High Point Furniture Market in High Point, North Carolina, or the World Market Center in Las Vegas.
Some also might attend a large regional show in a facility near them. Top regional centers include marts in Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and some other locations. Both the national and regional centers have special times once or twice a year when, in an attempt to draw many buyers, all their showrooms are open and fully stocked.
In larger cities and centers such as High Point, Las Vegas, Dallas and Atlanta, art buyers will find rep firms that carry the lines of many vendors selling products for the design trade. Some of these rep firms may have showrooms in multiple locations and as such may have contacts with a wide variety of potential art buyers, both designers interested in individual sales and volume buyers who source art, picture frame molding, matboards, glass and other materials to assemble artwork for final sales to big-box retailers.
In some locations, such as High Point and Las Vegas, you’ll find art publishers whose business is selling directly to the trade. While such buyers aren’t well-known outside the industry, they’re responsible for merchandising millions of dollars in art annually.
In these design centers, in addition to rep firms that handle art and art publishers that sell to the trade, there are some other vendors that also strictly sell art only to the trade. These particular vendors consider themselves to be in the “picture business.” (This understandably isn’t how some artists want to have their work considered. If use of this terminology is a concern for you, you can always choose pass on attempting to work or prospect to such firms.)
Because art is complementary to virtually every other type of item sold in a design center and is displayed on walls that might otherwise go unused, the vendors in the “picture business” market art to companies who, in addition to art, sell other products such as furnishings, beds and the like. These other companies use art in both retail and wholesale locations to make their display vignettes more complete and appealing and then sell it as an easy add-on.
The purpose of this blog is to share my knowledge of the tools, tips and techniques artists can use to help them learn how to sell more work. I am the son of a fine artist, and worked for nearly 20 years directly on marketing and advertising with some of the world’s most successful artists and publishers.
Since 2005, I have devoted my time in creating an extensive body of invaluable, free art marketing and art business information as evidenced by the more than 500 posts you can read on this blog, and the four other art marketing books I have published. Or, check out the dozens of free, art business and art marketing instructional broadcasts I have presented with Jason Horejs.