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Grow Your Business by Working with DIY Clients

RiverRun Cabinetry
Designer Gloria Graham-Sollecito has found RTA cabinets from RiverRun Cabinetry to be a hit among DIYers, and help with installation is easily accessible on YouTube. The cabinet company also sells its cabinets already assembled.
(Photo: RiverRun Cabinetry)

On the surface, do-it-yourself (DIY) homeowners may not seem like good prospects for design professionals, especially those working as upscale and/or full-service providers. Budget-conscious, DIYers will bargain-hunt for their products and often elect to do the installation themselves, thus cutting into your profit. However, as designer Gloria Graham-Sollecito notes, “The changing economy has been a boon to the DIY industry.” The ability to respond to such market trends and embrace the DIYer could mean the difference between a business that’s merely surviving and one that’s thriving.

If you sell product, one way is to include offerings that target DIYers. For example, at Brendan Donovan Furniture & Cabinet Co., where Graham-Sollecito designs kitchens and baths, the addition of River Run Cabinetry, a ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinet line, has proven to be “a consistent little side business” for the high-end custom cabinetmaker. Not only are the cabinets well made, but the instructions for assembling them are easily accessible on YouTube, a key draw for Graham-Sollecito: “You can’t just sell the product to them.” The RTA line has attracted a new clientele that is “low maintenance,” because, as Graham-Sollecito notes, it’s “supply only.”

Designer Nick Lovelady, principal of Cupboards Kitchen & Bath, frequently sells semi-custom cabinets, as well as the accessories and finishes not available at big-box retailers, to DIYers. However, he stresses the importance of helping DIY clients understand their own limitations and will ask them questions to assess their installation skills. “I’m fairly frank with them about whether I think they should take on the task,” Lovelady says. “I always price my installation and remind them we’ll be happy to do it for them.”

Ensuring DIY clients recognize the value of seeking professional help is critical, says Lovelady, as it may end up saving them money. Some of his more profitable projects have been rectifying failed DIY attempts. For those who are honest with themselves and ask for guidance, he’s happy to provide a strategy and design plans. Typically, those DIYers do well, Lovelady says.

Beyond selling product, designers can save DIYers time and money by offering their assistance on a variety of projects, some as minor as rearranging furniture. The immediate payoff may not always be significant, but if the work is done well, it can lead to referrals, Kari Roundy says. She started her design practice, Atmospheres, eight years ago by working with homeowners unlikely to hire a full-service firm and has since managed entire remodels from start to finish.

Nevertheless, Roundy still lends her “design eye” and knowledge to helping clients with selecting and purchasing product at both big-box stores and high-end designer showrooms, hanging artwork, and picking paint colors. In fact, color selection and coordination is one area where her expertise is often needed and where design professionals can market themselves to DIY homeowners. “[Most of my customers], no matter what their budget is, can afford an hour- or two-long consult for paint because it is so important,” she says. Roundy will also stage rooms using existing furniture and a new product or two that she suggests the homeowner buy.

As the Internet continues to disrupt old ways of buying home improvement products and embolden homeowners to take on more projects, design professionals who find new ways to work with them will reap the benefits and grow their business. Graham-Sollecito says, “Go with the flow, be positive about what you have to work with and it should be a win-win.”