Retailer to Retailer: How to make business transactions a piece of cake


By Cheryl Kees Clendenon, owner of In Detail Interiors in Pensacola, Fla.

Transparency. What exactly does this mean? I hear this term a lot. I bet you do, too. It seems to be a popular topic amongst designers who seem to think that opening your books — and often violating vendor terms and conditions in the process — is something one should aspire to do in a misguided idea of being “transparent.” That you “owe” this to your clients if you are selling products as part of your business model. No, you don’t.

Whether you are a retailer with a design presence or run a design firm, what you owe your client is to explain what you charge, why you charge and when you charge.

Let me talk about it from another perspective.

I bake a cake for sale. A customer wants to buy my pretty cake.
I tell them the price of the cake.
I tell them about all the special aspects of the cake.
I am a good marketer, so I tell them why the cake is going to make their mouth water and blow their diet to hell and back. I do not make them jump through hoops (aka fill out detailed questionnaires) to buy my cake.
I make it easy to buy my cake, however pricey it may be.
I tell them when the price of the cake must be paid (now, or no cake for you!)
I will tell them the key ingredients I used to make the cake, but not the amounts of any one ingredient nor how I made the cake. The recipe is not part of the sale of the cake.

The consumer’s responsibility is to make sure I am a good cake baker by vetting my reputation with others, looking at the previous cakes I have baked and deciding if my cake is the one they want. It is also their business to know the price of the cake and the terms of the sale, but not the cost of all the ingredients.

The show-stopping triple layer with raspberry cream layers is pricier than the double layer with butter cream frosting but hey, anyone who is willing to pay the price can have one of my cakes. Once they agree to my price for the cake and my terms for purchasing the cake, then we have a quid pro quo.

That quid pro quo agreement between the cake baker and the customer means the customer does not get to come back later and say, “I thought the raspberry cream version would be less because there is a sale today at the grocer on raspberries,” nor do they get to question my secret recipe for creating the cake.

Now let’s talk about that word “transparent.” I am being transparent by setting the terms for buying my cakes in a clear, concise, cogent agreement with defined deliverables and am explaining why it is such a great cake for this price and how it will benefit them.

It is imperative that your contract, scope of work or LOA state the what, why and when of the terms of selling your cake. What is missing from many proposals or LOA’s to clients is the WHY.

• Why do we charge a flat fee? I tell them.
• Why do we charge a minimum expenditure? I tell them.
• Why do we charge hourly for PM? I tell them.
• Why is this the best way to approach their specific pain points? I tell them.
• Why is all of the above going to result in an experience like none other? I tell them.
• Why are they going to love us? I tell them.

Too many designers focus on the minutiae of making a cake — how carefully they crack the eggs, how they stir the batter 2,500 times before baking, how they must tune out distraction while baking. The truth is most people simply want to enjoy the experience of eating the cake.

Of course, they want the cake delivered to them as promised and good quality ingredients to be used. Good and successful designers focus on selling the creative vision in its entirety and how the end result is going to make the client feel happy, content and fulfilled.

This is a magical experience that supersedes mark ups, mark downs, discounts, contracts, internet shopping, blah blah — because none of that matters when you are enjoying the experience of eating the best cake ever.


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