HOW TO FIND HOTEL CLIENTS AS A DESIGNER
Behind the curtains, at IDBS we have a very active forum where we make sure our students get comprehensive and helpful answers to pressing questions within a short period of time. On the blog today, I wanted to share one of the questions from our forum and our response to help you get a taste of the kinds of topics we cover on the “inside”.
This is the question my student asked: “Hi, Jo, I wanted to ask, can you give me a lead on how to find hotel clients as an interior designer?” Below is a revised response with some of the more sensitive information and guidance on how to get hotel clients as an interior designer removed so that we could post this on the blog.
Our Online Mentorship Interior Design Program students get bespoke guidance on their path to success, so we go into specific detail on how this process would be beneficial as well as the exact steps to take in order to start attracting hotel clients as an interior designer and start working on hotel projects as quickly as possible.
My IDBS Forum Answer
Great question and in order to help you, firstly, it’s important to decide what type of work you would want to do in the hotel industry to get an understanding of the types of projects you might be hired for as an interior designer. For example, would you like to run a hotel project from start to finish as a project manager on a refurbishment type project or would you prefer to just supply the furniture and or design the rooms, bars, restaurants, lobbies and suites? Would you like to be able to provide a turnkey service or would you prefer to just design the overall scheme and pass your ideas on to a technical designer?
Next, you’ll need to know what scale of project you can handle. Do you have the resources and is your company ready for a big project or could you possibly only handle a small boutique hotel refurbishment with up to 50 keys?
Once you know the scope and scale of the projects and the type of work you want to do, you’ll need to understand the types of opportunities open to an interior designer that don’t necessarily focus on major hotel chains because this is where the most likely opportunities lie, especially for interior designers who are at the start-up or early stages of their business.
There are so many different types of hotel-type projects that can be a stepping stone to getting larger, more lucrative jobs in this industry.
There are a few types of people and companies who own, develop or purchase hotels and need the services of an interior designer to help. These consist of motels, hotels, bed and breakfasts, short lets, holiday lets, serviced apartments and even Air B&B!
What usually comes to mind when we think of large hotels are the chains like Hilton, Marriott, Intercontinental which are some of the biggest (and most well known). These companies often have their own small design teams that know the hotel design standards and also help assess buildings for potential new hotels.
The initial design schemes are often done in house, but depending where the new (or refurbished) hotel is to be located, the hotel brand or company may enlist the service of a local interior design or architecture firm to help out with the final result (so there is often more than one company involved).
These companies are usually vetted prior to the project becoming live and are usually put on a “preferred designer’s list”. There is a process to get on a hotel chain’s list and you can contact them directly to find out what this is and if they are looking to add more designers.
The hotel chains will usually ask the designers on their list to provide a competitive tender and more often than not, a designer is chosen from that list. In some cases, they enlist a specialist firm (or are required to hire a local design firm) in order to legally complete the project in another country. This varies from country to country and location to location.
In most cases at least in the western world, hotel chains will want to see a portfolio of work and want to know about your company, how it works and if your company complies with sustainable codes of conduct. You may possibly have a better chance if your company conforms to ISO 9000, 9001 and/or 140001.
A start-up interior designer or a one-person company will rarely be able to get on a list or land a job like this (unless you have friends and contacts in the industry of course), but don’t be discouraged because you now know what to aim for! Also, I have had students win hotel jobs without being on any list or without having a portfolio (or even a website for that matter), so there is always a way if you are determined and open-minded.
Small Privately Owned Hotels
These are usually people who own a single hotel or have invested in a hotel-chain franchise. They might have been in the hotel industry, investing in a property, bought an existing hotel as a retirement investment or might be purchasing a dream project. The types of people, companies and investors are endless. These people might own just the one hotel or they can own many.
As a small scale designer, you have much more chance of being involved in this type of hotel project, however securing this type of job often also requires a portfolio because people are afraid to risk their own investment on someone who may not have an existing track record.
When it comes to landing this type of job, honestly, you could meet a hotel owner anywhere, on holidays whilst staying in their hotel, at hotel trade or at decor, commercial or restaurant or speciality shows etc. but where you meet the investor/ower would depend on the type of hotel it is.
For example, if a small hotel chain was eco-friendly or had sustainable design as a leading brand theme, you’ll bet they will be at events that relate to the commercial or hotel sector in the sustainable fields (maybe air miles for food, purchasing of local or sustainable linen and the list goes on…) You can see that attending these events regularly would be tiring or slow to get your foot in the door, but you’ll start to gain contacts and educate yourself about the hotel niche accordingly.
The owners of local businesses often attend networking events and a more natural way to meet owners of private hotels and investors is at a weekly or monthly networking event where they will be open to doing business and talking about opportunities.
You could also just contact the owners directly and introduce yourself/your company, but of course, you’ll need a good reason for contacting them so that it’s not just an annoying cold call, but if you wanted to go down this path, we could come up with some creative ideas as to how to get noticed by a specific brand, person or company.
Air B&B and Bed & Breakfasts
These are much like a privately owned hotel (although technically very different in terms of regulation and applicable laws – but that’s not relevant here!) these are often single hotel owners that are trying to make an investment or retirement nest egg.
These are small players who are passionate about their hotel, the local area and often differ per location as they have more of a site-specific influence. I find that these people often use local designers, people they know or someone in-house to save money. I have seen designers (and our past students) gain jobs of this kind, just through Google searches, past contacts and even though Instagram followers!
When it comes to Air B&B these are often non-professionals renting out a room to make some extra cash. The industry is lively, however, so if this was something you wanted to pursue, I would make sure to watch the changes and get to know the system well.
Again having a body of work or creating a relationship with an owner would be integral to winning a job and possibly getting repeat work. Don’t forget that hotel owners usually know other hotel owners (a bit like architects hanging out with other architects), so getting on the radar is the first step.
As you can see, this can be a bit hit-and-miss or time-consuming and it could take years before you land a potential job, so in my opinion, I would have a very clear idea of the type of project you wanted to work on and then start focussing on those potential leads and avenues.
Short Lets, Bedsits, Hotels, Student Accommodation, HMOs, Holiday Lets, Co-Living Environments, Serviced Apartments etc.
The changing and dynamic landscape of investment in the rental and short-let market is the most likely place to find your first hotel-type of project, especially if you are just starting out in the industry. This is a fast-growing niche for investors and knowledge of branding and how a brand intertwines with an interior (which you now know how to do) will be important.
I have had mentees meet investors who are building or purchasing their first hotel and looking for their team to get moving with their project. For my business, it’s the developers and property investors that are the most active in turning around a project like this (they are fast-paced, professional and excellent to work with), thanks to them building and investing into multiple projects per year.
Sometimes as a start-up, all you need (and all you could handle) is one contact like this. It’s not as hard as you think to find a developer looking for an interior designer, but you do have to be active and visible either networking face to face or on social media.
The most likely way to land a job like this is to start building a network of professionals. This could be architects that specialise in commercial projects, small to medium house builders that work in the short or holiday let markets and of course the big wide world of property investors.
Property investors will be the most likely place you’ll get your first chance or job in this industry (unless you have a great network of friends who are investors and or know a lot of business people locally).
The number of property investments and developments going on at any one time are abundant so if this is the niche you are choosing to get into, it is very possible and realistic, however, there will be quite a lot of networking and research required at the beginning as well as decision making in terms of what area you will want to specialise in.
Hopefully, I was able to open your mind to the possibilities of getting a job in the hotel industry as well as clarify the different areas an interior designer can serve, whilst giving you a basic understanding of where to start.
About the author
Jo Chrobak is the founder and CEO of The Interior Designer’s Business School. She has over 20 years of experience working in architecture and interior design, across the world on commercial and domestic projects from international hotels to developments and new builds. Her vast experience transcends industries to give her unique knowledge of processes and strategies which she passes on to her students to help them succeed as interior designers as quickly as possible.
Growing up in Sydney, Australia, Jo decided to travel the world in her twenties to gain experience and education from as many sources as possible. She graduated with first class Honours, top of her graduating class and a Bachelor of Architecture in 2007 and since then has worked on projects in Norway, Oman, The UAE, Egypt, Australia, Canada and across the UK and Europe.
She currently runs her architectural and interior design studio (www.jochrobak.com) and specialises in complex projects that require both architectural and interior design knowledge.
Jo is also trained as an Ashtanga yoga instructor, a life and business coach and is a passionate artist creating bespoke artwork for clients.
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