Houzz, IvyMark - WTF Is Happening In Our Industry?!

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Whether it's Houzz acquiring IvyMark or High Point in North Carolina allowing consumers into some showrooms that were previously to the trade only or ASID jumping on the Houzz bandwagon... you're going to start wondering what the fuck is happening in our industry, if you haven't yet.

Houzz Acquires IvyMark

Today started off with the announcement that Houzz acquired IvyMark for a shit ton of money. Good for the girls I thought upon hearing this news. Then I read the articles and found this gem.

"Designers are not really business people." - Alon Cohen

Well, I beg to differ with that sentiment, Mr. Cohen. 

Designers manage their client's projects, become a valued advocate for their clients and use their client's money efficiently all while taking care of their own businesses. Let's not even go there. 

You know what designers hate? Cobbling shit together to make something work on the back-end of their business. 

For years, designers have been struggling to piece together a bunch of different programs to convey their design ideas efficiently, order and manage projects as well as run their own businesses.

Designers have eagerly embraced new technologies and new platforms to reach new clients with the promise that these platforms have their best intentions at heart. Earnestly believing that this may just be what they’ve been searching for. 

While some apps have become a godsend, some are clunky to use, outdated or created by someone who hasn't had their own design business and can't fully grasp what a designer does to make a useful tool. 

In the meantime, Houzz became their worst enemy. While not a tool, per se, it was a platform that design professionals could use to reach clients. Or at least we were led to believe that. 

Houzz encourages designers to upload their photos to their portfolio. If you don't read the Terms, you might've missed the part where they own your photos for-evah unless you can convince them to take them down. Even after you delete your account.

License and Permission to Use Your Content. You hereby grant to us and our affiliates, licensees and sublicensees, without compensation to you or others, a non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, fully paid-up, worldwide license (including the right to sublicense through multiple tiers) to use, reproduce, process, adapt, publicly perform, publicly display, modify, prepare derivative works, publish, transmit and distribute Your Content, or any portion thereof, throughout the world in any format, media or distribution method (whether now known or hereafter created) for the duration of any copyright or other rights in Your Content. Such permission will be perpetual and may not be revoked for any reason, to the maximum extent permitted by law. Further, to the extent permitted under applicable law, you waive and release and covenant not to assert any moral rights that you may have in Your Content. If you identify yourself by name or provide a picture or audio or video recording of yourself, you further authorize us and our affiliates, licensees and sublicensees, without compensation to you or others, to reproduce, print, publish and disseminate in any format or media (whether now known or hereafter created) your name, voice and likeness throughout the world, and such permission will be perpetual and cannot be revoked for any reason, except as required by the applicable law. You further agree that we may use Your Content in any manner that we deem appropriate or necessary.

Consumers looked at the photos uploaded to Houzz by designers as their new Pinterest where these consumers, who had no intention of ever hiring a designer.

The consumers started asking designers questions like what color did they use in a dining room photo. Some designers would answer. Other designers refused to answer, and the consumer would at times get snippy. Apparently, they thought that the designers on the site were just there as a free resource to use.

Houzz Was Never For Designers? Say What?!

Today I caught the FB Live that Joseph Haecker did about the merger. I've spoken once with him on the phone in the interest of full disclosure. Anyway, I had some thoughts about his take on Houzz. 

I know that Joseph has stated that he is friends with the founders at Houzz. Which is neither here nor there but as it appears to me, and other designers, it leads us to believe that everything is not as it seems.

Joseph Haecker, says that Houzz was never meant to be a platform for interior designers to find clients. I'm not sure where he gets this information from. Is it from the founders at Houzz or from somewhere else?

I wonder then... why did Houzz boast about having 200,000 designers using its platform? Why do they take money from designers? 

Either part of their platform is for designers, or it isn't. If that was never their intention, did they abandon their original mission when they saw money lying on the table? Or is there something that I am completely missing?

I signed up for Houzz years ago. I even found an old email from them to me, in 2011:
 

Hello Alycia,

I wanted to follow up with you and remind you that we would love to see more of your beautiful work added to your profile. Already, our community has grown to over 30,000 home design professionals. Those who are active on the site are reporting great results which include increased traffic to their websites and even more business!

“Very cool! And just as of yesterday, I signed with a client to do a remodel of their house and guess where my client saw my work... On Houzz!!”
--Allison, Interior Design professional on Houzz.com


I would be happy to assist you in any way, from answering any questions you have by phone or email, to uploading your photos for you, just let me know!

Best,
D.

So? Is Joseph wrong or has Houzz been playing designers for ages?

“This is a perfect match from many perspectives,” Cohen said, noting that the two companies “have the same goal in mind of helping designers.”  

*cough* bullshit *cough*

We share a common vision with IvyMark of empowering the design trade

If they have been, for the past few years, trying to empower the design community, they have certainly sucked balls at their own version of empowerment.

Let's also discuss the hard sales tactics used by Houzz to rope designers into their advertising platform. The sales calls are endless (even when you tell them that you're not interested).  Lots of designers are frustrated that they did sign up for the advertising plan with Houzz and it did not deliver.

While not all marketing efforts are successful, I've heard from my Society members that when things aren't going well, the Houzz sales teams gives conflicting information on how the designer can improve the results. One designer was told to raise her fee, then lower it. Sounds like a good strategy, huh?

Few designers have had excellent results from advertising, and few had excellent results with a free Houzz profile, most designers who did pay did not get results that justified the hundreds of dollars that they spend every month. Leaving some designers trying to break up with Houzz and ask for a refund.

“Our journey is just beginning with IvyMark,” says Rotenberg. “Alex and I are thrilled to tackle this next chapter and disrupt the trade with that much more gusto with Houzz as our partner!”

Disrupt?

Oh yeah, you’ve disrupted an industry alright. I mean, they do know what disrupt means, right?

Verb

  • Interrupt (an event, activity, or process) by causing a disturbance or problem.
  • Drastically alter or destroy the structure of (something).

Basically, fucking shit up. Gaining people’s trust, rallying a community, taking their money and then screwing them over. That’s what all the designers are feeling right about now.

What happens as IvyMark merges with Houzz to the designer's client information, sources and private conversations held within the Ivy platform?

Will Houzz use that private client information to then go around the designer and sell ads to your "competition" to reach your clients using the information within your projects? Will they use the data and create retargeting ads to your clients? I don't see why that won't happen. If that's not their intention, I'd like them to come out and say that they will scrub all the client information from the designers who wish to cancel the Ivy accounts after today's announcement.

The more important part here is that designers have been had. Houzz took money from designers, didn't deliver on their marketing platform and used designers photos any way they wanted to profit off of the backs of designer's.  How can design professionals trust them?

High Point Market Is Letting Consumers Into Showrooms

It’s always been something whispered about in the design communities (yes, I think we still have factions and are not one big happy family, no matter how much certain societies try to keep this myth going). We've heard that one manufacturer or the other is selling direct to consumers… Well, now it is out in the open at least at High Point Market with this latest announcement: 

For the first time, High Point Market, the largest furnishing industry trade show in the world, is opening select showrooms to consumers, providing unprecedented access to view the latest products and designs in home furnishings. Discover the excitement that industry insiders experience and the trends that are shaping home fashion. 

Their response to the uproar has been:

You may have heard about the Access Market tour by Hearst Media Group. You’re likely wondering, “what’s this all about?” The goal of this event is to get consumers excited about the latest home products and trends, and encourage them to invest in redecorating and beautifying their home which benefits our industry, manufacturers, retailers and interior designers.
Tour participants will not be allowed to purchase products from any of the participating showrooms and all price tags will be removed. Any product inquiries will be referred to a retailer or interior designer to purchase. In fact, we would like to promote the benefit of working with an interior design professional by referring attendees to resources where they can find a designer near them. We look forward to an all-around exciting event!

Okay dokay. This event is happening on April 18, 2018, the last day of Market. Does that mean that they will keep the buyers out of those select showrooms on that day? 

I'm not for one minute buying that this isn't for them to test the waters to see how they can open the market up to all consumers, grow their sagging attendance and then create their own preferential directory of designers that they can refer business to (for a fee).

"To The Trade" has been dying for years. After the economy took a dump, designers have seen their precious trade resources turn their backs on them to sell directly to the consumer. They need to keep their companies profitable, too. But why can't companies just be honest about their plans?

Designers cannot depend on Trade resources to be a source of additional income. I've been saying this for years, that you should be charging for your ideas and managing projects (along with creating additional revenue streams) and not count on the markup of selling products. 

As for the manufacturers who wanna drop designers and go directly to the consumer? Good luck with that, honey. You'll be in the fetal position in the corner downing a bottle of Jack Daniels dealing with people pissed that their console arrived chipped, or the mirror was cracked or whatever other problem they have. Have fun with that.

Products are a part of bringing a design to life, but a designer that wants to grow in the future will need to figure out how to make this work for their business. Maybe it becomes about sourcing from retail. Charging a fee to source and manage installation on top of your design fee. It comes down to what value you provide as a design professional, not passing on a discount to your clients.

But wait, there's more...

Oh, Now ASID Hearts Houzz

Because no love story could be complete without ASID trying to stay relevant. Years ago I wrote a post about why I was quitting ASID. I moved blogs several times and can't find that post, but damn did it ruffle feathers.

Since then, I have written another blog about them you can check out here. It might ruffle your feathers.

Members of ASID sent me emails and dismissed my experience because they didn't have the same experience as I did. It was like getting swarmed by a gang of Scientologists who couldn't understand why I would say such things.

ASID has been lobbying for years for more legislation across the country. In the name of life and safety.

During this time designers have been begging ASID to do more to explain to the public why HGTV design shows are bullshit and what a real design professional does. But they've been too busy asking the government to come up with more title and practice acts.

I think it's like 22 states that currently have either a practice or title acts. They wanna ban people from calling themselves Interior Designers or in some states make it illegal for you to work as a designer. 

Translated as unless you work within their eco-system, you ain't working.  

I don't buy into the ASID movement of licensure or the pay to play aspect. They have legislated the language to their advantage. Not to the advantage of the consumer... nope. They are concerned with creating their own economy while at the same time determined with cockblocking anyone who doesn't play their game. 

You can read some awesome blogs about those topics here, here and here.

FYI, for anyone new to my blog... Yes, I passed the NCIDQ. I was a Professional Member of ASID and I passed the CCIDC. I fell into the trap and I now think it's all bullshit.

I had the certifications that said I could stamp my plans. Was that ever going to happen really? No. The good ol' boys are still in charge, and while it may have been legal for me to put my stamp on my plans, I know that my County wasn't going to allow it. Because you know... designers are dummies. And we evidently can't run businesses either. 

These certifications and societies are all interconnected networks where if you pay one, you'll need to pay the next one to get to the next level of bullshit. You will end up with a plethora of letters to put after your name that many of your clients couldn't give two shits about.

Back to ASID and their love of Houzz...since ASID has "partnered" with Houzz you can get automatic approval into the Houzz Trade Program. You can get trade only discounts. 

Best part? You can get yourself an ASID badge to stick next to your worthless Houzz "awards" on your website. That's about as exciting as finding out Kim Kardashian named her kid Chicago. 

Are Designers Going Extinct?

Fuck no. I don’t believe that for a minute. Good interior design requires someone who is a creative who can see a space finished in their mind's eye and knows exactly how to pull it all together. None of the apps or piece of software can replace us because they need to be programmed by a human and used by another human who can speak that same language.

Whether it's an app from Amazon, Houzz, or whatever else comes down the pike - a tool or app doesn't make someone a designer. 

You may have a fancy sewing machine, but that doesn't make you Tom Ford.
You may have a Tesla Roadster, but that doesn't make you Mario Andretti. 
You may have a pen and notebook, but that doesn't make you Ernest Hemingway. 
You may have a kitchen, but that doesn't make you Gordon Ramsay.

Charge for your creative genius and managing the projects like a rock star that you are because you know damn well that those random people using one of those apps wasn’t going to be your client anyway.

And their house will look like shit.

How To Grow As A Designer From This Point Forward

Take a break from spending time and money on other platforms out there that promise that they want to help you promote your business. Focus on devoting time to grow your platform, your website.

Invest Time In Your Website

As we have seen, you can’t depend on social media nor any of these other “resources” that claim they will help you get clients. You own your website, make it work harder for you. It’s your best marketing tool you have that you total control over.

What is it that your prospects need to hear from you? How often are you making an effort to get out there and be seen? Talk to them and don’t be afraid to say what is on your mind, even if it’s not a popular opinion.

Be Selective About Social Media

Social media? It’s important, but it should never be more important than your website and building your email list. Choose your social media platforms selectively and use them to engage with people. Attract people back to your website to continue the relationship.

There is no one platform that will work for every design business. I don’t care what some “guru” says, but if they tell you that Facebook Live or Instagram is the ONLY place you have to be, that’s a fucking lie. Every platform has its own vibe, and it may not jive with yours.

Dolla, Dolla Bills

Now is the time to analyze the numbers of your business. What did your sales look like last year and what directly lead to you making those sales? Repeat what works, ditch the shit that doesn’t. Come up with new ideas to try.

Start creating other streams of income and figure out how your business can stand out in a saturated market (*hint: it can). You can make money online with affiliate marketing, sell digital products, create a paid email list, and host virtual events are just a few ideas.

Tool Time

I think this recent announcement proves that it is still possible to be duped by companies who we believed to have our best interests at heart. Until I see differently and transparency prevails, I will not change my opinion.

Not every company cares about helping you grow your design business

My business is based on that premise. I only partner with a few select companies, like Mydoma, that share this belief. That is why you don’t see my ass prancing out there around like a fucking circus pony pimping everyone and everything. I’m not a soulless Kardashian of the interior design industry desperate for a dollar bill.

Here’s my advice, ask your design friends (that are making money from their business and aren’t a part of the poser-preneur crew) what tools they use.

If more than a few of your colleagues are throwing shade at a company, investigate why before you invest a single dollar by utilizing that company’s trial.

We are just at the beginning of this long cycle of seeing new apps spring up left and right vying for your hard-earned money. Hopefully, some new companies will provide solutions that work for how we work as designers. We should also support companies that we already use, like Mydoma, who continue to innovate with input from the industry.

Your job moving forward is to know that YOU are the best advocate for your business. Companies will come and go. Companies will merge. Companies will fuck your algorithm up. Change is the name of the game. Keep all of your eggs out of one basket and know that you’ve got your own back.