Bridging the Generational Gap

Bridging the Generational Gap
Five Ways to Reach the Younger Consumer

By Cheryl Draa

A few years ago, I attended a seminar that reflected on the future of interior design. The speaker noted that most interior designers in that very audience were conducting their interior design businesses in an archaic manner. We had been working with our clients, who were of similar age, for quite awhile, doing things the same old way. This ensured we could keep that age bracket (40+) as a consumer. However, the speaker stressed, if we wanted to take our business to the next level, we would have to adapt to a new concept of communication in order to reach the younger generation. Some designers would learn the new technology that younger designers were already adept at—and some would not. The speaker warned that if we weren’t the ones adapting, we probably wouldn’t be in business five years from now.

I took this advice to heart. After 17 years in business (and approaching my late 40s in age), I began my quest to become more computer savvy. I bought a camera that would allow me to download photos onto my computer; my college-aged kids taught me how to attach files in an email; and (gasp) I opened a Facebook account. As I attracted younger clients, I had to adapt to the way they wanted to communicate with me. A few years later, 45 percent of my clients are under the age of 35, and I am surviving in the recession. Here’s five ways you can, too:

1. Facebook: Get On It
As soon as I sign a client, I add his or her email address to my contact list and send a friend request from Facebook. 90 percent of my clients now accept that invitation. It may take my clients who are older than 40 awhile to set up an account, but they are quickly getting the hang of it. Several clients have immediately contacted me after I sent out the friend request to say they needed my services now.

I asked one client in particular why she liked to use Facebook—she said there is something about having your designer as a “friend,” sharing bits of our lives together. This is key with the under-35 age group.

I also change my status update two or three times a month, just to keep my name in front of them. I ask questions to stimulate conversation—questions like “What is your favorite room in the house and why?” or “What is your favorite paint color?”

2. Network Through Organizations
When I’ve had downtime (due to the economy), I’ve joined organizations I had a passion for, not just to join and add my name to a roster. One such organization is the National Political Committee that agrees with my beliefs and attitudes and is always reaching out to get younger generations involved. There are several young lawyers who attend our monthly meetings. I also partnered with Must Ministries, an organization that works with disadvantaged families. This has allowed me to help the community, while giving me the opportunity to meet many young people who have also joined in the efforts.

Many of the younger members of these organizations feel “out of place” as they’re surrounded by older, more affluent people. I seek them out and say hello, introduce them to the other members and make sure they don’t feel left out. At our next meetings, they seek me out. And when they need design help, they call me or refer me. Through this kind of networking, I’ve become friends with people in the younger generation who have taught me new computer and messaging skills that have benefited my business.

3. Host Seminars and Luncheons
I volunteer to speak at luncheons for local subdivisions and civic groups of community clubs and homeowners associations. During these luncheons, I give a seminar and tell attendees a little about what I do, and then elaborate on a topic of interest to them. For instance, I speak on color, why and how to use window treatments, trims, etc., then adapt this to their age group. You have to know your audience. Each attendee leaves with my
business card and if they’re interested in further information, I take their contact information and follow up with them. In a group of 30 people, I can bet on at least one person contacting me for my services.

4. Stay Current on Trends
Staying current on trends in colors and how they affect the marketing of fashion, automobiles and, of course, interior design is key to looking “cool” in the eyes of the younger generation. We don’t have to go all out and dress like a teenager (it is important to act our age), but we shouldn’t look and act like an old, archaic person either. Rather than calling one of your younger clients to describe this great fabric you found, why not send them a picture message? Have a simple question about yardage? Text your younger client. This can speed up your sale considerably. However, always follow up in an email or message that can be printed for documentation. Case in point: You need to know your clients well enough to know what type of contact they will prefer. Sending text messages to clients who have never received a text message in their life will only confuse them, whereas a fluent text messager may appreciate the convenience.

5. Never Stop Learning
Continuing education is the final step toward reaching the younger generation. This “Google It” generation can quickly find for themselves the answers to almost anything. We need to know what they know, and more. For example, your younger clients may know that yellow or green are next year’s colors, but they don’t know why. You should have the answer. Take classes to learn about the current color trends, as predicted by the Color Marketing Group (CMG). Then, when you recommend a light yellow on the wall, for instance, you can tell them this was chosen by CMG to represent a feeling of opportunity for our future.

Then, immerse yourself in social networking. You can take college classes in interpersonal communications, or download lectures from teachers for no cost. But don’t just take the class, apply it to your life. (For more on social networking, revisit Melissa Galt’s article on social networking in the July/August issue of Vision.)

Cheryl Draa has been an interior designer for 17 years in the Atlanta, Ga., metroplex area. She recently won an award for 2009 Best of Marietta by the U.S. Commerce Association for achieving exceptional marketing success in the local community. Draa is a member of WFCA, NFIB, Cobb Chamber of Commerce, various local civic organizations and IFDA. She has two children—a son who is a Ph.D. student at the University of Florida and a daughter who is a senior at Auburn. She credits her Facebook and internet skills to them.


Cheryl Draa Interior Designs