Choosing natural stone slabs for an interior design project can sometimes turn into a long and drawn out process.
I work in the Houston, TX area, a region with a great port and tons of natural stone slabs pouring in from all over the world.
There really is no shortage of natural stone slabs in Houston.
Unless, of course, you have your heart set on one particular look, color or veining. Then, as luck would have it, it can be like finding a needle in a haystack.
It may take several visits to various yards or warehouses to come up with acceptable material.
Or, it may take seven......
My natural stone slab shopping process now works like this.
- Call various warehouses, yards, and reps that I work with to inquire about what I'm looking for in material to see if they have the appropriate thickness in stock to view.
- Take an afternoon and visit the yards or warehouses and preview materials. Tag slabs for client viewing.
- Contact client to view slabs. I send pictures of the slabs, my reasoning of why I think it is a good choice for the project (my sales pitch). I give them location(s), sales rep name (if any), the rules (make an appointment so the slabs can be pulled), and give them Saturday times if open on Saturday. I often find that my couples want to both see the slabs and typically might go on a Saturday. I let them go and view the slabs on their own time. I don't accompany them unless there are special circumstances. If I do, then I just meet them at the location, I don't ride with them, and I never go on a Saturday.
- Once they approve, then we are off to the races.
Many times, the approval process takes more time than you think. That's why I arrived at this process and why I found it works best to keep my projects profitable.
Clients can get certain looks stuck in their head that are not available or that might be out of their price range. Sometimes they can just be hard to satisfy and want to see many options.
Walking those slab yards, with a client in tow, can be a super long, drawn out process. It's just like furniture or fabric shopping with a client. There are way too many options to get people off track. You have to go with a set vision and pre-selection for approval is ideal.
The stone yards you shop should reflect your brand
Not only that, but I choose mid to higher end warehouses for slabs. If I'm going to send my clients there without me, then I want them to have a good experience.
I want them to meet with my rep and not have to stand and wait on workers to pull slabs. I want them visiting as pleasant a setting as possible, indoors, with at least some air circulation.
I've been in outdoor slab yards with clients, waiting out in the hot sun for the fork lift driver to finish with another customer before then coming to us to pull slabs.
I had one client say something like, "It doesn't matter how much money you have or are willing to spend here, they don't move for anyone, do they?" :-(
That's not a good experience for any of us, especially for a luxury client. Often slabs are wet too, which doesn't give an accurate appearance to the slab.
Pre-Selection of Natural Stone Slabs Is Best or, better yet,.....
.......maybe the client will just trust you to select for them! :-)
Here's why this touch point has to be minimal in terms of keeping a project rolling along (profitable).
I have taken many clients slab shopping before. I have had situations where I have driven clients out to these warehouses and yards to see my choices only to have them negate the selections and want to see more.
With one client, I spent seven (7) trips out slab shopping, only to come back around to the first selection I picked as the one they finally approved. :-(
Those shopping trips I did, years ago, amounted to about 2 hours of driving and at least a few hours of shopping in the yards. Let's just say four hours total as a minimum.
And that's not factoring in lunch or coffee time. (If you take your clients in your car, then that is something to consider.)
Time spent to find one slab for a countertop for that project:
4 hrs. x 7 days = 28 hours
28 hours x $150 per hour (my hourly rate) = $4200.
Do you see how that adds up?
You can't offer that personalized shopping experience as part of a flat fee unless your fee is enormous.
Clients with time and a keen interest in the product and process will want to get into this with you. They will want to be shown around and exposed to lots of options in person.
We all know lots of options can mean lots of changes and therefore, lots more time spent on a project that likely wasn't anticipated.
Here's how I bill for client meetings to view slabs
That's why I learned to pull "slab shopping with clients" out of my flat fee contracts and bill that as Hourly Additional Services.
I include my own previewing of the slabs I select as part of my fee. After all, it is a key part of the job and deserves my best attention, plus I have full control over the time I spend.
However, any personal meetings with the client at the slab yards or warehouses, any re-selections, are billed as hourly. It just makes that decision-making a bit faster on their part, to know the time that might be spent to shop or wander a bit, will be billed.
Or, of course, we could always just use quartz! :-)