Does showing wealth turn off potential clients?
February 28, 2007 5:51 AM   Subscribe

Does showing wealth turn off potential clients?

I'm starting an interior decorating business. I'm thinking about the image I want to portray, which is young and stylish and hip, yet high-end and professional. I'm concerned about my grooming, clothing, and overall appearance.

I'm about to buy a new car and I'm considering a BMW X3. I live in the city, and I want a small SUV so that I can easily transport goods for my home and my business. I'm very aware of the impression the car may make, as I may be driving clients to showrooms and shops. Perhaps a wiser choise would be a Honda CRV or something similar? Or will the BMW show a certain level of sophistication and cache in a good way?

Also, I have a large diamond on my engagement ring. I'm considering just wearing my wedding band which is an eternity band of very small diamonds.

I certainly don't wear head to toe designer names, but this issue could continue to come up, so I'd like to give myself some ground rules now. Thanks for your input on this!
posted by JJ Jenkins to Work & Money (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think a good rule of thumb is to resemble your desired clients as far as possible.
posted by Phanx at 6:01 AM on February 28, 2007

Response by poster: Also, I do know how to spell "choice." It was early when I typed this!
posted by JJ Jenkins at 6:19 AM on February 28, 2007

I would wear what represents YOU the most. Anything else will be an act which will become apparent over time. If the CRV is more YOU, then buy it and don't apologize. It's cheaper to maintain and longer lasting, but that's my opinion. I wouldn't not wear your engagement ring if it's meaningful to you. Be true to who you are while keeping in mind your desired clientel. They'll appreciate someone real and authentic much more than someone trying to impress them.
posted by orangemiles at 6:28 AM on February 28, 2007

Your question seems to ask, "should I alter my personal style for potential customers?" In an interior decorating business you're basically selling your style, so my intuitive response would be, no, you should not.

I think that your portfolio and your professionalism are the most important things in this kind of business, much more than what you wear or drive. Personally, I'm a bit put off by the trappings of conspicuous consumption, but not enough that it would turn me away from your business if I liked your work.

So to boil all that down: do what you want and focus on being a good interior designer. What you look like isn't nearly as important as what you do.
posted by AV at 6:33 AM on February 28, 2007

Don't look nouveau riche.

A new BMW may suggest "I am paying this person too much." Cachet: no. A somewhat less showy luxury car would be less bad.

Well-designed, interesting-without-being-showy silver jewellery would, I think, be the thing for a decorator. The engagement ring is fine so long as it's not that, with big expensive earrings, with a Rolex, with...

I don't think I'd want to see any designer names. At least not visible ones. Look like you know where to get the really good stuff, yes, but without any hint of this. You want some blank-slatiness for clients to project on to, I suspect. Really, a good (very good) black blazer, good white shirt of some sort, "tasteful yet stylish" accessories, and good jeans would make me think "Okay, I can work with this person." Showy what-not would make me fearful of $300 toasters.

A possibly worthwhile read.
posted by kmennie at 6:34 AM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

(I am in Chicago as well). I would think the universe of people who are a) looking to hire a high-end interior decorator and b) so turned off by someone driving a BMW X3 that they would not hire them is fairly small. If that's what you want to get then don't worry about it. Or, you could get a Hybrid Lexus. Just don't get a giant pink H3.

That said, it might depend more on your target client base. Are you aiming to sell a young, hip look to those who themselves may not be so young and hip? If that's the case I would be less concerned than if you were targeting young, well-off people who would be more likely to make negative judgements about that car.

Regarding the ring - assuming you are young I think you may encounter people who think that you've married into money and are just treating this as a hobby, but if you are good at what you plan on doing that should be a nonissue.
posted by true at 6:43 AM on February 28, 2007

Interior decorators should display as much "comfortable wealth" as possible. Drive and wear that which you feel comfortable displaying otherwise you will look like a phony. If you plan on becoming a successful interior decorator you should have the trappings of a successful interior decorator. The car, the clothes, the jewellery all lend a visual of "success" for the client to see and make assumptions from. This is shallow but true.

Eg. Say I had to pick an attorney to represent me... one drove a Bentley, the other drove a 1982 K-Car. From appearence alone, consciously or sub-consciously, I will perceive the "better" lawyer as the one driving the nicer car whether it is true or not; more so for someone in your profession- with you it is all visual, so bling, bling away. Just remember not to turn into a snoot.
posted by bkeene12 at 6:48 AM on February 28, 2007

Nobody wants to spend more money than they have to.

Try to cultivate an image that shows quality as opposed to showy wealth. Think about it, would you prefer to buy interior decorating from someone with a rolex and expensive car, or someone who was wearing a beautifully and uniquely cut diamond with a stylish car that had truly superior handling, whatever the cost was?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:53 AM on February 28, 2007

2007 Acura RDX or MDX
posted by probablysteve at 7:15 AM on February 28, 2007

I agree it is important to look successful, but an SUV? I wouldn't consider an SUV to be stylish. Why not test drive a BMW station wagon, or an Audi A3?

Mercedes also makes an E series wagon, but it's a bit more expensive than the X3.

There's also the Volvo V50 and V70. With a wagon you get all the benefits of a sedan in terms of driving dynamics and economy, and you still get the room of an SUV.

Just a personal preference.
posted by hilby at 7:20 AM on February 28, 2007

my mom is an interior decorator and at one time owned a high end furniture store in a rural area, as weird as that sounds. her clients expected her to be more stylish and "well turned out" than they were - if she wasn't, why would they hire her? i can't imagine there is a market for interior designers among people who pinch pennies and would resent someone having a nice vehicle and engagement ring.

whatever you do, don't be a poseur, unless you only want to work for wannabee "cool" people. you don't want a bunch of clients who want everything to look "in" but don't want to pay for it. don't buy the BMW cause you think it will impress people, a desirable client base will see through that in a heart beat. buy it if you love it for the way it drives and looks, and if you would be looking into BMW's no matter what your business.

ring is non issue, i think.
posted by domino at 7:34 AM on February 28, 2007

I think a good rule of thumb is to resemble your desired clients as far as possible.

This is right. Look at your desired clients, see what they have/how they dress/what they wear, and model yourself accordingly.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:37 AM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Does showing wealth turn off potential clients?


You seem to be making too much out of this issue. Between the BMW and the CRV and the diamond ring and the Chanel handbag or whatever else...yes, they're visual cues but (1) they mostly work on a subconscious level, and (2) there are far more important cues that will override whatever message your handbag sends, like your posture and how you smile and whether you bob your head while speaking. (Yes, that last one is serious. Head movement undermines a confident air.)

Splurge for the goodies because they'll make you look successful. Ask any law firm — although if you've worked as an interior designer, then you already know that cliche. But ultimately, even if you do go overboard with the designer accoutrements, clients are going to be more interested in your portfolio and price.

For more pointed advice about this, see Selling the Invisible.
posted by cribcage at 7:40 AM on February 28, 2007

Our interior decorator is very stylish. Although I am ignorant of such things, my wife has had a number of happy conversations with her about her apparel, which appeared to center on where one would find such things in our town. I've never discussed it with her, but I assume that some of my wife's confidence in this woman is inspired by her sense of style in clothing and grooming. I know that she drives a Lexus GX-470, and I feel vaguely pleased with her selection although my wife would be as oblivious to this choice as I am to her brand of shoes.

I doubt that clothing or jewelry or cars would be a deal-breaker, but a decorator is a unique position in which one is selling a sense of style and taste. Exhibiting some of both in all areas is surely a selling point.
posted by Lame_username at 7:53 AM on February 28, 2007

No, just the opposite. A person who wants to hire a decorator wants someone who looks high-end. If they wanted low-end they'd go to Kmart.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:55 AM on February 28, 2007

I'm also in Chicago.

I may not be representative of the "majority", but in looking for a designer, I would look at huge name designer items as a lack of creativity / self confidence.

For the record, I'm probably a mid-upper middle class white male with a corporate job. I do not make 6 figures, but I imagine I should be in the next few years. I'm not light years away from it when my annual bonus is included.

The fact that you have craploads of money to waste on a nameplate means nothing to me. I want a creative person as a designer - someone who has their own ideas - not someone who just buys the most expensive brands because that's what they're told is cool.

As such, I'd be way more impressed with a designer who drives a car that is between modest and luxury, and who wears clothing that makes him/her look unique rather than look like they shopped on Michigan Avenue at only the "high end" stores.

All that being said, if you're looking to appeal to uber-rich folk in Lincoln Park, Gold Coast, etc - perhaps a gigantic rock, a lexus and some big designer names is the way to go. The advice of looking like your potential clients does apply.
posted by twiggy at 7:56 AM on February 28, 2007

i suspect that your personality and how you carry yourself are going to make a bigger impression than your car.

but that's not to say i think the beemer wouldn't work to your benefit. in most cases. nice things tend convey success, and that's not going to work against you--popular mythology has it that the most successful people are the best at what they do.

if you think you'd have a hard time convincingly "performing wealth," though, i'd tone it down, though: a lot of people are wild about phonies, but a lot of people are not, and you risk alienating people if you seem like you're putting on airs. a nice car, in and of itself, when coupled with an unpretentious attitude, isn't going to rankle either the average person or the old guard types, though, and the tacky nouveau riche love nothing so much as to cavort with other tacky nouveu riche and/or their social betters, so with them you don't even have to worry about being unpretentious, so long as you can defer to their sense of superiority in some capacity.
posted by wreckingball at 8:11 AM on February 28, 2007

I have the car, I don't feel rich driving it. Sometimes I get guff for driving it, which is unfortunate, it is a fun SUV. If anything I feel like a suburban mom. If I wanted to impress people I would buy an X5 or the Porsche or a Mercedes. The X3 is low man on the totem pole. In fact as someone who feels somewhat self-conscious about not wanting to look showy while wanting the luxuries such things afford, I find it a nice fit.

But buy what you want because it is the best fit for you. Drive it in confidence and unless you're decorating for Ms Engels no one in your demographic will notice.
posted by geoff. at 8:14 AM on February 28, 2007

Response by poster: Maybe I should be researching cars instead of reading decor magazines all day! This is the first one I will be buying myself. My others have been hand me downs from my parents, so I really never got to think about what "my style" car is. Until recently, I lived in NYC where a car is a non-issue. As a teenager, my favorite was an SUV because I liked the height (I'm 5'10") and the cargo room.

I agree that I should be individual, stylish, unique, etc, but there really is a ceiling on uniqueness when it comes to cars. I'm open to suggestions.

I have more to say in response to all of these wonderful answers but will wait a bit longer. Thanks very much.
posted by JJ Jenkins at 8:18 AM on February 28, 2007

Response by poster: It seems that people think my choice of BMW was for business and not personal preference. Let me be clear.

I was planning on getting the BMW before the business plan came about, and then started re-thinking the choice because of the business.
posted by JJ Jenkins at 8:20 AM on February 28, 2007

I second probablysteve, the Acura RDX is waaay cooler than the CRV or BMW. Your personal opinion may vary, of course.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 8:38 AM on February 28, 2007

Crossovers are "trendy" not stylish.

An X3 is built on a 3-series frame, but they put a stiffer suspension on it because it has big tires and a higher center of gravity. So essentially you get a 3-Series BMW with a bouncy and stiff suspension and worse gas mileage.

Crossovers are a great idea if you do most of your driving on unpaved roads or need to tow a small boat.

Just as an example, a BMW 328xi has more interior space, headroom, legroom and cargo capacity than the X3. It has better fuel economy and handling, and a more sophisticated engine. It also has all-wheel drive for those Chicago winters. It has a more sophisticated heating and air conditioning system. And of course it will drive and handle better. The list goes on and on.

Oh yeah, and its MSRP is 2 grand cheaper than the X3. Don't buy a sport utility vehicle, it just encourages them to build more.
posted by hilby at 8:59 AM on February 28, 2007

The wagon, not the coupe sorry. If you compare the two on BMW's site you'll see that the wagon has more interior space and more cargo space than the X3.
posted by hilby at 9:38 AM on February 28, 2007

I think that you should think more about your business plan, contacts and ideas and less about what image your car conveys.

The most important thing that a mid-range (and that is where you will start, at best, because you aren't going to be able to come into the industry as some sort of high-end, designer of million dollar homes type) interior designer can bring to the table is her (and they are almost all female) contacts and ability to get discounts at suppliers. Second is probably the ability to come up with good ideas and communicate them to all the parties involved.

Mine got me 40% off of list at almost everywhere "high-end" (lighting, furniture, decor) in town, and something like 20% at all the tile and stone places.

My designer drives an old Jeep Cherokee, which has plenty of space in it for hauling around crap, so I think that you might be on the right path with a small SUV, but I really don't think that it matters that much. What matters is how much you seem like a "real" designer - this is an industry where you have to "fake it until you make it."

Think about to whom you want to pitch your services - I think that, as a beginner, you will do much better in the "first-time buyer buying new construction" market than you will with anything high end. Those people still need someone with a good eye and good ideas to help them decide finishes, paint, etc.

Finally, one thing that I think does really matter is that you dress funky and hip. Every "mid-range" designer I talked to dressed like the kind of person who spent a lot of time thinking about how she dressed, without necessarily looking like she really spent a lot of money or just followed trends. There were so many times that I internally thought "what the hell is she wearing?" for about fifteen seconds before I thought "yeah, but it totally works." Maybe it's different for women, though, who I imagine are the main consumers of interior design services.
posted by jcwagner at 9:54 AM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

One of my sisters-in-law was a high end interior decorator for a while, although not in the U.S. She drove a Ford Explorer SUV so she could haul around samples and stuff. As for clothing, she stuck to wearing black, and you couldn't really tell whether what she was wearing was an expensive brand or not, but everything fit well and the cuts were current (e.g., no tapered pants when the current silhouette was boot-cut, that kind of thing) and made of quality materials. She always wore some jewelry, but stylish and discreet (no huge rocks). Where she went all out were the handbags and shoes - she had a Hermes Birkin glued to her side for a while, rotating with some roomy Chanel bags, and she wore comfortable shoes she could walk in, usually flats from Chanel or J. P. Tod's. Overall, she projected a look of understated, comfortable elegance, and somebody who wasn't trying too hard. Her clientele tended towards trust fund babies, young families with money. She sort of burnt out on it which is why she isn't doing it any more.
posted by needled at 11:01 AM on February 28, 2007

You should aim for a style that matches the the aspirational level of your clientèle.
posted by jouke at 11:37 AM on February 28, 2007

You know jcwagner got me thinking... you should probably buy two vehicles. Get somethings fun like the 328xi coupe that hilby recommended and an old, cheap pick'em up truck with a big camper top when you have to haul stuff. This way you could have the best of both worlds and really put out a dynamic, creative calling card that also speaks of your resourcefulness- at least in the area of transportation.
posted by bkeene12 at 11:52 AM on February 28, 2007

eh, i would find it a little weird to see anyone using a bmw (even a bmw suv) as a utility vehicle.

as long as you are refined in your dress and jewelry, you'll be fine. i think you don't want to drive a better car than your clients in a business setting.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:40 PM on February 28, 2007

« Older Light explosives now   |   Where did my tastebuds go? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.