White Paper / Feature Specifying Art 7/9/09 The Business of Specifying Art Programs Maybe It’s Time for a Change

By Russell A. Glotfelty Whether it is fabrics, furnishings, or artwork, when it comes time to making highdollar design purchases there is a lot to consider in order to ensure you actually get what you asked for at the end of the day at a fair price. There are endless factors that have to be considered when evaluating prices contingent on the product or service being procured. At first glance, all may seem to be well and you are hopeful that you have made the right decision. However, if the parameters established initially for a product or service are ultimately altered or misrepresented by the vendor in order to secure the job or sell a product, you will end up with a compromised result at best. In the art consulting business, as with many service oriented businesses, the vendor has to invest a tremendous amount of time and money upfront in product research and proposal development in order to stay competitive all done at little or no cost to the prospective client. It’s fair to say that in this economy in particular, all businesses across the board are expected to give more and hope for less. However, in the art consulting market, as is true in other businesses as well, it seems that this approach to doing business has been the norm well before the downturn of the economy. Consequently, during these very tough times, this approach can quickly annihilate the small art consulting business owner and make it extremely difficult even for mid-size and large firms to stay profitable. In the art business a “specified vendor” agrees to perform the hard work or “due diligence” required to develop specifications suitable to a specific art program and provide a detailed breakdown of costs as well. Relevant to purchasing art programs, this process may linger for as long as a year or more, contingent on the size of the art program at hand. Many large companies utilize purchasing agents that count on the detailed specifications and prices provided by the art consultant in order to bid the job with other vendors. The specified vendor accepts the challenge with no upfront fee at all with the understanding there are no guarantees that the specified vendor’s efforts will translate to an actual job. The initial effort outlines a comprehensive plan to the designer or developer to satisfy both budgetary and design requirements and the specified vendor accepts the fact this his/her specs will be “used” as a template by the purchasing agent in order to procure competitive bids. This same agent, ultimately responsible for


She remarks. not only in art consulting. Owner/President of the acclaimed interior design firm. a synergy must be created between the specified art consulting vendor and designer with the lofty goal of staying true to the original intent of the project while keeping costs reasonable. “It should be noted that the biggest investment in upfront time falls on the shoulders of the art consultant chosen to be the specified vendor. and support the collective vision of the owner and interior designer. Once the interior designer has developed formal specifications in conjunction with the art consultant. From that point forward. Greene. Subsequent vendors bidding on the project come on the scene after a lot of the legwork has already been done and as a result. GA. will drive many of the decisions. also believes that the purchasing agent. “An art package is developed to support the collective vision of the owner and interior designer and further. In order to accomplish these objectives. who represents the developer’s interests. however.awarding the contract and making the final decision. is charged with negotiating the best possible price for the client. “It’s critical that the distinction is made from design components that can be purchased based on price from those that are intrinsic to the integrity of the project and should therefore be considered sacred. offer emotional appeal to the guest. She comments. it’s imperative to have strong vendor/partner relationships that are based on respect. the purchasing agent. VP/Project Management for Inland American Lodging Advisor. It’s clear that the purchasing agent plays an important role in protecting the client’s interests. “It’s critical for the designer to have a positive working relationship with purchasing agents with the understanding that parameters are not defined by price only. the specified vendor loses control of the project and can only hope for the best. but further take the client’s goals into consideration. ethical business practices and creative thinking.” Stacey L. they don’t have to factor that labor into their price. designer and owner/client need to operate as a team in order to have a single vision that considers not just price. Atlanta. It does not really impact the purchasing side. is keenly aware of the need to improve the bidding process. the Van Dresser Company.” Van Dresser comments on the key role artwork plays in supporting the project’s overall design goals. and admits it’s a problem. She comments. Jillian Van Dresser. but it would be very helpful to vendors across the board if some new approaches to bidding were considered. According to Van Dresser. but quality.” Van Dresser continues:” An art package needs to withstand the test of time.” 2 . from that point on. the designer and developer have an artistic vision of how the project should ultimately play out which can sometimes be in conflict with financial considerations. Inc. but in the entire hospitality industry. needs to withstand the test of time.” She embraces the idea that in order to ensure those results.

the bottom line is always a serious consideration not just for the client. does that make it right? There are no simple solutions to this complex problem that exists in industries across the board. Larson-Juhl. it seems within the reach of art consulting community. cost should not be the driving factor in selecting an art consultant. While this method of doing business has been the case for years on end in multiple businesses. Should there be more protection for the specified vendor? If that is done. obviously the subsequent vendors will be unable to secure that artwork. the project becomes a free for all and there are no longer standards for making comparisons based on "apples to apples. designers may tend to produce more cookie cutter designs to simplify the bidding process 3 .this is due to the need for the designer to duplicate the design efforts with the alternate vendors to make sure they are producing the specified design. when a vendor is chosen based solely on cost. a shorter frame life expectancy and might be produced from plastic instead of wood. Van Dresser remarks. a moulding product that is inexpensive might not be eco-friendly. quality suffers." The alterations to the original specifications may or may not be even readily apparent to the designer and developer. “In order to keep the workload in check. Van Dresser believes that because designers are pushed by owners and purchasing agents to bid jobs with multiple vendors in addition to the specified vendor. Vendors bidding on a job based on the specifications provided by the “specified” vendor will often low ball the job and then perform card tricks later to figure out how to reduce the cost and have it “appear” as though the quality has been maintained. could have inferior structural integrity. However.According to Pete Cooper. including everyone from property owners and designers to purchasing agents and art consultants to open the door to considering solutions for this moral conundrum. For example. how would that be accomplished? Should the specified vendor who is responsible for designing the art program be compensated for his or her efforts? Should the initial specifications be standardized so that all stays “apples to apples”? If another vendor changes the specs by knocking off a quality product more inexpensively. but for the designer as well. Vice President / Sales. The competing vendors can say that the art is no longer available and simply alter the program to offer different artists at a lower cost. He notes: “In many cases.” The question is how is it possible for the same set of specifications to result in a wide variety of pricing? The short answer is that once it leaves the hands of the specified vendor. For example. if the specified vendor might have proprietary art proposed. The purchasing agent will probably be pleased regardless of the compromised program. would it not be fair to allow the initial vendor to bid on the nowaltered specs? In addition to understanding the artistic objectives of the project. because the agent’s role is to focus on the bottom line. designer projects have become even less profitable in an already trying economic climate .

the jewelry becomes as much of a focus as the dress. When the Academy Awards are televised. is in a position to take this stance because she is managing a large number of hotels. Hopefully.” She says that she also provides a list to designers of her preferred vendors based on volume discount pricing and quality. However. hard work was rewarded and unethical practices were not. Greene is one of the rare people in the industry that only works with specified vendors with an established budget so she does not have to get involved in bidding wars. comparing design to fashion.” According to Greene. Van Dresser offers her suggestion on how to create a more equitable bidding environment. According to Greene: “The ultimate solution is for designers and clients to establish a national account with select vendors and purchase those items direct.” Cooper suggested: “One possible solution is during the bidding process designers specify the exact product and request for “no substitutes”. She comments: “If it’s a published commodity that is being bid on such as a large run of posters. she notes that the designer has to work much harder to try to get close to achieving the initial vision. I can understand the value of bidding the job to multiple vendors. By doing 4 .” In the case where a job is awarded to what the designer might consider a less desirable art consultant. Greene however. She states: “Offer the specified vendor the opportunity to match the price of the acceptable bid utilizing similar products and level of service as parameters. answers are few. Van Dresser agrees that the multiple vendor approach is applicable in certain cases. Questions are many. the multiple vendor bidding approach is standard fare for the hospitality industry in purchasing interiors products across the board in order for the client to secure the best price.” Greene believes that quality interior design is in the details. ethics will play a bigger role in the business of selling art consulting services.” Greene considers the accessories and artwork to be specific to the interiors concept and as a result.for multiple vendors. primarily with accessories and artwork where the lowest price often degrades the initial design concept. It would be a much healthier business environment to work in if art consultants were given equal opportunities to secure a project. the majority of our projects are higher end and those types of projects require an experienced and talented art consultant to do the job right. She notes: “The real problem in the bidding process comes into play when originals are purchased. cannot be duplicated by the lowest bidder without having a detrimental effect on the design. She comments: “This is true whether you are talking fashion or interiors. designers could protect their creative vision and owners are presenting art programs commensurate with their corporate image.

50-employee company specializes in residential and commercial interiors for the hospitality. Van Dresser and Cooper have viable solutions. FL. medical and corporate markets providing on-site art and framing consulting. the customer is getting the quality and look originally desired for the project without switching to a lesser quality product. the execution may prove to be challenging. turnkey art consulting and wholesale framing company based in Orlando. Glotfelty is President and Managing Director of HG Art & Framing Consultants (HG).so. production and installation services for projects worldwide. Regardless. it’s time that the bidding process is overhauled so that business may be conducted professionally and ethically while delivering the best possible product for a fair price to the customer. 5 .” Greene. however. an international. About the Author Russell A. The $8 Million.