Good design companies can’t work for nothing. However, they should initially come out to see you and discuss your project free of charge. If you have a site in mind, meet them there and enjoy the benefit of their views. However, be advised, if they are unscrupulous and desperate for work they will tell you it will be wonderful, no matter how dreadful it is. Negative comment will be more valuable as it will be honest. A reasonably seasoned designer should be able to make useful comments on location and the level of fitting out costs relative to other sites.
Still without cost, the designer should be able to submit a proposal to you, which confirms their understanding of your business, your aims and aspirations and the likelihood of delivering the finished product to you within a commercially acceptable budget. In addition to their fee requirements, they should also outline a programme that runs from their appointment through to completion. Be aware that at this stage costs and timescales are indicative and that cost certainty only comes when you have a completed design scheme including bids from contractors and suppliers in your hands.
The fee your consultant asks for will be related to the project, as will their method of working: i.e the creation of the identity and interiors of a completely new brand will be dealt with completely differently from a refurbishment of an existing outlet, however some similarities will remain. Normally the project will be broken down into a series of work stages; your approval being required at the conclusion of each before the commencement of the next.
After agreement of the design brief and fee proposals, the work stages for an interior design project might be as follows:
- Sketch Scheme Design; indicating the main proposals in the form of plans, material sample boards and sketch details. At this stage initial ideas on the brand identity, signing and POS design will also be presented.
- Design Development; which really addresses any issues of fitting the accepted design proposal into the actual premises. This would include investigation of what will be required to meet any statutory requirements under building regulations, planning consents etc. It may also include preliminary meetings with local authority planning departments etc.
- Preparation of tender documentation and tender; In this stage your consultant will prepare drawings and specifications sufficient to procure firm bids for the work by competitive tender, or if you prefer negotiation. This work stage concludes with the receipt and analysis of the tenders and suppliers have given you the most advantageous quotations.
- Site supervision etc; The final stage includes supervision of the works on the site through to completion. This includes issuing any necessary instructions to the contractors – ensuring that defects are rectified and advising on the settlement of final accounts. Signing and POS design will also be be completed and installation managed.
Some basic points of advice
You will have a business plan prepared before you get too far down the line on a particular property. While business plans are loved by banks and accountants and a good one will tell you what your costs will be down to the last penny, if you are a new business they can’t tell you how many customers will walk in the door and what they will buy. However a spreadsheet that predicts various levels of income and expenditure can help you establish your breakeven levels and determine the limits you should impose on the fitting out and equipment budgets, and save you from elementary mistakes in sizing your establishment and setting your price levels. Your design consultant will advise you on likely cost outcomes for the fitting out. But remember – predicting costs at an early age is not easy. Use these costs as targets and be prepared to cut items out of the project to stay within your budget.
- Don’t proceed on site without a well-documented, firm cost from a reputable contractor. Don’t drift into open-ended cost situations.
- Don’t make changes after the contract has commenced if you can possibly help it. Invariably, changes will cause delay and cost you heavily.
- Ensure that you have all the permissions and consents in place before you start work.
- The viability of your business will be determined by the return on investment. Once you have established your investment level which should include a contingency for unexpected eventualities, don’t allow any upward creep. An overspend at this point can saddle your business with a financial problem that will stay with it for a long time.
- When you are preparing your cost plan and cash flow forecasts, don’t forget to include items such as advance payments or deposits on rental agreements and VAT on equipment and fitting out work. While in the long term they are not costs to the business, they will impact on initial outward cashflow.