Trade Accounts for Interior Designers 101

Understanding the value of trade accounts for interior designers comes with a learning curve. You might have heard about trade vendors and been intrigued (and slightly intimidated) by the process. Or, you might have assumed trade accounts are only for the big leagues. But here's the truth: whether you're a solopreneur or a well-established firm, utilizing trade accounts is an incredible opportunity for both your business and your clients. Plus, getting started is easier than you think. Today, we're demystifying trade accounts—what they are, why you should use them, and how to set one up. It's time to stop shopping retail and take your business to the next level.

Design: Lindye Galloway| Photography: Chad Mellon

A Quick Guide to Trade Accounts for Interior Designers

How it Works

Many furniture wholesalers (think brands like Four Hands Home, Visual Comfort, Palecek Furniture, Creative Co-Op, etc.) offer trade accounts with interior designers by application. If their application is accepted, the interior designer receives a percentage off the suggested retail price when shopping with that business. This discount varies vendor-to-vendor but is typically 30-60% off the MSRP.

Why it Benefits Your Business

Once purchased, the designer sells the pieces to their clients at retail price and keeps the discounted difference as a commission. Alternatively, some designers split the discount with their clients, creating an added value for working with them while still maintaining a profit.

Example: Store A offers a 50% trade discount. You source a dining table that retails for $5,000. Your discount brings the table to $2,500. At this point, you can sell the table to your client for $5,000, keeping the $2,500 as commission, or you can split the discount, bringing the table to $3,750 and your commission to $1,250.

Splitting the discount is totally optional, but deep discounts can present a major incentive for booking with one designer over another. Meanwhile, you’re still making money on the sale. Believe it or not, the majority of profit most interior designers make on a project comes from their furnishings with trade vendors and not their actual design time.

Interior Design: Marie Flanigan Interiors | Photography: Julie Soefer

How to Get a Trade Account

If you’ve looked at a trade account application before and felt overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Some of the questions don’t do any favors to small or new businesses and there’s little in the form of help to complete them. To apply with a certain business, the first thing you’ll need to do is contact the vendor or sales rep and let them know you’d like to apply. They will either send you in the right direction, email you an application, or have you pick one up at a showroom.

Pro tip: Be selective about the number of trade accounts you apply for. Filling out loads of applications is a time-suck and you will have to collect and report sales tax for these transactions, so we find it best to limit trade accounts to 1-2 favorites for each furnishing category (i.e., lighting, decor, rugs, furniture).

Design: Kelsey Leigh Design Co. | Photography: Emily Hart

Here's What You'll Need:

  • Proof of business - a card, website, or at the very least, a business social media account

  • A tax ID (EIN) - you get this from the federal government

  • A resale license - you get this from your state government

  • A bank account for your business

One of the first blanks on the application form might immediately stump you: Type of Account. The options are usually Net 30, Proforma/COD, and COD. You’ll want to circle or write “Proforma.” All it means is that you’ll pay up front and then the vendor will ship your item. Eventually, you can work your way up to creating Net 30 terms, which is essentially a credit account in which you have 30 days to pay your invoice. If you want to keep things simple, just stick with Proforma.

Near the end of the application, you might see a section for trade references—a pretty daunting ask for a trade account beginner. Don’t worry, this part is mostly for those looking for the Net 30 set-up (credit account). If you’re paying as you go, a lack of references shouldn’t be a problem.

You should hear about the status of your application shortly after submitting it. If accepted, you’ll receive a vendor ID number to use when purchasing. That’s it. Pretty simple, right?

If you’re a designer and not using trade accounts already, put those applications on your to-do list ASAP. The added revenue stream and potential discount for your clients can have a huge impact on your business, no matter the size.

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