By Iris Richmond. In-depth market study is one way to be sure all those merchandising dollars are well-spent. For Color Design Center (CDC), an interior design and merchandising firm in Pacific Palisades, Calif., careful research is essential to the design process. Every year, the firm surveys thousands of consumers to find out what they like and what they don't.

"[Research] keeps us in touch with the latest in consumer, marketing, and design trends," says Ava Carberry, a principal of CDC, "which in turn lets the builders know right away whether they're doing it right. More often than not, it's a case of intuitive information being validated by our research."

"Builders are relying more and more on merchandisers and designers to do their homework, because there are designers that do beautiful work but haven't researched the market, so [a model] doesn't sell," adds Ellen Phillips, the firm's finish-materials specialist.

CDC's design process starts with a "kickoff" meeting during which the builder and the design firm figure out where exactly they're headed. She points out that a good builder completes his market research before purchasing the property. Without it, the design firm's contribution is hampered.

"Confusion in the partnership comes when a builder isn't clear about which segment he's targeting," says Phillips. "If we're told the demographic is empty-nesters and it's really move-up buyers, chances are that model won't sell."

Once the details are figured out, the next phase in the process is the preliminary, a meeting usually scheduled within a month's time of the kickoff. Though not always necessary, the preliminary acts as a forum for confirmation and possible tweaking.

"When a builder gives you a command, you repeat it back to him," says Phillips. "It's never a good idea to get too far into the design process without this step. We've learned through our surveys that we're on track, which means our clients are, too, but we check in to make sure we're jibing before heading into the final install stage."

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Published in BIG BUILDER Magazine, August 2002