In 2005, no sooner had Ewing Building & Remodeling, in Blacksburg, Va., decided to charge a $250 to $500 design retainer to be applied to its signed contracts than the economy took a nose-dive. The company was soon facing increasing pressure from price-shopping clients looking to save dollars wherever possible. So with local competitors cutting prices and not charging design fees, company designer Richard Anuszkiewicz says EBR couldn't justify its retainer.

Since then, the company has made efforts to differentiate itself from competitors by emphasizing its turnkey approach from design to construction. “As soon as [the client] walks in the door, we’re setting a different tone. You’re getting a different experience — a full designer with you every step of the way,” Anuszkiewicz says.

Another selling point is the company’s new showroom, which opened last August on a main street in Blacksburg — a more visible location than its previous space. “In our area there aren’t many [showrooms] around like this,” Anuszkiewicz says. “When people come in, they know they are getting a quality design. We are walking them through selections and guiding them through the process.”

33% of survey respondents do all design work in-house — Source: National Association of the Remodeling Industry Member Profile Study 2011

The company plans to add six more displays to its showroom in January, and also highlights its in-house cabinet shop. EBR designers are also pricing multiple cabinet lines with different options. Though time-consuming, this allows potential clients to weigh their options and “lets the client know we want to work with them and give them the best possible project within their allotted budget,” Anuszkiewicz says.

EBR is also relaunching its website with a new logo and more updated project photos.

The company hasn’t given up on the idea of a design retainer, which it says separates serious investors from those just shopping around. It’s currently considering offering an initial design consultation for free and then asking clients for a small monetary commitment for the next step.

—Nina Patel, senior editor, REMODELING.