It’s Time to Change the Tendering Process in Interior Design!

Following a recent conference held by SBID at Nobu London on the design industries supply chain and best practice we discussed the issues that Interior Designer’s, contractors (and therein also product manufacturers) face from the tendering process used today to pitch for jobs. Specifically, it is the huge, unprotected cost invested by each party in this process over several months and it is upheld by a vast number of hopeful parties when only one company will eventually be instructed. So, I decided that we ‘could do better’ as my school report regularly read!

It’s time to review the system so that a transparent, fair and inclusive process can be created. Currently, smaller businesses and sole traders are unable to invest the time and funds into valuable projects in a tender process which seems unfair in today’s marketplace. The typical cost of drafting a tender for a fit-out by an accredited SBID contractor of a restaurant would be around £7,000. This example demonstrates the detail and work that is invested before any commitment is made. When some projects invite 15 or more contractors to tender you can see the wasted time, funds and disappointment that will inevitably arise.

Similarly, designers pull together an enormous amount of work, research, budgeting, interaction with contractors on costs, as well as stock distribution, availability and production levels with hopeful manufacturers. This all takes time and costs everyone money. There must be a better way that will provide space for smaller business owners to engage as well as reduce these costs and that will come from an organisation like SBID that has a voice in the All-Party Business group for SME in parliament.

Having worked with the Genesis group for many years before SBID was incorporated we have engaged on this subject to create a solution. Lord Risby has supported our efforts and we will be launching a debate and process to a consulted solution in the New Year.

Before we do that, it occurred to me that this issue is universal and so I spoke to SBID Past President, Tom Marquardt in Chicago. He told me that when he worked at HOK Architects there in USA, an enormous effort and cost was put into tendering, and they even have a department just to address pitching and tendering – as many practices do.

In the UK when a request is received from a potential client, I’ve been quite shocked at the method that is still used today as best practice. Should there be a limit to the number of companies that can tender for a project and if not, should we shortlist from the start with a basic proposal of rates and capabilities rather than presentations? Should we perhaps invite the potential client to invest in this process?

To join the debate around the world on industry improvement – we took to the business platform of Linked In and invited both public and direct communication from stories of abuse to suggestions of improvement on the system.

SBID has a Construction Council – it includes surveyors, Accountants, solicitors, QS, And more. The council acts as a springboard for designers members to obtain advice, best practice and expert witnesses. In addition, together with our directories of designers and manufacturers we have as we intended to do in our original perspective incorporation document submitted to government created a Circular Economy for the interior design industry and we do it together – it’s not an ownership – this is to create and drive change. As an example of cost, that document was itself passed to competitors in education who duplicated it and set up a charity using the research, work and investment incorporated in SBIDs 16-page document. An alternative organisation also duplicated the business plan much of which was not acted upon at that time and finally, a third body obtained a copy once filed using the Freedom of Information Act. So yes, it’s a dirty business.

We need to create a system that works for all stakeholders – including the clients!

As SBID is now the biggest organisation with more members than any of the three above it proves that we worked harder and smarter to get ahead but we had help. For those less connected – how will they ever beat an unfair system levelled against winning? How can their work be protected, how can we as a professional industry body shelter risk for both the public our members and the global industry?

Please complete the simple questionnaire and send to admin@sbid.org

  1. Are you prevented from entering a tender process within commercial Interior design due to cost?
  2. What type of work do you tender for?
  3. What is the cost of an average tender?
  4. What is the ratio of tenders – v – instructions you commission a year?


Add your views on LinkedIn and read Tom Marquardt’s blog for his perspective on the other side of the world. It’s pretty appalling that this remains a global problem so let’s try to address it through debate and problem-solving dialogue.