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The Highs and Lows of Commission Work

You Really Have to Perform Every Single Day

Interior designer Nina Dayton discusses the pros and cons of working for commission.

First, tell me how long you’ve worked in the field of sales and interior design.

It’s been about five years now.

How does commission work in your line? Do you get a base pay? Or is it all commission?

Well, I’ve had a few different jobs, and it has varied some at each place.

At the store where I work now, our commission is anywhere from six to ten percent, depending on whether an item is full price or on sale. We do a lot of discounting for design clients, so the discounts reduce our commission.

But the owner recently changed the policy. It used to be that there was a monthly draw, which was about $3000 a month. We were guaranteed to go home with that amount, but if we didn’t make at least that much in commission, the amount we were short would be carried over as a negative balance for whatever commission we made the following month. So, if I sold only $20,000 worth of merchandise one month, then I’d have to sell $40,000 the next month just to break even.

Now, we have monthly guarantee of $2000. So even if my commission falls short of the guarantee, I enter the next pay period with a zero balance. Whatever I make in commission is mine.

So, typically, how much do you go home with every month?

There hasn’t been a typical amount yet because we’ve only had the new policy for a couple of months. I’m still feeling it out, but my guess is that I’ll be going home with pretty much the same amount of money as before.

How has it been different at other places you’ve worked?

At one job – in a design center in New York – I had a three-month guarantee, and then it went to purely commission, with no base pay. But I didn’t need a base pay because there was enough business that I made more than my guarantee from the beginning.

What made that place so different?

It was a very established company that had been in existence for a hundred years and they had built up a lot of business. They’re world renowned for the product they carry and for their reputation. So it was easy to sell.

Why did you leave?

It wasn’t nearly as creative as what I do now. I was selling rugs to designers. I didn’t get to be the one who puts a whole room together, and that’s the part I love.

What are the drawbacks and the advantages of working for commission?

For one, it’s performance-based, so you really have to perform every single day. But the biggest drawback is in not knowing what you’re going to have in your paycheck on a regular basis. It can be really stressful. The advantage, of course, is not having a cap on your income. It’s thrilling when it goes well. And sometimes you get the good and bad all at once.

Recently, I had a client who was eager to work on her entire house with me. On our first visit I sold her $35,000 worth of furniture and accessories for her living room alone. Then, she had a complete change of heart and wanted her money back.

When negotiating a base pay or a commission schedule, are there any rules? Any standards?

I like to believe everything’s negotiable. But it’s no different than any other type of pay. Some companies will say, “This is what we’re offering. Take it or leave it.” And some will be willing to negotiate.

So what does it take to make a living working for commission?

Well, you have to know that commission work is all about sales. You have to be able to connect with people, to listen, and evaluate their needs. You also need to have good follow-through and persistence. It’s not easy, but, like I said, it can be worth the stress.

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Interior designer Nina Dayton discusses the pros and cons of working for commission.

First, tell me how long you’ve worked in the field of sales and interior design.

It’s been about five years now.

How does commission work in your line? Do you get a base pay? Or is it all commission?

Well, I’ve had a few different jobs, and it has varied some at each place.

At the store where I work now, our commission is anywhere from six to ten percent, depending on whether an item is full price or on sale. We do a lot of discounting for design clients, so the discounts reduce our commission.

But the owner recently changed the policy. It used to be that there was a monthly draw, which was about $3000 a month. We were guaranteed to go home with that amount, but if we didn’t make at least that much in commission, the amount we were short would be carried over as a negative balance for whatever commission we made the following month. So, if I sold only $20,000 worth of merchandise one month, then I’d have to sell $40,000 the next month just to break even.

Now, we have monthly guarantee of $2000. So even if my commission falls short of the guarantee, I enter the next pay period with a zero balance. Whatever I make in commission is mine.

So, typically, how much do you go home with every month?

There hasn’t been a typical amount yet because we’ve only had the new policy for a couple of months. I’m still feeling it out, but my guess is that I’ll be going home with pretty much the same amount of money as before.

How has it been different at other places you’ve worked?

At one job – in a design center in New York – I had a three-month guarantee, and then it went to purely commission, with no base pay. But I didn’t need a base pay because there was enough business that I made more than my guarantee from the beginning.

What made that place so different?

It was a very established company that had been in existence for a hundred years and they had built up a lot of business. They’re world renowned for the product they carry and for their reputation. So it was easy to sell.

Why did you leave?

It wasn’t nearly as creative as what I do now. I was selling rugs to designers. I didn’t get to be the one who puts a whole room together, and that’s the part I love.

What are the drawbacks and the advantages of working for commission?

For one, it’s performance-based, so you really have to perform every single day. But the biggest drawback is in not knowing what you’re going to have in your paycheck on a regular basis. It can be really stressful. The advantage, of course, is not having a cap on your income. It’s thrilling when it goes well. And sometimes you get the good and bad all at once.

Recently, I had a client who was eager to work on her entire house with me. On our first visit I sold her $35,000 worth of furniture and accessories for her living room alone. Then, she had a complete change of heart and wanted her money back.

When negotiating a base pay or a commission schedule, are there any rules? Any standards?

I like to believe everything’s negotiable. But it’s no different than any other type of pay. Some companies will say, “This is what we’re offering. Take it or leave it.” And some will be willing to negotiate.

So what does it take to make a living working for commission?

Well, you have to know that commission work is all about sales. You have to be able to connect with people, to listen, and evaluate their needs. You also need to have good follow-through and persistence. It’s not easy, but, like I said, it can be worth the stress.

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