It's highly probable that I'm going to ruffle a few feathers with this blog post, but I have been out and about in the Trade Showrooms quite a bit over the past few weeks, and I've been having some interesting chats with the women who own and run the Trade Agencies in Adelaide (where you go to source fabrics and wallpapers and other decorative accessories). There's been a bit of a recurring theme.



Overseas, the fabric companies sell retail to the public, and Interior Decorators are given varying discounts (usually reflected by how much work they put through that particular company) and then mark up their price to full retail for their client. This is how they make their money.



In Australia, Decorators generally do the same, however the general public are not able to buy through the various Trade Agencies that represent the fabric companies in Australia (there are none of the large overseas decorator fabric/wallpaper companies with a presence in Australia - it's all through local agents).

The problem is that there are no RRP's on the fabrics, and so Decorators usually apply a blanket percentage markup to the fabric and wallpapers they choose for a client in order to make money on their job. Pricing locally is not the same as overseas - it's sold wholesale from the fabric house to the local Agent who then marks it up to a price that is often just slightly below the retail price in its country of origin. A local Decorator will then mark up on top of the local wholesale price to varying degrees. Generally, if you mark up a fabric by 100% (the usual markup in Australia) a cheap fabric becomes middle priced, and a good designer fabric becomes eye-wateringly expensive. So this leads to a couple of problems. The first is that often the client will baulk at the price list given for an entire scheme, and may perhaps select a few items and think they'll do the rest later (which may never happen) - the end result is not great. Or, they might request that cheaper fabrics be selected and redo parts of the job - the end result is not great.



If you want your Clients to have the best room they can have, and something that will reflect well on you, the Decorator, then you need them to feel comfortable purchasing quality fabrics and wallpapers which will ultimately make you look better and which will give your client a fabulous end result.

In the past, before the Internet, clients had no option but to buy through a local Decorator, as they weren't able to source fabrics and work out where they came from locally themselves. Now, anyone with a computer can find a myriad of overseas retailers happy to ship to Australia at a price that is reasonably comparable to wholesale locally. The problem with purchasing from an overseas retailer is that you can, in fact, run into problems. Sometimes fabrics come with flaws, things might come from different batches and have colour differentials... and of course unless you see and feel something in person you can't be entirely sure of the colour and overall look. Some things are better in person, and other things are woefully worse. Returning things purchased on the internet from a foreign country, especially bulky goods like fabrics and wallpaper can be very difficult, logistically so and also dependent on how accommodating the company you've bought through is (they will not allow returns for a 'change of mind' if you don't like it in person). Having a Decorator advise you on fabrics that suit your particular requirements can be invaluable - you pay to avoid problems long term, to find a cohesive style that suits your lifestyle and your own personal style.



But by doing a blanket markup, many Decorators are losing out on jobs from clients that baulk at paying $300 per roll of wallpaper, or $450 per metre of fabric. Local trade agents are frustrated by their inability to sell retail to people who already know what they want and don't want to use a decorator with vague markups to purchase locally (and so turn to the Internet instead). Keeping a showroom open, providing sampling to the trade, stocking expensive books of fabrics and wallpapers to loan out all costs money, and unfortunately more and more business is shifting off overseas with local decorators being cut out by consumers.

This main problem is that the IDA does not want agencies to sell direct to the public, and the Industry standard is that decorators charge a mark up. None of the agencies want to go out on a limb on their own to offer retail and potentially be shunned by Interior Decorators. Decorators are still utilising a system of marking up to make money that is completely outdated. Personally I (and other Architects and Interior Designers who are used to charging hourly rates for professional services) charge an hourly rate, then a 10% markup on fabric, wallpaper, furniture etc which I feel is fair. This means that the fabrics and wallpapers are comparable to overseas pricing, especially when freight is factored in. If someone wants to source it from overseas, it doesn't bother me - it's on their shoulders if something goes wrong, and I have already had my time covered by the hourly rate I charge (although this has never happened as the pricing locally is usually slightly less than overseas on the Internet). Clients get a better result by having access to quality product at competitive pricing to what they'd pay overseas, with me handling any potential problems that occur (which actually do occur quite frequently.....sigh). For some reason, Decorators baulk at doing this, somehow thinking that a client won't pay for their time. I'm not sure why - most people are used to paying hourly rates for Lawyers, Accountants, Architects and other professionals. I provide detailed timesheets to my clients, and I've never had a complaint about the amount of time I've spent on a project.



So, the solution would be to me - that Trade Agents sell retail to clients who do not want to employ a Designer or Decorator, and Designers are given a discount that they can mark up to, just as it is done overseas, or that Decorators consider moving to an hourly rate system, just as other industries charge. Then any mark up is small and covers administration time (all those tax forms), rather than be designed to make their income.

Or, if a Decorator doesn't feel comfortable doing this they perhaps rethink their mark up, that a blanket percentage approach not be adopted - maybe a rate per metre or per roll instead and be upfront about it with the client. For example a mark up of $40 per metre of fabric, or per roll of wallpaper would mean that you're still going to be comparable to overseas pricing, and you'll find you'll make the same amount of money per job, and that you could specify more expensive and better quality product without fear of rejection by a price sensitive client. Maybe then we will find that overall the standard of Interior Design in Australia would be lifted by clients having access to the stuff that can help make a good design that much better.



It seems to me that currently no one is winning in this - the Decorators that lose jobs to people who buy overseas (after they have spent countless hours putting together a scheme for them and for which they are not paid), the Decorators who find that their jobs are never quite as good as they could be as a client won't commit to the entire scheme or has requested cheaper product, and to the consumer, who seems to be coming last in the entire process and is playing roulette with overseas suppliers if they try to get designer product cheaper.

I know of no other industry where you are paid for the work you actually do in such a lotto-like manner. The industry relies on the client being completely in the dark as to the source of the product, and how much you are making out of it - there's absolutely no transparency which makes many people wary and suspicious and reluctant to use the services of a Decorator.

Just my opinion, and I'd be very happy to hear yours - I'm interested in hearing both sides.

All images via Pinterest

34 comments:

  1. Very good points. I know that there is a sourcing issue in Australia but having said that I think the points you bring up are pretty universal...Perhaps I have been unlucky in the past but when I tried to use a decorator to purchase fabrics that aren't sold to the public then the decorators are loathe to take on a small project and in London most decorators seem to have a minimum spend. So then I don't feel like going to an interior designer with my piddly cushion order. I could go to a cushion maker where they have access to more fabrics but then I find that they only have access to certain companies and don't have access to certain brands( probably because they have a special rate with their chosen makers). So then I avoid that situation all together and the decorators and fabric makers lose out on business however small. I am also not alone in feeling like this, I know plenty of people who complain that they are constantly being upsold and pressured into other projects they don't want. Sometimes, the client just wants what it wants which is why you are right that the companies should just sell directly to the public! ( Imagine if gyms said that you can only work out with a personal trainer and cant use the machines on your own? )

    In fact, I was thinking that decorators in big cities can't always be chasing the big whales but the little fishes like me who would just like a few walls papered and a few cushions and curtains. That could be their bread and butter. I know that Chelsea Harbour Design Center have tried to make the experience better for the end consumer but in London it seems unless you are an oligarch with a 10 million pound interior budget than you are put in an awkward position.
    Sorry comment so long Heidi but this is something that you rightly have brought up that the industry everywhere have to consider!! x

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    1. No, I find it interesting that it doesn't seem to have changed since I worked there - the discount to certain fabric houses came if you made a trade application (lots of paperwork) and actually purchasing the sample books to keep on file. The books are VERY expensive. The more business you put through, the more you'd get as a discount. So for a cushion maker, if they haven't an existing relationship with the company then they have to purchase retail and then not make money on markup. And yes, decorators only want to do an entire scheme as the small ones can take just as much of their time, but they don't make as much money on it.
      Chelsea Harbour has worked hard to make it accessible, but frankly it's an entirely overwhelming experience for most of the general public to go there. They just don't know where to start... You're probably at a bit of a disadvantage being in London - you wouldn't find the little local ladies who will run up a cushion or two for you at a reasonable price with fabric you supply them purchased at retail in London, or a local decorator who is happy to do a small job. xx

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    2. I've just gotten quotes for my 4 Canovas cushion covers that were swiped and my silk throw, really really shocking! The mark up is massive but I've always just accepted that as part of using an interior designer, I picked out what I wanted this time but in the past I have found their help invaluable when it's been a number of things, sofa, wallpaper, cushions, pouffe that have to come together.

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    3. The burglars stole your cushions?? They had taste, and the police should be looking for either a band of females or gay men.
      Agree that a decorator is a great help coordinating things from different fabric houses/ items - that's the key to being a good professional, but earning your income through mark up is just odd. The whole industry was so unprofessional when I worked in London (and I worked for a couple of the big 'name' decorator firms - the way they pay their staff is literally akin to slave wages). xx

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    4. Dear Heidi
      Very interesting post. Hope you might get through to the decorators and fabric/wallpaper sellers in Oz! Current system is crazy and no wonder people bypass and order direct from overseas suppliers.
      My clever DIL does it frequently for her house. She had already purchased on line the first wallpaper in your earlier post (no problems at all, condition was absolutely fine) and she has hung it all herself. Strangely enough she had also chosen your butterfly design for younger daughter's room - and was amazed when I showed her your post this week, though she hasn't yet ordered.

      In regard to Canovas fabrics, I've in the past selected fabrics from the Canovas shop when in Paris. They only sell to the trade but will provide the name and all details of the fabrics you like and then tell you to go to a shop in the Rue Bonaparte nearby, Besson I think. This shop will then order it in for you (in my case it's been very quick turnarounds - about 48 hours) and you can then buy direct. But if you're going to Paris and are wanting more economical choices, the Marche St Pierre in Montmartre is brilliant. There are whole floors of reduced price fabrics, everything from brocades, linens, toiles de jouy etc, a bit bargain basement in ambience, especially on the lower floors, but you can find great things. I think they must be discontinued lines though which means they only have what they have and you're unlikely to be able to get more stock in any particular pattern or fabric. When I go to Paris I take pictures with me of the rooms for which I'm searching for cushion materials or whatever so that I can check when looking through the rolls and rolls of stuff. Staff are very helpful but not many speak much English. A French antique dealer recommended this place to me years ago, it's great fun - and you get a fabulous view of the Sacre Coeur from the upper floor windows, which helps amuse husbands for a short time at least. xx Pamela

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    5. That's so funny with your DIL and the wallpaper! I am 95% certain it's going to be that Nina Campbell for the laundry, I borrowed the book this week and it's so pretty in person and will flow with the rest of the house nicely as well.
      Thanks for the tip off re the Paris fabric shop - sounds wonderful! Fabrics always take time in Australia as everything is held overseas - none of the local suppliers hold stock (except for Mokum who have some fabrics sourced from local mills), so it all takes a long time to arrive and I don't think you'd ever get anything within 48 hours!

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  2. Heidi, I think you should run the world! That is all. Cheers Tammy

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  3. I think I am entirely unqualified to comment.

    I like the blue and white fabric in the first photo though. Like it lots!

    xx

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    1. Of course you're qualified to comment! You're a consumer (potentially, if not already). I like that Ikat fabric a lot too. But I suspect it may be a Madeleine Weinrib fabric, which is around $500/ yard wholesale. Boo hoo! xx

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  4. As of always, very interesting post! Not sure what the answer is, but certainly interior designers like all professionals need to consider how they charge for their services, along with the materials they source for the job.
    My most recent experience of using a designer was for cushions. The cushions are lovely. When I inquired as to the make and pattern of the fabric (after I had paid), I was informed it was a secret, no seriously! Obviously, they had been burnt! The funniest thing though, is due to my time wasting blog habit, the exact pattern recently popped up on Mark Sikes blog. It amused me.
    Oh, and will I use that Interior designer again, probably not.

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    1. Oh the whole secret thing... it's so silly after you'd paid (probably in case you wanted to go and buy more cushions or something?). And this is the thing, anyone reasonably design savvy will find it on a blog or on the internet now. I don't really care if someone buys a fabric or wallpaper that I've named on my blog - it's never going to be an exact copy of my scheme or room, and generally I've found things by reading magazines/ blogs/ mooching around in showrooms which is pretty much what anyone else can do anyway. If you're not making money on a markup basis it just doesn't matter to you.xx

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  5. I used be an interior desinger and I even thought the fabric price in Australia is just ridiculous. But I guess, everyone needs to make some profit and that's same for any other industries. My tip? I order everything online from overseas (if you know the name of the fabric brand, it's easy to find it). Sorry for not supporting small interior businesses :(

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    1. Well, if you know what you want then there is no reason to use a decorator for a simple purchase - but you could still buy from the agents locally if you used to work as a decorator? I've checked prices against overseas retailers, and wholesale in Australia is still generally less than retail overseas. At least then the trade agents get the business. xx

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    2. Well, you are right. Usually I know exactly what kind of fabric I want which makes easy for me to order and find them from my overseas source. Anyway I think Australia should follow the other country's fabric trading custom, that sounds more efficient for me :)

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  6. As usual a really informative and interesting post. I think consumers have every right to know what they will be charged upfront. I think your idea makes sense.

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    1. It would be nice to see a bit of change in the Industry - the way it was done is very much from the past now. xx

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  7. Thanks for this thoughtful and informative post. It is interesting to hear how global e-commerce has affected industries that are traditionally dependent on direct contact with a local customer base. I am also unqualified to comment as I have never employed the services of a decorator...but I can say that after 10 years of working in law firms, the concept of billable hours is absolutely soul crushing. The pressure of trying to make the billable hours target and constantly having clients trying to bargain bills down nearly killed me. I am trying to make a career change now, as I can't bear the thought of another 10 years as a patent agent, but if I had to do it again (if there was no other way to make a living), I would only do it as a flat rate service quoted upfront.

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    1. Ah, Lawyers and billable hours are a global problem it would seem! Mr AV had a taste of that for a while in a previous career incarnation, and absolutely hated it. The time sheets are normal for Architects and Interior Designers in a firm though, and are done in 10-15 minute blocks generally with no set target for a day. They're more a marker of what you've spent your time on for internal auditing purposes or for when a job is charged on an hourly rate. I think everyone hates doing it, but from a client perspective it's reassurance that you're earning your pay. I, for one, would prefer to see how much time someone spent on a project (with an estimate of that up front) than pay a vague commission that may be many times over that. xx

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  8. Hi Heidi, I totally, totally agree with you. You have really hit a raw nerve with me.
    I think the process is occurring exactly as you have reported here in Australia.
    Some one like myself (and many others) are often very clear about what they want (say, for example, a couple of metres of Schumacher 'Shantung Silhouette'), but cannot go in to a shop to purchase it, cannot buy from the wholesaler, and can only purchase it through a decorator or designer - which I may not want to use. Why?....well, I used one recently and they charged not only a very high hourly rate (far too high for someone with no degree, or even a high level of industry experience), but also charged a very high mark-up on all items recommended. So I was getting a 'double-whammy'. The whole scheme became prohibitively expensive for something that shouldn't have been. Yes, I appreciate that a mark-up is needed to cover their 'working costs' of handling the fabric, etc - but full retail (sometimes marked up 2 and a half times I discovered) is ridiculous - especially given that they work a small office and do not have to cover the expenses of a retail store (high rent, staffing, services, etc). So what I will do (until I can do direct to the fabric distributors, etc) is purchase from the internet from overseas sites (many send samples) and travel interstate and keep an eye on sales, etc.
    So, as you say - no one is winning. I see the beautiful showrooms with their myriad of fabrics, items, but cannot go there - and I do often wonder how they survive.
    So much more to say on this!
    Elizabeth x

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    1. Oh dear... double dipping!! That's really not great at all Elizabeth, and I can see why you feel really burnt by the experience. I'm sure if you hunt around you'll find a decorator that is happy to be more upfront with either percentage markup or by doing things on an hourly rate.... but if you do ever want something and know what it is, just send me an email and I'd be happy to help you out in the future. xx

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  9. Fascinating.

    I am always shocked at how 'spenny fabrics are here and find the secrecy aspects highly unusual.

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    1. The secrecy is to protect Intellectual Property... as a decorator doesn't really produce anything other than ideas/ sources that can be copied it makes them shroud everything in secrecy. They're always terrified someone will buy a cushion and then recover a sofa and do some curtains in the same fabric if they know what it is and cut them out of it. They also want to protect their client from having the job copied everywhere, when the client payed such a big hit for it in the first place. It's a very strange industry really....

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  10. I find this very interesting. I'm not in the market for fabrics/ wallpapers at present, but look forward to decorating when my boys are older and less likely to draw on the walls. Hopefully by then your solutuion to the problem will be in practice.x

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    1. I suspect it will be exactly the same.... it's a bit like the dinosaurs adapting to changing circumstances - it takes a long time! Although maybe your kids' wall drawing phase will last longer than others??! xx

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  11. This bothers me so much.
    In the affluent suburbs of Sydney sits showrooms with all the fabric I want and I am not welcomed. I don't know who in this economy they are selling too and how they stay afloat. I never considered ordering a few metres for cushions or curtains, through a decorator as I had no idea who to contact and I assumed I would be snobbed because I was asking something not worth their time or pressured into more then I want to commit and if they were to know that I would be sewing the fabric myself, I would feel like I am the laughing stock and being judged.
    Also magazines that are available to everyone, features fabrics that aren't available to everyone. It seems cruel!
    In this day and age, nothing is a secret anymore thanks to the internet. I have successfully ordered through the internet and I would do it again if I knew exactly what I was after. Consumers are so savvy these days and shouldn't be underestimated! I have sought out nearly everything I have lusted after through the internet.
    My biggest frustration is that I would love to have access to samples with ease. I would love to see and touch what I want to order before hand, or be able to compile my own mood boards and mull over it before committing, because any way you purchase it, it is still a big outlay (Well for me anyway) If I could do this, I would be making a lot more purchases (And if these could be made locally, well surely that is what is best for the economy)
    I don't understand why we just can't have it and what the big secret is? We are able to buy other high end items for our house, this is just bloody fabric at the end of the day!!!

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    1. Exactly Laura- it is only fabric, and a showroom should be able to sell to the public while also satisfying designers. All the furniture companies offer a small trade discount and full retail, it's only certain to the trade only suppliers (such as upholstery manufacturers) that won't deal with the public.
      The sampling is a BIG problem in Australia. Some brands send it really quickly, and other don't (like the one you're still waiting on from Schumacher... and I have an outstanding wallpaper sample that I requested in February from them as well). I actually ordered a different wallpaper sample that only took a week recently - the actual books had been borrowed by another designer and with that particular brand it was quicker to get a sample than wait for her to return the book.
      It's very sad to me that so many are turning to the Internet and shopping overseas, and I know how frustrated the trade agents are by it, but they've got their hands tied as they fear a backlash by the decorators, although my opinion is that it wouldn't happen as the brands they stock are desirable and not able to be found elsewhere... it's tricky! xx

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  12. Oh I forgot to add. Sometimes it feels like to me that I know exactly what I want and I am waving my money around and no one wants to take it and when the hell does that ever happen?? It is bizarre.
    And these days the consumers are so focussed on getting the best price and comparing competition and having a fair rate that we seem reluctant to spend if we aren't assured of this and we can't be assured if there is no transparency.
    We assume we are getting ripped off.

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    1. In this economy it is strange!! And agree with you about the transparency issue, which really bothers me.

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  13. I'm not really qualified to comment either but my one experience recently to try and see a sample of wallpaper was ridiculous. There is only one store in Brisbane with the "book" and they treat you like pond scum if you call directly as I did. I was told I would then have to go through a decorator who had to order the book and wait for it to arrive a week or two later and then I could go in for a viewing. All felt very medieval really and quite a deterrent for me going ahead. In the end the decorator was lovely and did not pressure me at all but the process was quite bizarre in this day and age and did feel quite snobby and exclusive. mel x

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    1. That's awful Mel. In the past I've found that the showrooms are fine with people going in to look at the book (if they have it), but won't give you pricing etc and will direct you to a decorator. Their biggest hate is having people come in that they have to spend hours with essentially putting together a scheme for them, then a decorator has to order it in and will make money out of it while their time has essentially been wasted on it. Some clients can really give you the run around and be very indecisive and take a lot of time, so most of them hate it for that reason.... but, as I said they will usually be ok if you walk in and ask to see the book - probably because you rang they headed you off from the first.
      But I'm very disappointed for you!! It's really a bad situation all round. xx

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  14. I completely agree with you Heidi! I don't charge billable hours, but I do calculate off an hourly rate and charge my local clients a flat fee service. I then add somewhere between 5-10% on items. I don't see the point in adding an enormous markup, because as far as I'm concerned, my role is to help my clients get the best result they can - I don't want to disadvantage their house or my portfolio by adding enormous markups which result in cheaper furniture, fabric etc.

    Just to go on a rant, I also find it frustrating how many local Australian big box stores won't offer any kind of design discount. Perhaps it's different in larger cities, but only one of my large furniture stores in Townsville offers any form of discount! I'd be happy even to get a reduced delivery cost - anything at all really!

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    1. Being in a country area I doubt you'd find anyone swallowing a big mark up easily - I really think that only works in big cities with clients that have deep pockets... and that's not the majority of buyers out there, so it really doesn't make a lot of sense. Charging a flat fee is really sensible, and I'm sure that it sorts out the ones that want to really do something, versus the ones that would be fishing to see what could be done, and ultimately just waste your time.
      I'm guessing you're talking about stores like Freedom/ Domayne etc? The big (but expensive!) stores like Coco Republic, Laura Kincaid, and Domo do, but the tier behind don't seem to at all, and I can see how annoying it would be in a country area (even a big town) and have no easy access to stuff.

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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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