Other designers- and small retailers or businesses-ask me this frequently- How did you get started and how long did it take to be successful in interior design?
When did you hire people? How did you know when to go into retail? Is it successful?
This is certainly not my autobiography and may not be interesting to anyone and that is the great thing about a blog- does not matter. But I hope it might give people starting out especially after a life changing divorce, some sense of empowerment that YES you can do this.
But to define success, one has to really be cognizant of how they value their achievements
For me- yes it is all successful because I make a good living, I love what I do (almost always) and I look forward to a new day. To me, that is success.
My background is in sales and marketing so this is not my first career – but I firmly believe everything I have done is what got me to where I am today and contributed to the growth and achievements of my firm. Every experience, both good and bad, is part of the mix. I have always been a creative thinker – some might say that was a generous way to say- I am a storyteller of sorts. Let’s just say I letted in Drama in high school ok? ok. Now you know. But truly my first career required a lot of sales, creativity, problem solving, working with diverse people, and being persuasive. All elements I embody today too.
It was a shit ton of hard work, self education, long nights, tears, fears, and failures. But there was no other option but success because I had two little people that depended on me and they thought their momma was the best.
With that motivating you, you can pretty much do anything.
The take away-
**Sales and marketing is essential to owning your own business. It is ok if this is not your bag but you will need to have a working knowledge of sales. But get help in this way if you are not skilled and that is ok. But you need to understand principals of sales in order to do pretty much any business- no one told you that in design school did they?
**Except for a few instagrammers it may seem lucked into success- This is hard work and please do not let anyone tell you it is not. Do not get discouraged. It takes some time to make money and to figure out where all the bodies are buried. But keep learning, asking questions, and working the puzzle.
“CK Ideas”- The original business
This was the first name I had- when I was still married and the idea of taking my skills in home design, my education in the arts and my sales and marketing savvy -and putting them into a business. It all began on the tennis court when a friend of mine- Linda – said hey you need to do this as a business- you are good at it and it fits your background perfectly. At the time, I did not know my “hobby” business was about to be a means to gainful and necessary employment.
Another friend, Louise Videau, took a chance on having me design her kitchen- for free mind you- I needed the hands on experience working for someone besides my own remodels- and I advocate this for new designers too. I did paint consults, plans, consulting only- whatever someone wanted. I wanted any work I could get to keep learning and advancing to the next stage of business. I turned nothing down in the early days. I loved every minute of it and especially the business end- it was fascinating to me.
The take away-
**Figure out what you need to do to advance your position. Actually doing the work is the best way to get good in this industry- no amount of schooling or webinars will take the place of hands on experience. So make an actionable plan and be strategic in executing it.
**Be prepared- one never knows when one might get a shocking kick in the teeth.
In Detail Design and Create, Inc-
The big girl company is born
Sometime in 1999 I sat on my recently divorced friend Harriet’s sofa in another part of East Hill panic stricken thinking my life was not going as planned- I had a 4 and a 6 yr old, a pretty brutal divorce and damn- I was so scared. The kind of super scary that wakes you up at night saying WHAT ARE YOU DOING-YOU HAVE NO CLUE-WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU CAN DO THIS CHERYL- It took me a long time to really believe I was DOING it and not just a poser.
And you know how you do not recall much from yesterday let alone 19 years ago but you can vividly recall certain things- and as I sat in her cute little house with our kids generally the same age- I began what were the first steps in healing- although did not really know it then- but it felt right somehow.
I can do this.
This will be ok.
We will survive.
We will thrive.
The take away-
YOU can do anything. Gather your posse of support, your tribe, and do it. But no expectations that anything will be easy and if something does go better than planned then this is what we call in the south- lagniappe.
Fear and inertia holds most people back. Let the fear propel you forward.
I hated the CK Ideas name and was incorporating the business after some great advice from a mentor- and brainstormed for days on names- I sure wish I still had all of my notebooks from then! I settled on In Detail – because I knew the details are what mattered to me and what had made me stand out thus far- and the Design and Create – because that is what we were doing!
But we actually only use this name legally as is pretty long- I deliberately did not use my own name- I had big dreams even then and wanted to be sure it was not about ME but about the firm I wanted to build. At the same time I had a second company that was more retail and focused on the K and B that I did well- and I used this for the first shop- we carried both companies for awhile but was a little ridiculous to keep two sets of books so closed In Detail K and B in 2012. We developed 1514 Home as branding for the shop in 2014 and use DBA’s for that and for In Detail Interiors.
The early days
My first office was in a bedroom in my new little house with a side entrance but it grew too small almost immediately especially when I hired Cara as my assistant. So I moved to an office in an old house near my current building- but it was too depressing – and lonely. I think I have known all along I enjoy being around a team. I have really never known anything different- my days at Gannett I had a stellar team and it just was loads more fun and inspiring. Plus I have always loved to teach. After the depressing building I began thinking of bigger things. It is a curse and a blessing- my overactive mind- it never stops and wears people out but is what keeps me going.
But one thing I discovered for certain- I am a better person working for myself.
I love all the aspects of running a business even when am whining about the same!
The take away-
**Think carefully about using your own name- if you want to sell it one day it becomes about you but more importantly if you have a team- most people would prefer to work for a firm with a name that is not linked to the owner- plus every job does not then need to be about you- this extends your reach greatly and allows others to take a lead.
**Know how you work best- if you have small kids it might make sense to work at home- it just did not work for me. I love having a team and brainstorming and sharing ideas. But some people work best alone.
The early days of In Detail Kitchen and Bath-
The First Retail Shop
Many people do not realize we had a kitchen shop in 2002 that was cute as a button along with our design business and it was very much liked by all- yet I lost my ass on the shop end pretty much. Why? Because I did not not know enough to hire well and tried to manage everything including my young design firm myself- all with two small kids and going through the divorce. It was a not always a great time but I learned so much and felt very alive. And I was getting stronger every day. ( And god knows I was going to need it to deal with contractors and subs!)
In those times there was not as much support for small businesses and you had to muddle along- I am a strategic thinker so it helped- but I still could not delegate worth a crap then and the market was so different at this time- very hard to buy direct and minimums much higher. I realized this was not my time for a retail shop and went back to the basics of design and worked continually to refine my skills and those of my team.
The take away-
**Retail is not a cake walk and you must have a plan, capital, a good location and good help. Essential. And that is another very hard thing- hiring.But when you get great people it is a glorious thing!
Live and Learn-So many lessons!
Government street on Seville Square-more gifty retail and design
It was also a different time in our communities- I originally had not a single item in my shop that was made in China either- it was important to me to not contribute to the slave wages people were paid in China and the crappy quality.
I was a bit more of a rebel than I am even now. It took me a year to realize this was not going to work- because too many kitchen and bath household items and accessories were made in China. But I stood firm on this for most of the time we had this shop. My ideals were big and will be the first to admit to run a business sometimes your initial ideals have to give way to practical matters if you want to turn a profit.
The take Away-
**I did not fail per se but lost some money in the first retail shop. This tells you even a cool shop can not make it- you have to sell a lot of candles is my stock phrase at the shop now- and is true- think about how many small items you must sell to make a 2000.00 rent payment plus utilities, your pay, the pay of an assistant- it is a LOT OF CANDLES- So what to do?
**Have bigger ticket items and a built in customer base- your clients- and create a shop with a story- a personality that is bigger than you.
Give people a reason to come in that is more compelling than the next place.
209 Zarragoza- Mini showroom
I regrouped and went smaller on showroom size and focused on just design and fixture sales and had a mini showroom of sinks, faucets and such. It was disappointing to leave my beloved retail but it worked well for us and we did a lot of custom cabinetry too. I realized I could not grow the business the way I wanted without more product sales- you simply cannot charge enough to cover overhead and all that goes into it with hourly fees alone unless you have super low overhead or are a super star.
Most people realize this and some even today- do not. Not just clients but designers too- they focus on hourly rates and not on where they want to be in 5 years and if you want to grow you cannot do it on fees alone and that is a fact. But even more importantly specifying products makes you a better designer- you have to know so much more. This benefits your clients in a way that many do not realize.
This time period at Zaragoza was probably some of my most stressful. I think the kids getting older and having those sorts of divorced family issues was tough. I do not have great memories in this shop- other than my future husband installing a working tub for me! Will never forget that!
The take away-
**The business will ebb and flow and the MOST important thing is to keep forging forward- even if feels like going backwards. Get out of the ruts we all get in and try something new. Talk to people- get a good business coach who will analyze YOUR business and not just say raise your rates. You MUST get honest feedback- Even if you do not want to hear it.
We did ok-was not getting rich- but growing as a designer and a firm- working on processes, hiring and finessing more interior work
The firm was doing well but I was not making a killing for sure. It was important for me to keep on a growth progression so I put back a lot of my income into the business. I was in a position to do this and live lean and mean and not everyone is- but we kept very busy doing just kitchens and baths and then ancillary rooms too.
I had a couple of employees by this time. I was active in the NKBA as a chapter rep and actually got published quite a bit back even then- I credit my first career marketing skills- and my sales ability to get in front of editors- my secret sauce was that I gave them the angle and it worked every time. At this time I had two kids under 10 and their activities were a priority for me so it meant working after they had gone to bed. They were troopers and absolutely hated having to go to job sites but they did:)
More of our more recent media here.
The take away-
**Get in front of people in any way you can- you have to work it but making connections is the best way to get published and do not discount being in manufacturer catalogs, speaking engagements and things like this as well. It is all visibility. I could write many books about getting visibility! You never know what will lead to something bigger.
Hurricane Ivan was a defining moment
I think we really began to hit our stride from a design perspective in 2003- right before Hurricane Ivan hit in 2004 and sort of changed everyone’s lives. We were in the middle of 7 jobs- several took big hits and then of course after that we were swamped. I also became an “expert” for many insurance claims helping clients and others get more money than the otherwise would have gotten- it was a wild time for sure.
The take away-
**You never know what is around the corner. Ivan really took a big hit in our community and we all were scrambling to not only get back into our own homes but to take care of our clients. We were lucky to have much of our processes set by then and able to handle more work. It is essential to record your processes and procedures and not wait until you are too busy to do so.
My own kitchen had just been done and photographed for Better Homes and Gardens- two days before Ivan hit and we had to evacuate quickly- and left the Perrier bottles and all the styling as it sat- and did not move back into that house for 9 months! When we got back a week later when they allowed residents back on the beach, the quilt I had tossed over the copper countertop made a permanent imprint!
801 A and B on 9th Avenue
First two buildings we purchased!-No retail but small hardware and lotta people in 1400 sq feet!
A little before Ivan we bought two tiny 700 sq ft buildings to house the studio in one and the fixtures in the other along with several employees! It was tight but we still own those buildings and was a good investment. I have always been cognizant of the business side of things and did without in order to put money back into the business. We grew a lot here and were doing large homes. Busy! And we started to show more revenue on the bottom line.
The take away-
**Be very frugal- no extra money spent unless you see a strong ROI
**Take the jobs.
Do what you need to keep your pipe line full and never mind the “experts” that say raise your rates if you cannot command them with VALUE TO YOUR CLIENTS. This is a huge mistake and it makes me crazy to hear it especially when I go to websites and see a demonstrated lack of skill or knowledge.
FOCUS on being of service and growing your business and the rest will come. I am living proof of it and am a working designer with a team, a shop and a healthy bank account. Some like to teach but are not really in the trenches and in our world today you lose the pulse on the market quickly.
**Learn something new everyday. You must know about taxes, contracts and so many things that I feel many do not. Owning a business is not for everyone and most fail. I am proud of what we have done in 19 years but it has not been easy but we have always been profitable.
**Watch your debt carefully- I do not advocate for anyone having too much debt unless you sure you can handle the payments. I have never had debt other than paying a friend back for some of the losses of my first shop. I have no debt now except for the three buildings and land our company owns and where our shop and offices are located.
**Diversify into other areas of making money as you can- adding product sales, special types of consults, E design, affiliate marketing, anything that can be a revenue stream. But remember the key ingredient here is to be the best you can be as a designer ( or whatever it is you are doing if not a designer reading this) and should hone your craft first and foremost. Do not worry about keeping up with everyone else.
You do you.
59 East Gregory- In Detail Interiors is renamed
It was not until late 2009 ( you know- right about when the recession was in full swing- I was too busy to pay attention to notice I think!) that I decided we needed to diversify more- it was hard to do the extra spaces we were asked to do because we had no design center and just needed access to more products that were not dependent on K and B which the internet was killing.
We carried just a few lines of upholstery and a more lighting and mirrors at first. I am old school in that if I am going to sell something I need to KNOW IT and UNDERSTAND it. I am not one for relying on Suzy Q at the local furniture store, tile store, wherever to order correctly, give me timely info, handle it the way it should be done. Call me a control freak- I will own it.
Have a strong financial plan!
I do not think I am a big risk taker but of all the years in business this was my biggest risk- but I had a plan- because if nothing else I am a planner. And I financed this with profits from the company- I did not get a loan. Is ok to get a loan but just know what you are doing and have a strong plan to pay for it.
**I leased a building for 3 years and had cash in the bank to pay for it.
**I built out the old building with an eye to adding others of similar business if things got tough- it never did. Again don’t think I am saying I made a boat load of money because I did not. Hard to even know how much really as so much went back into the business but was enough.
**Think about this if you want to open retail or an office- find others who might go in with you- a contractor, a mortgage banker, a video guy- anyone who can share costs- even if retail you can do this- find someone who can help pay the rent but will not impinge upon your turf.
Brand Collaborations began around 2009-2010
This was a cool new aspect to add to the business. I did not know much about it until I was asked to be on the original Brizo trip to NY for fashion week. That was an epic opportunity and so much fun. Not to mention I met friends who remain very close. From that event in 2009 Brizo asked me to speak with Jason Wu and Judd Lord on one of the earlier panel discussions that are so prevalent today. I will never forget some pretty awesome media people in the audience including Margaret Russell who at the time was the editor in chief of Elle Decor.
NKBA, DXV, Silestone, Blanco and others followed after- but it started with the first Brizo event.
These awesome designers were part of the 2016 2017 Silestone Trendspotters with me- another career making collaboration.
The rest of the story
And the rest of the story is we have grown and built a nice business- added e-commerce ( check it out here) and hitting that big in 2019- worked with many brands- been published almost 100 times now- do interviews- speak at events- mentor others in the business and generally enjoy a very good business. But- still learning every single day and always mindful of the future roads and being positive about growth.
Our brand video is humbling to me- to see just how far we have come as a firm and I have come as a designer.
My biggest accomplishment in the past 5 years is hiring Liz 3 years ago as she has changed my life and is far more than just part of the team. Hear more about where we are today in the video below!
The take away-
**Hiring is key- did I mention that already? 🙂
1514 North 9th avenue- 1514 Home and In Detail InteriorsWe branded the shop like this because we were so known for kitchen and bath products and was hurting us- I do not recommend having two names. It is confusing and not sure we will keep forever but we have a unique situation that had to be considered.
Finding the right location!
I had been hunting for a good location for the shop for years and years- so many I shoulda coulda bought too- but timing never right. Well the lease pricing was jumping up as business had rebounded and I was over paying someone else when I had the money to buy- so we looked around and found an old house zoned commercial on a main drag street “near” downtown but not in it. It is a wonderful old home and we are the 4th owners. I love it so much- and the 3/4 of an acre it sits on. My husband redid the carriage house and we built a small warehouse yet still lots and lots to do especially to make it more “retail” in style.
We created a lot of focal points in this building- many cool things with wallpaper on the ceiling and interesting lighting- a cute kitchen and two great baths- it all creates a place people want to show their friends.
Here we get to explore our love of color and texture and it speaks about our style much more than anywhere else. We added many more product lines and truly became even more full service from plans to the final accessory being placed when we moved here because we were able to do so much more.
BUT it is not the perfect location as much as I love it. It is set back from the street, it is tough to get things in and out because is rooms not a large open area, people fly by and do not always see us- but all along I knew we had to drive business to us and also go out and grab the business around the neck and drag it back like a modern day cave woman. But– I love every inch of the buildings and property.
Design boutiques are tough- you have to balance your aesthetic for what is commercially popular and I was not about to go all Restoration Hardware in a shop when I do not design this way- PLUS there are two wildly successful shops much larger than me who already own it. And after my first experience I did not want to invest in a ton of little stuff either because inventory can eat you up- even though eventually we did- it is a draw to get people in the door. And it works.
Own or lease?
My company owns the building and property. I would not buy until you are sure of location and have the funds to do so but right now with interest rates low, it is a good investment if you do it right. We still do not know what we will do with the carriage house because we are forever looking for good people to bring onto to our team. The biggest obstacle for most in business. I need more time in the day and not seeing that happening but we keep at it! Some days it is just good to get to work and make lists and answer emails- and I have to tell myself this- because in our business days can get unpredictable if we do not control them.
Small businesses today cannot rely on just walk in traffic- you must go out and grab the customer in some way
We do not have a ginormous walk in business- we cater to our clients. But it grows every day and people who find us seem to love us and the most AMAZING thing is that it cuts across all ages and even sexes. We track every person who comes in so I know roughly the ages etc and just crazy how many love the shop and from 15 to 95. People come in to see the house sometimes and I love that so much. I do not care if they buy or not- if they have a positive experience then that is all that matters. Karma is wonderful and it will come back to us. I just know it.
And we stay very busy- with clients and walk ins and designing beautiful spaces as well as the time it takes to pull off all this marketing! I would not trade this journey for anything really- but will never lie to anyone and tell you it is easy– retail just kinda is a love hate thing- balancing is a joke- do not even know the meaning of the word- and there is a LOT to learn and know and believe me I know a lot- but every day I learn something new and this is probably what keeps me waking up every morning excited to begin another day.
The take aways-
**I hate retail. I love retail. I hate retail. I love retail.
**We have developed a design lab of sorts- and try to show people how you can step away from the status quo- I have only more plans for this in 2019
**Differentiate yourself- we are the poor kids compared to the other two large businesses on the street that sell furniture- but we are also a DESIGN FIRM first and they may offer design services but as beautiful as their shops are- they cannot hold a candle to what we do in design.
**We curate the largest collection of mid century barware and glass on the Gulf Coast- But I could sell it all tomorrow and pay the mortgage for one month and maybe a few bills- we have it because I love it and know a lot about it- because no one else does this here – because people will come in and look at it and that is ok by me-
**I am a paper history nut- so I look for cool pieces to use in merchandising around the shop and people love it- I am making a room in the back a museum of sorts- so you know- blending your hobbies and loves into business is a win!
**We sell anything and everything just about- diversify- the only thing that holds us back is a lack of good talent to hire. We sell Hunter Douglas, furnishings, gifts,hardware, lighting, window treatments and all the rest and also of course cater to our design clients. And despite what some might say- it is best to curate a collection rather than focusing on one thing unless you are a K and B showroom.
**Marketing is done between the hours of 1am and 3am – I advise you to hire it out- I just happen to love it and like doing most of it.
**Retail today is a contact sport. You must slay the dragons yourself. It is all about the experience – that is the product people are buying and you must help people discover why they should buy from you
Should you do it?
Having a design firm and a boutique retail shop is a wonderful mix of business if you are game for it and live in a smaller to medium or medium/large market- especially if you have no access to a furniture showroom which is how we got here in the first place but the planning is crucial, the hiring even more so the right location and product mix is essential for the traffic- but yet- we have done very well with our own clients.
Our plan is to make a win/win for clients and us – the showroom allows us to carry lines we love for our projects and price the products competitively for our clients. Plus there is nothing like knowing the lines intimately! This is part of our business model and has been very successful because we are so up front about it- and people trust us to get them good pricing and not to have to worry about this element. We can then focus on the design.
Our goal is to always make the project about the client and solving their problems and needs and this is what makes us happy- and successful.