How Do You Maximize Your Income As An Interior Designer?
There are two pillars: PRODUCT SALES + PASSIVE INCOME.
I’ve been inspired to write this post because of a conversation I’ve been having with several interior designers in my Facebook Group: #DESIGNWEALTH as well as the strategy consulting conversations I’ve had recently with two luxury interior designers who are clients of my main business, The Kaleidoscope Partnership.
( FYI: If you’re an interior designer reading this who’s not yet a member of my free Group, #DESIGNWEALTH and would like to REQUEST TO JOIN? Please click here. ).
This post, PART 1, is about my background. I’ve never written this out before, and I think it’s important (even if you stop reading here) because it will give you deep insight into why I’m qualified to even be talking to you about this subject. FYI: there are no pictures in this post.
In The Beginning…
I have been involved in the furniture and interior design business for the past 34 years straight. Before that, for 2 years while finishing college and 2 years out of college, (my Bachelor of Science degree is in Business Management), I worked in a furniture store in Winter Park, FL > Scan Design.
That’s where I started my furniture and interior design career, but my passion for beauty and design came from my Grandmother and Mother who both loved beautiful things and had them in their homes and took me to many design showhouses in and around Longwood, Altamonte Springs, Winter Park and Orlando, FL, when I was growing up.
After Scan Design, I went into the world of investment banking…and got my Series 7 stockbroker’s license. I sold multi million dollar limited partnerships to very wealthy individuals who needed serious tax write offs.
I did that very successfully in my mid-20’s and ended up becoming the Vice President of Investor Relations for Consolidated Capital in Emeryville, CA, where I ran the IR work for the 4 largest real estate investment trusts in the country then trading on the American Stock Exchange. Then, the real estate market crashed and the tax laws changed…and I went through a divorce which necessitated a move to Houston, TX.
In Houston, I thought I would go back into investor relations for an oil company here, but I could not get a job in that field at the time of the market crash -no one was hiring and I had no connections. So I thought, “I will get a job back in the furniture world, until the job market for investor relations professionals opens back up.”
FAST FORWARD 1
I did get a job in the furniture world, at the French luxury retailer, Roche Bobois, where I stayed for 10 years and became the senior interior designer. After that, I was recruited by Cantoni Furniture, and became the senior designer in their new Houston store. In both stores, I was selling 1 to 1.5 million dollars worth of furniture every year, for 16 years.
I did major showhouses in Houston and had my design work published twice in the Houston Chronicle. I did full home renovations and worked on new construction and loved it…but then came 9/11 and the advent of the internet.
i was 42. That was 20 years ago. I saw the handwriting on the wall with respect to what the internet was going to mean for the furniture and interior design business even back then…but no one believed me. I decided it was now or never to strike out on my own and start my own business.
FAST FORWARD 2:
I started my own business called The Kaleidoscope Partnership. I really wanted to start right out working on some aspect of the internet, but our industry was just not quite ready for it yet. Noone believed that the internet would be a force in furniture sales and, back then, social media wasn’t even a glimmer and Instagram was non-existent.
So, I wrote a 62 page workbook on How To Use Design To Sell Whole Rooms Full of Furniture In A Retail Furniture Store Environment.
For the first 4.5 years of my business, I trained the retail sales people and the interior designers in major retailers across the country how to use design to sell whole rooms full of furniture, art and accessories, instead of just individual items.
My first client was the Warren Buffet owned store, Star Furniture, in Houston. My second was Scan Design, where I had started my furniture career.
My program was unique in that I traveled onsite to teach it, but then I went back every 3 months to privately coach every single person who had taken my program, and I did that 3 times, in 3 month intervals.
Because of my experience and that one on one coaching, my program was very, very successful in helping the retailers who hired me increase their sales and they kept referring me to their friends.
I ended up training the retail sales teams in 34 stores around the country, including some well known to many: Lawrence Furniture in San Diego, Circle Furniture in Boston, Robb & Stuckey in Dallas, (when they were still in Dallas), Theodore’s in Washington, DC, etc.
It was during these years that I was also asked by the then Editor In Chief of Furniture Today magazine, Ray Allegrezza, to pen their new RETAIL IDEAS column for their online site, Furniture Today.com. I accepted and did this for 9 years. Furniture Today has long been the daily news magazine of record for the furniture industry. You can see an archive of all of those articles here, if you’d like.
FAST FORWARD 3:
After 4.5 years of training ….and traveling to various retailers different cities around the country non-stop…. I got tired of all the travel, and at the same time, I lost my Dad to cancer very suddenly. Then ensued two years of me living in a space of not knowing, along with me making some relationship and work missteps.
I spent a lot of time in contemplation of how I could continue to make a great living while not traveling so much. I also still knew I wanted to create a business based on the internet and felt that the time might now be right. And just about at that time.. social media was born.
FAST FORWARD 4:
11 years ago now, in 2008, I had the vision that it was going to be TWITTER , a social media site, that was going to be HUGE for our industry, because it gave us a way to connect all the way through our distribution chains and it was a form of online media where we could speak both to ourselves and to the consumer simultaneously, FOR FREE.
If you remember, 2008 was a horrible year for the economy and I realized that if I could get our industry onboard with using Twitter, that we could, together, help influence where the consumer would spend their disposable income and help them realize how important having a beautiful home was to their peace of mind and sense of security and comfort.
So, I turned the wheel of my personal kaleidoscope and worked very, very hard to pioneer the field of social media marketing and influencer marketing within the furniture and interior design industry and get our industry onboard with, first, Twitter, and then all forms of social media.
But it was Twitter where I first built my personal platform (where I have approx. 35,000 followers) and which still, to this day, continues to give me huge ROI for my own businesses.
Back then, many people thought I was crazy, some told me to shut up about it, it will never amount to anything… and I could go on. It was hard, but I stuck with it, despite the vocal naysayers.
I KNEW I WAS RIGHT.
At the time I started, noone else in our industry was doing it…and there weren’t many others in other industries, either.
My first major client was a division of the largest privately held company in the country, Cargill’s BiOH Polyols division. When I was hired by their whip smart young VP of Marketing, Jessica Koster, she asked me who I recommended she work with on the traditional PR side, and I told her Leslie Newby of Work The Brand.
Leslie and I had first met through WITHIT, and had become good friends, and I felt she would be the right person. This was still in the days when traditional and social media PR were completely separate.
Together, Jessica, Leslie and I created the USA’s first ever major multi-brand influencer marketing program for any industry, and we also created the 2nd one which was called #ProjectUDesign, which some of you reading this may remember.
The first major influencer marketing campaign, held in October of 2009, was called #BeInTheKnOH and was a collaboration between Cargill’s BiOH Polyols division, Room and Board, and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Read a bit about it here from one of the bloggers who attended.
The second, held in the Spring of 2010, #ProjectUDesign, was a collaboration between SCAD, Cargill’s BiOH Polyols division, Ultrasuede Interiors and Century Furniture. You can read a bit about that here, and here.
For the next several years, I strategized and executed on and created the social media programs for many major and emerging brands and consulted with many others, including tradeshows, publishers, software companies, etc. In addition, I was also speaking non-stop.
During those early years, I keynoted High Point University’s first Social Media Symposium for the furniture industry in 2010, read about that here, keynoted World Market Center’s first major social media talk in their 16th floor ballroom (with Kathy Ireland as my guest), keynoted at Ashley Furniture’s major national marketing meeting at World Market Center Las Vegas, keynoted at High Point Market for the Antique and Design Center, and spoke there many subsequent times, spoke at the Design Influencers Conference (then the Design Bloggers Conference, and the list goes on.
After working only with major and emerging brands for the first several years, I added in social media services to individual interior designers so I could help them connect with the brands and publishers through their own online branding and social media marketing plans — and that work continues to this day.
During this time, I also started a very popular Twitter chat called the #GetPublished chat, where I helped interior designers connect with the editors of major shelter magazines. The first major #EIC to ever be on that chat was Ann Maine, then #EIC of Traditional Home.
I want Ann to always be remembered for being the REAL pioneer when it came to being willing to work, in print, with interior designers with blogs. Back then, that was definitely not done, but Ann saw the potential and got on board, first.
Later, Margaret Russell, then #EIC of Architectural Digest, was a guest on my chat. Some of you may remember that.
I ended that chat several years ago now, because the publishing brands themselves became more comfortable with social media, and started hosting those kinds of chats on their own timelines. But back in the early days, this was what we did.
FAST FORWARD 5:
After 18 years in business, 3 years ago, I saw a great presentation by Laurel Bern at the Design Bloggers Conference that blew my mind re: how much money she was making through her blog, and just her blog.
This talk was the impetus for the founding of my second business with Sam Henderson, this one, Savour Partnership, where we design the email opt ins, ebooks, and digital magazines that help businesses grow their email lists faster, generate 24/7 income and, over time, build sellable business assets to outside investors.
These digital products are not dependent on individual client interaction but ARE highly dependent on learning how to use the tools of social media content marketing to drive the traffic to them…which is what I have helped brands and interior designers learn how to do via my main business, The Kaleidoscope Partnership, for 18 years now.
Why did I REALLY start Savour Partnership with Sam?
Because I knew that some of my interior design clients were beginning to feel financial pressure ( on their margins from product sales) from various forces at play, including the increasing rise of to the trade resources selling direct to consumer on the big ecommerce sites.
This was confirmed when I spoke at the BOLD SUMMIT in Sept. of 2017, and Julia Molloy asked her audience how many of the luxury designers there were feeling margin pressure, and 3/4’s of the audience raised their hands.
I saw the rise of Google Voice search, GOOGLE Image search and most recently GOOGLE’s LENS feature + Pinterest’s LENS feature, (which puts dots on photos allowing consumers to search and buy those items or similar items from any ecommerce merchant selling them ) as contributing factors to the pressures they were feeling.
FYI: Google’s LENS feature and Pinterest’s LENS feature also impact retailers and manufacturers, as the shoppable dots can appear on any image on the internet. You will only see them on your mobile phones, by the way.
I hope you now understand the depth of my background in the furniture and interior design industry, and how my business background, my own work with luxury homeowners as a luxury interior designer for 16 years, my work training the sales teams at major furniture retailers around the country and my social media work for the past 18 years now with major brands, emerging brands, retailers, manufacturers, publishers, tradeshows, software providers and interior designers has helped to shape my thoughts and opinions on the future of our industry.
ARE PRODUCT SALES AS A WAY OF MAKING MONEY FOR INTERIOR DESIGNERS GOING AWAY? NO. CAN YOU MAKE A LOT OF MONEY SELLING PRODUCTS, EVEN NOW? YES.
BUT… DO YOU NEED
A BUSINESS PLAN THAT INCLUDES PASSIVE INCOME GENERATION IF YOU WANT TO STAY IN BUSINESS OVER THE NEXT 10 YEARS?
IN MY OPINION, YES.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post, where I explain what I believe is the way forward for maximum income for interior designers in the future.
And if you’re read this far?
And again, if you’d like to be part of my free GROUP, #DesignWealth, please send me a REQUEST TO JOIN, by clicking here.
And if you are attending #KBIS2019 next week, I’d love to see you at one of my two round table discussions, to be held at 12 pm on Tuesday, Feb. 19th and 1 pm on Wed., Feb. 20th in the #KBISSalon area’s #KBISThink space.
To sign up for those complimentary round table sessions, limited to 6 people each, please click here.
There, I will help you get YOUR questions answered..or you can leave a comment on this post and I will do my best to get an answer to you.
The Kaleidoscope Partnership
HOW TO MAXIMIZE YOUR INCOME AS AN INTERIOR DESIGNER - PART 1 - MY BACKGROUND
How Do You Maximize Your Income As An Interior Designer?