As a company, Studio Designer recognizes our essential role⏤allowing a large community of designers and business professionals to continue to work remotely on projects without skipping a beat. With the ongoing concerns of the pandemic, we sought to provide a new and impactful way to help our Studio Designer user community by directly engaging top industry leaders to share their expertise.
CEO Keith Granet drew on his trade and business connections as a design business consultant to launch a series of exclusive webinars to Studio Designer users to address how we can manage the surreal new normal.
From Circa Lighting President Gale Singer to Senior VP John Mills at Payroc, the “Connecting with our Community” webinars launched what will be an ongoing series of regular video interviews with industry leaders and business experts. Not only did the webinars offer much-needed boosts of morale but they were able to distill the essence of what makes the design industry an especially meaningful place to make a career. As marketing expert Meg Touborg imparted, the trade is a “relationship-based business” and fostering relationships—between vendors, designers, clients, and more—is vital for enduring success.
For 13 consecutive weeks, we engaged industry leaders from the leading vendors and design firms, plus business experts to engage in these illuminating and deeply informative conversations. Spanning from April to mid-June, each webinar is in a sense a time capsule of when the session took place as events have been rapidly changing on a daily basis.
There are numerous lessons and ideas to unpack from the webinars so far but a few choice lessons have stood out. Overwhelming gratitude was a common feeling that many webinar guests shared as it helps them to stay sane and optimistic. Another shared value is the importance of authenticity and establishing genuine human connections in an industry so defined by service. As we spend so much time at home, the need to redecorate and changing up one’s environment is certainly on an upswing, making many hopeful that a significant boost of business is on the horizon for the trade.
Keith kicked off the series on March 25th by providing his own business expertise directly to users and answering their questions during the early stages of the lockdown and the radically altered business landscape. He offered insight on SBA loans, Payment Protection Program (PPP) loans, and other business strategies to weather the downturn and the unknown future. User Nina Chiappa expressed, “I thought [the] webinar was very helpful in terms of the current business environment and look forward to future webinars as we go forward. I appreciate Studio’s commitment to their clients.”
Guest Gale Singer, president of Circa Lighting, warmly answered questions about the state of luxury trade lighting. Gale shared that despite the tumult in the world and her business, she is grateful and optimistic for the industry and emphasized that small, independent design businesses are the “lifeline of her operation.” She navigated the sudden shift to remote work for a company that never had anyone work remotely before. Gale also answered user questions like the vital importance of using a sidemark when placing lighting orders to ensure that installers place items correctly in a home and asserted the overall value of interior design.
Alex Shuford, III—president of Rock House Farm family of brands including Century Furniture and Hickory Chair—shared valuable insight on the high-end furnishings world and how his company is doing its part to help employees and front-line medical workers. Alex expressed how much plans seem to change on a daily basis due to the shifting conditions of the pandemic but thrilled that his closed factories were able to quickly spring into action using their machines to cut masks and working with a local doctor for quality. He is “always looking for silver linings” and believes that people spending so much time at will create “pent-up demand” for spending in home improvement when times are better. Alex also emphasized that this era will generate new innovations like washable slipcovers and durable surfaces that can be quickly sanitized.
Top designer Tom Stringer offered a design firm’s perspective on the crisis in a particularly informative discussion salient to so many Studio Designer users’ specific concerns. Long known for his adventurous lifestyle, Tom got the traveling out of his system in the at the beginning of the year and for the first time in 25 years, spent a full month at home. He described how his firm—Tom Stringer Design Partners—tends to be early adopters of technology, a blessing that allowed his office to quickly shift into all-remote work. He discussed how important is it is to keep connected with regular video meetings and was pleased with how quickly his staff adjusted to the new circumstances. Tom believes that routine, organization, and establishing boundaries are key to staying sane and productive while working from home. He also offered advice on task management systems, how much he thinks people will want help with their homes post-crisis, and how important it is to keep orders going so that you stay in the queue.
President of Phillip Jeffries Philip Bershad gave an especially enthusiastic interview with Keith. His passion for his work and company came across in his positivity and he said, “Gratitude is one the best things you can do to be optimistic so I try to have a little gratitude every day.” Philip shared that Phillip Jeffries values “employees and clients first and then profits” so they made significant efforts including pay cuts and investments to ensure that their entire staff of 180 kept their jobs. During the thick of the crisis, the company maintained a core team of staff to ensure that orders are on track; plus generous a PJ Pledge program through the end of May to provide discounts and free shipping to designers who experienced financial setbacks due to vendor bankruptcies. Philip revealed his company’s new publication The Drop as well as his hopeful plans for a NYC showroom opening gala sometime soon.
Lewis Heathcote, CEO of NICOLEHOLLIS, presented another important perspective from a creative design powerhouse firm in San Francisco. With 85 employees and a thriving practice, Lewis found that dealing with the shelter at place orders without affecting the business was a challenge. While he prefers the collaborative nature and serendipitous opportunities of office work, he understands that “the genie is out of the bottle” and now remote work is a viable option for his staff. He is open to have a hybrid, flexible work model moving forward. Some of the advice he offered to designers was ensure that no project is more than 10% of your output, find high net-worth clients in diverse locations, and use contracts to set expectations. Lewis imparted to webinar attendees, ““The whole community means a lot to us and we really have felt a part of more in the past few weeks more so than ever before. We really value that.”
Keith has fostered an important professional partnership with leadership coach Tom Andrews for over a decade and invited Tom to share his valuable leadership insight with Studio Designer users. Having worked with what Keith described as “captains of all industries” as president of TJA Leadership, Tom brought his expertise of what he calls transformational leadership, the kind of guidance where you “empower people based on a vision and you’re relying on motivating people.” He pointed out that the pandemic has forced the whole world into a surreal limbo of sorts that has “crushed” all our separate lives all together—family, school, and work and the hardest part is the uncertainty of the future. Tom is surprised in a lovely way by the increased togetherness boosted by video chats and the irony of the crisis that “should be pushing being apart is bringing people together.” He also shared that “psychological safety” is key for effective leadership to engender a culture of mutual trust and respect in a workplace.
MetWorks Marketing executive Meg Touborg focused on “Marketing in an uncertain world” to address the concerns of how to promote oneself in such a challenging landscape. Meg sees this era as an inflection point and a good opportunity to “think about the purpose of your firm.” She described the world “changing on a dime” and how vital it is to communicate the true value of design. While she thinks the airwaves have gotten a bit too crowded, she has enjoyed the new video medium of communications and how technology has maintained important social connections. Meg remarked on how much the trade is based on strong relationship-building and that soft sells are far more effective in maintaining business. She advised, “Use this opportunity to see how [you] can learn and innovate for the year.”
Chad Stark, Senior VP of Stark Carpets and President of Scalamandre, represents one of the most established brands in the industry. He is not only a devoted executive proud to continue his family brand legacy, but also an ambitious business leader who wants to steer the company using best practices like those found in the book Scaling Up by Verne Harnish. He noted that “COVID-19 is primarily responsible for the company’s digital transformation” and that they’re putting more focus on being a partner to clients. Chad believes that in addition to a strong product line, his company sets itself apart with “peace of mind service” and top-notch customer support. Chad also spoke about his company’s virtual showroom tours, and their partnership with Mask Club using Scalamandre fabrics.
As the new president of Holly Hunt, Marc Szafran delivered his fresh take on taking on an important new role in the industry and how to manage the choppy waters of the ongoing crisis. In his dialogue with Keith, Marc expressed that “the most significant driver for the future of the industry is technology and the pandemic is an accelerant and catalyst for things already set to change.” He believes that Studio Designer—due to its very early shift to cloud computing—is at “the leading edge of embracing technology” and is pleased to see that it is set to modernize and scale into the future. Marc also believes in the value of “best of class” service and the vitality of having a plan in a company supported by a vision. He highlighted how Holly Hunt has quickly adapted to virtual communications for products and sampling and how much the company continues to encourage custom work by designers. Marc strongly believes that the showroom continues to be a vital component of the trade and sees a bright future ahead for both virtual and physical Holly Hunt locations.
Lou Taylor is a partner at G.P. Schafer Architect, and runs the financial and business operations of the entire AD100 firm. He shared many insightful details on managing an architectural firm in the wake of much drastic change. He ensures that his staff meets regularly to maintain communications and credits his strong company culture as a reason why the firm has been so resilient Lou expressed how pleased he was to see how his staff copes with stress, their admirable ability to adapt and make the best of circumstances, and the pleasant surprise of seeing them “come together” as a team.. Using Studio Designer to run interior projects and Deltek to run the rest of the business, Lou credits both programs as critical to running things and “would be lost without them.” He also promoted the importance of regular company retreats to establish a strong staff and company as well as the need to always market and promote yourself to current and potential clients. Lou imparted, “If you’re on their minds, that’s a good thing. You always want to be on their minds.”
Kravet company president Cary Kravet engaged in an especially gracious and illuminating discussion with Keith about the state of things. When asked how he was doing, Cary did not hold back in expressing the ever-shifting nature of his emotions by sharing “It’s been challenging, it’s been invigorating, it’s been exciting, reflective, emotional, mentally taxing, in some ways refreshing, burdensome, confusing.” He looks on the bright side and sees how these times offer “a tremendous opportunity to rethink and reevaluate what we do, how we do it, and why we do it.” At Kravet, he established a “futures committee” to plan for the future both within and beyond the crisis and think of new ways of selling in the future. Cary is amazed by people’s ability to quickly adapt to change and firmly believes that “markets find a way.” He believes that interior designers add “beauty in our lives” and that the trade has shifted away from selling products and towards designers selling “talent, experience, knowledge, relationship skills, professionalism, beauty, and creativity.” He loves the industry and its core mission of having “talent and a desire to help.”
Studio Designer invited payment provider Payscape’s Senior VP John Mills to provide his perspective on important financial matters. John delivered a short presentation on the new structure of the merged company now called Payroc, the customer success team, and the dedicated landing page for Studio Designer users to set up a new account. He emphasized that his company philosophy is helping people accept payments and shared “More and more businesses are shifting to e-commerce as a whole with contactless payments like swipe and tap.” For Studio users, Payroc can be an important tool in how they process payments via credit and even ACH. John is very enthusiastic about the expanded services of Payroc and his team’s ability to help users accept and make payments, educate them, and grow the network within the community.
Studio Designer user Emily Millman shared, “I have loved the sessions where we hear from designers about how they are running their businesses!! Really helpful. Thank you. It's been a wonderful series and I have loved it.” We are planning to hold more “Connecting with our Community” webinars in the future and will announce out next guest to users via email and notifications. We welcome suggestions for future guests at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you don’t have it already, a Studio Designer subscription allows you to run your accounting and project management of your design business in a cloud-based, integrated platform that can be accessed conveniently from computers, tablets, and phones. Email email@example.com, learn about the features of our new version, or visit this page to sign up for an online demo.