Ann Lowengart: Interiors Started on a Dare

Today in The Lounge Nick joins Ann Lowengart of Ann Lowengart Design to talk about how her interior design business started on a dare. Ann and Nick discuss the importance of having a great staff on your side and how it helps propels your business.

Getting to Know Ann

A career can really feed your soul. For Ann, it does just that. She loves client interactions, design, business, and operations. She says that understanding that a love for her career can be more than just a paycheck, is the biggest lesson she learned from her parents growing up. Her favorite vacation she took was when she brought her daughter, an equestrian, to ride in Ireland. When Ann is asked, “Beer, wine or cocktail?” she prefers an iced tea and a run.

Before she started her career in interior design, Ann was in corporate sales and attended UC Berkeley. She received the classic sales job after college and worked for Procter and Gamble. She says it was a really great experience for her because she rose up the ranks from stocking shelves to managing a small group of people. It was a great way to learn the basics of business and how to sell effectively, manage a team, listen carefully to her customers, behave in the most ethical and honest way and win at what you are doing.

I Dare You!

After five years, Ann took a severance package from P&G, which she and her used husband to buy a building. Ann remodeled the units in the building and then sold them. It was in the first unit that she discovered her love for wood floors and molding. She also found that she had an eye for spatial relationships and detail. Ann’s friend noticed that she LOVED what she did with the remodel and dared her to put “Remodel Consultant” on her business card. Ann did and the next day at her open house she handed them out and received her first call. She booked her second project from a neighbor who also picked up one of her business cards and now, almost twenty years later, she has finished her fourth project for that family.

The Business Today

Ann has a team that consists of nine to fifteen people. At any given moment they might also have nine to twelve luxury residential projects going on at a time. Decorating a home from the ground up can take one to two years to complete, but allows Ann to get to know her clients really well. She prides herself on customer service. Projects at Ann’s company can vary greatly in price. A lot of customers are under the impression that remodels work like they do on HGTV. Some kind of magic wand is waved around and poof! The project is done. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works in real life. Ann had the opportunity to be interviewed by HGTV and one of the first things he did was apologize for the expectations HGTV sets… rarely anything can be finished super quickly for a reasonable price.

For this reason, Ann’s company gives a lengthy questionnaire process to be sure a client fits within her company. They have walked away from clients if they can’t meet their budget and timeframe scenarios because they’d rather not do a disservice to the client or the company. If they do accept a brand new client, they first listen carefully to the client’s design expectations and look at any Pinterest boards, design boards, or tear sheets they may have in order to stick as closely to what the client wants as possible. After the customer is taken on a shopping trip to see which levels of quality exist within their budget. A specific budget is developed to include everything from furniture, draperies, area rugs, accessories, art, and any extra costs associated with projects so the client knows where their money is going. They do not move forward unless the client is on the same page as them.

Ann and Coupar PR

Coupar PR is very strategic as well as ethical and honest. Krista’s staff is also excellent in getting Ann’s name out there such as in magazines. When Ann first joined Houzz in 2010, most of the images uploaded were from people in the industry showcasing their best work. It was before Houzz exploded that Ann was at the top their list for San Francisco designers. As a result, she received about 25 calls a month from qualified clients.

Today, most of her clients tend to come from referrals from architects or real estate agents she’s worked with in the past. Additionally, she’s also has a lot repeat clients. It’s important to be transparent with the client and upfront about the potential failures that may happen. There are 50 points of potential failure between when a client says they want something and the time that is delivered to their home. She says it her job to mitigate that risk for the clients. When things do go wrong Ann likes to have the courage to talk to the client and put systems in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The Road to Success

To have a successful interior design business Ann thinks both the creative and business side of interior design should be equally as strong to thrive. Celerie Kemble is a great example of this and Ann is trying to be more like her. Tory Burch is another designer who Ann looks up to and is always finding inspiration from.

Ann is also not afraid of losing someone on her staff if they have a passion for something else. Ann and Nick both agree that their staff is most successful when they are great at what they do and want to see them excel at what they are great at. Ann likes to give people the best working environment she can and help and encourage them if they do decide to leave. When you can understand all the nuances around the design business, that is what helps to propel you through the difficult times. There are so many people that can develop a beautiful room but, it’s having the understanding of how to avoid difficult situations and how to get through them, that can make you or break you in the end.  

You can reach Ann on her website and on Houzz. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

Resources

Benjamin Moore You might not know that Benjamin Moore has Architect and Design Reps that cover the country. You can order color sheets for yourself or your customers. Certifications are also available on Benjamin Moore’s website such as NPI Paint Standards and LEED. You can also download Safety data sheets and technical data sheets for projects. Even if you aren’t currently working on a project is it always good to talk and get to know your local rep before you need them and connect to who is in your area.

Design Manager Follow them on Instagram and check out their social media blitz by typing in #designmyths. Follow and participate in the conversation about common industry misconceptions.

Porcelanosa not only has great tile and cabinetry but they will also help you get connected with different people in the hospitality world. Go down to their local showroom and get yourself familiar with the products and people working there.

  • Upcoming Events

High Point Market Oct 14-18
*Sunday Oct 15 Nick will be hosting a panel at High Point Market called Hospitality Insiders Share All: What it Takes to be a Designer in the Hospitality Sector

IDS – Oct 13-16

Put the code: CHAISELOUNGE to get a $100 discount through the end of September. For a chance to get a free ticket post an instagram selfie in front of a showroom and have fun with it, tag it with #freedesignsummit.

BDNY – Nov 12-13

Wrap Up
If you would like to hear more episodes, please visit us on iTunes or on our website at TheChaiseLoungePodcast.com. Lastly, find The Chaise Lounge on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter or post a review on iTunes, you may even hear your review read live on our next podcast. With that said keep dreaming big, and keep designing a great design business. See ya!

About the Author
Host of The Chaise Lounge and The Business Brush Podcast, owner of Walls by Design, and Creative Director for iMayMedia LLC.

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