High Point Market: Passion Sucks. It’s All About the Money!

Today in the Lounge, we have a live recording of Nick’s panel “Passion Sucks. It’s all about the Money!” at Universal Furniture‘s event room during High Point Market. Nick hosted this panel with superstars Kelli Ellis, Chad James, Steven Favreau, and Nina Magon. Also on the episode, Nick talks with Jill Erwin of Jill Erwin InteriorsJill talks about her how she transitioned from fashion into interior design, how she runs her business and all about her killer marketing tactics.

Passion Sucks. It’s All About the Money!

All of us in the interior design industry are passionate about interior design, but that doesn’t mean all of us are successful. Passion can only take us so far, so what differentiates those that are successful, from those that are trying to become successful? Nick talks to industry-leading design firms from across the country, to learn how they’ve broken out of mediocre to build stand-out design firms. Learn not only how to get press coverage but also how to make REAL dollars.

Panel Summary

Kelli Ellis is an interior designer, licensing LLC, author, business coach and TV personality. While design is her passion, it’s also her business. Nina Magon was an economics and finance major turned interior design. She was on American Dream Builders with Nate Berkus in 2013 as a semi-finalist. Nina just completed her project on 51fifteen Cuisine and Cocktails with Sax Fifth Avenue in Houston, Texas and does both residential and commercial design. Before Steven Favreau became an interior designer, he was a professional dancer and singer. Based out of Boston, Steven is opening up the Favreau’s Factory, which is an 11,000 square foot think tank for himself, architects, high tech web people and photographers. It will launch January of 2018. Chad James is based out of Nashville, Tennessee but he has a plethora of clients all over the World including in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Cayman Islands. He originally studied Architecture at Auburn University and five years into his career he decided to start designing the interiors his buildings. His company does Architecture Consulting and 75% of their projects are residential, the rest are Commercial.

Steven relays that one of the things you learn in becoming a successful designer is to always be looking for clients with large budgets. If you are able to do what you’d like without limitation, you will be better at your job and be able to show this off. For Steven, it’s all about how you present yourself to clients. If he is put up against other designers for a job, he always makes the client feel comfortable that’s he is the right choice because he is going to get it done right. Steven believes social media is where it’s at but, networking, such as going High Point, is also important.

Nina has been called the number one contemporary designer in Texas. To make her firm stand out, she has a no-nonsense policy. This policy means that they don’t fool around with clients or their money and they deliver the best customer service. She only hires people who believe in her brand and who are modern and forward thinking. Four staff members out of her 12-person firm were educated in Columbia. They are able to bring new and innovative ideas to her company which help set her apart. Nina receives new clients by making all her previous clients very happy. Word of mouth goes a long way. For every project, Nina shoots to make 35%. Her firm charges $250 an hour with $20,000 minimum. Nina is involved in every aspect of the project and everyone she works with is an extension of herself. Nina prefers working on full houses and high profile projects which help get her name out there. 

The first time Kelli started to feel successful in her career was when she started getting knocked off. She doesn’t see this as a negative because she broadcasts so much of what she does and has a “look at me” kind of company, rather than a private one. She enjoys sharing and getting published. It made Kelli feel stronger when other companies began to intimate her. Kelli is also a master of self-promotion. Without a PR agency or publicist, she has still been able to put her brand OUT THERE. Kelli calls her strategy the raindrop effect. If you do enough articles, interviews, and posts, you begin to have a rainstorm of publications. Then you recycle and repost them on all platforms and it looks like you’re everywhere. Everything you’ve done with your name on it is a marketing opportunity. Like Nina, Kelli has small staff because she likes to be involved in every aspect of her business.

Chad works with high profile/celebrity clients and because of that, he isn’t always able to share his work. Joan Rivers, Kevin Spacey, Luke Bryan, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, and a Taco Bell owner are just a handful of his clients. Chad has had so much repeat and referral work due to an 88% return rate with clients as a full service architectural consulting and design firm. They will give clients a fridge full of their favorite treats and are will do anything to make sure the place is perfect. Chad doesn’t share minor problems with his clients if it isn’t necessary to keep them as happy as possible. He says that interior design is a service industry, so you have to treat it like one.

A few tips from the designers is to “fake it until you make it.” Use tools around you such as Google and hire people who know how to do what you don’t. Nina had no idea what FF&E was until she googled it. Kelli had no idea how to use SketchUp so she hired someone who did. Also, you should always let the client know that some things are going to go wrong, but that they need to trust you, because everything is also going to turn out great. Establish realistic expectations. For example, starting a project on Nov. 1st and expecting it to be done by Christmas, it’s just not going to happen.

Jill Erwin Interiors

Jill was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. She loves to travel but no matter where she goes, she always enjoys going back home. Her favorite fashion accessory is a good necklace and you can usually find her with a pendant on. On her ottoman (her favorite piece of furniture at home right now) Jill has a tray with her fancy Architectural Digest and Traditional Home Magazines, and a remote control. In her house, everything has a place because she is a neat-freak. She’s not a big reader of books but prefers magazines and social media. They are short, sweet and to the point. “Beer, Wine, or Cocktail?: Jill prefers a cocktail, she loves a vodka soda with lime.

How Jill Started Interior Design

Jill’s first degree from VCU was in Fashion Merchandising. She graduated school with hopes of leaving Richmond and moving to New York City. What actually happened though was she met her husband, got married, had babies, and now Richmond is her hometown. Jill later went back to VCU to receive her Interior Design Degree, where she met Gary Inman, her professor, and befriended him. She worked for Gary out of school as well as at Norwalk, which was one of her favorite jobs. It taught her all about interior design, fabrics, and customizing furniture. Jill hopes to bridge the gap between fashion and interiors and believes we can all work together to do so.

After Jill had her second child, she left Norwalk. Later on, one of her former customers asked if she was still doing interior design. She became Jill’s first client and from there the business was born. Now Jill Erwin Interiors is in its 11th year. Before that Jill had never done anything interiors-related on her own. She still remembers helping pick out a $10,000 leather sectional sofa which was the piece of furniture they started designing around. Jill loves to get know her clients by looking through their closets in order to find out their personal style. When she did this for her first client, she saw an old kimono that was passed down through generations. Jill had the idea to shadow box it and frame it. It still hangs in their home today. 

The Business Today

While Jill loves hospitality design, her focus is purely residential. She loves to work with people, develop relationships, and see how their lives change so she can help her clients at any stage of their lives. Jill works with a large array of people. She and her team are currently working on five big projects and they just completed two. In these homes, she is completely renovating the first floors, redoing the flooring, the paint, the mantel, and so forth. Jill really loves the freedom that designing gives her, working for herself and being an entrepreneur. 

For new clients, Jill typically does the initial interview herself because she can tell whether or not they will click or clash. After she gets to know their personality and their aesthetic, she meets them at their home and interviews them about their story and budget. When it comes to budget, Jill likes to find something they love, such as a sentimental piece of furniture, and budget the money around that. While Jill loves window treatments, she says you have to do them right. When she’s working with someone she’ll leave the window treatments for last because it can be very expensive.

The most difficult part of being an interior designer, for Jill, is the business side of things, such as doing invoices, QuickBooks, and taxes but, that’s a part of being an entrepreneur. She has an accountant but Jill mainly does everything herself so she know it is delivered correctly. Over 11 years od business, 2015 was her best year because she was on a national television show called Fix it and Finish it with Antonio Sabato Jr. She did two episodes and really loved it. Jill would love to have her own show someday and incorporate music and fashion.

Jill and Marketing

To market, Jill participated in her first Designer House for the Richmond Symphony Orchestra League, alongside Gary Inman, and won an award for ‘Best Bathroom!’ This really put her on the map in the Richmond area. Normally, two designers aren’t allowed to work together but she and Gary collaborated color schemes, he on the Master Bedroom and her on the Master Bath, which they made into a Master Suite. Doing so was crazy expense but it was worth it! She’s still getting jobs off of her bathroom.

Being a designer is a huge time commitment, especially if items are on backorder, but if you want things done right sometimes you just have to wait. Jill also does social media to promote herself. Jill has a lot of things on the horizon including her dreams to take over other worlds than just interior design. She loves meeting people and says that you just never know who is going to connect you to your next big thing. If you recall back to Kelli Ellis‘s Live from Vegas Market Episode, she advised that you should get complete strangers to tell you what makes you unique. For Jill, that was country music, bathrooms, and modeling. Something tells her that music, design, and fashion are in her future.

For more information you visit Jill at www.jillerwininteriors.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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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
Here in The Lounge, Becca is in charge of 'all things podcast' from management, marketing, branding, graphic design, social media, event planning all the way to managing our interns. Her background is in art and design but that didn't stop her from diving headfirst into the unfamiliar worlds of business, marketing, interiors, and podcasting. Growing up in a small, coastal, New England town, Becca has now been in Denver for five years and doesn't plan to leave the mountains and sunshine anytime soon! On the weekends you can catch Becca hiking, skiing, dreaming about the beach or enjoying the local food, art, and shopping. If you have any questions about the show, Becca is your girl.

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