When I was a child one of my favorite games was
"house." I was forever re-decorating my bedroom, turning corners of the attic or
basement into imaginary abodes, and re-arranging the doll's furniture. Given
that the dolls themselves were optional suggests what I was really playing was
the child's version of interior decorator.
As an adult I still love home decorating, but when
it comes to making major design decisions, I always call on my friend
Gail. Gail's house looks like something out of a magazine. Although her job-job
is installing computer networks for a major airline, Gail's passion and gift are
home and garden decorating.
Here are 5 ways to tell if you have a passion for
1) People are forever walking into your home and
complimenting you on your sense of home
2) Friends frequently call on you for decorating
3) You're hooked on the cable television channel
Home and Garden (HGTV) or magazines like Better Homes and Gardens, Architectural
Digest, Domino, Country Homes...
4) When, at a mall, you would rather browse
Restoration Hardware or Pottery Barn than Coldwater Creek, J. Jill, or other
5) You could sit and admire the fruits of your own
home design handiwork for hours.
If you passed the passion test then you've
probably already thought about becoming an interior designer. The fact that you
haven't pursued this as a career path suggests there's something about it that
isn't a fit for you. Perhaps it's because becoming a licensed interior designer
means getting into more complex areas like structural issues and electrical
Even though decorating itself is about color,
shapes, texture, and design, it's also very much a people thing. This point was
driven home to me by a client named Robert. Robert's passion was creating
ambiance. One big reason being an interior decorator never spoke to him was that
he didn't want to work with people he couldn't relate to. As Robert put it, "I
don't want to spend hours helping rich housewives decide between this crown
molding or that crown molding." What Robert really wanted was to get paid for
doing what he loved to do helping average-income people create spaces that
Getting Paid for Your Sense of
Self-taught designer-turned-entrepreneur Stephen Fofanoff knows exactly where Robert is coming from. I first met Stephen when he
was a panelist at Changing Course's annual Work at What You Love workshop in
Stephen's entrepreneurial aspirations began when he and partner
Chris Warnock bought a house they planned to fix up and sell. Although neither
of them were trained as a decorators, their renovation job was so fantastic that
friends began asking for their advice. No one they knew could afford to drop
$100,000 on a pricey interior designer.
What the do-it-yourself types really wanted was for someone with a
"designer's eye" to sit down with them for a few hours and tell them what they
should do. Someone who could come in and offer advice on what color to paint a
room or what kind of countertops they should buy or how to place furniture to
make a small room appear bigger or an oversized room feel cozier.
So Stephen and Chris made it their mission to find interior design
companies who were offering the kind of affordable, flexible home and garden
design advice that their friends were looking for. When their search came up
empty they knew they heard the unmistakable sound of opportunity knocking.
Seeking to ride the wave of
the do-it-yourselfer craze and acknowledging the fiercely independent and
style-savvy homeowner, they started their own company aptly named A Designer's Eye.
Initially they structured the business on a percentage basis like interior
designers do. For a short time, they considered another popular commission-based model
that involves pushing a specific brand of
furniture or window treatment.
Neither felt right. Stephen and Chris put it more bluntly. "We
both tried doing it the old way, and it sucked. We felt like scam artists trying
to win clients' trust, then overcharging them."
Instead say Stephen and
Chris, "We really just wanted to swoop in, help clients come up with great ideas
and cool designs, then give them a hand pulling it off, not latching on and
draining them until the next juicy prey came around.
we decided we were going to do it our way, it was easy. Clients loved it. We
just built our business around the things clients needed."
Needless to say, A Designer's Eye was a huge
success. The clients loved being able to control how much they spent by paying
for expert advice on an hourly basis. But the business attracted another fan
base namely style-savvy people like Stephen and Chris who have a natural
talent and passion for decorating.
So after receiving 79 unsolicited requests for
franchises in a matter of months, Stephen and Chris decided to franchise their
business. "We knew we were on to a winning idea," says Stephen. "What has
surprised us in the test phase of the business model is how responsive customers
have been to our no pressure' philosophy. This approach has won us a trusting
customer base that keeps working for us in return business and add-on services.
This element is making our franchise model even more viable." The company's goal
is to franchise 500 units in the next five years.
Stephen and I have talked on and off since meeting
in June. Given the high interest in home decorating, I wanted to learn more
about what's involved in becoming A Designer's Eye franchisee. Franchisees are
no small investment. So why, I wanted to know, wouldn't someone with a flair for
design just strike out on his or her own? One of the biggest reasons says
Stephen is while creative types are gifted design-wise they hate dealing with
the business side of self-employment.
To help with things like planning, organizing,
client and time management, each franchisee is partnered with a personal Business
Development Coach. Part motivational "life coach" and part "business coach"
this person has one job and one job only to do everything they can to make his
or her franchisee successful faster. Toward this same end, Stephen and Chris are
already in the planning stages of additional revenue streams for franchisees.
Each week the designer and his or her coach get
together for a phone meeting. During that meeting the coach helps the designer
create a weekly activity plan, decide how best to prioritize and manage their
time, problem solve, and more. In addition to the human support, franchisees get
a state-of-the-art Web-based business management system that automates all the
key design and business functions.
Having an innate talent for home decorating is
just the beginning. As part of their 160 hours of training (which, according to
Stephen, is considerably more than the 80 to 100 hours interior designers
typically receive) franchisees receive a week of onsite training at the company
headquarters in Woodland Hills, California.
In addition to learning about various aspects of
design, the training includes role playing, technical training, marketing and
networking, class shopping trips, and negotiating with vendors. Designers also
receive ongoing training where they learn, for example, how to work with the
yearly color forecasts. Even though each franchisee has a protected territory,
they are encouraged to network and learn from other decorators via regional
meetings and monthly phone calls with a coach.
Going the franchise route requires an initial
financial investment. The advantage, though, is that what you spend in money you
make up for in time. It's kind of like taking out a loan to get an MBA or other
advanced training verses trying to acquire the same level of training and
experience on your own time. As a franchisee you're also buying into a proven
system, which in the end can save a considerable amount of time and money that
can otherwise get eaten up through individual trial and error.
For those who are drawn to the creative side of
home and garden decorating but have trouble being self-motivated, another huge
advantage of becoming a franchisee is support. Between the initial training, the
ongoing training, the one-on-one coaching and support, and the live customer
support available to clients when you're out of the office, you get to be
in business for yourself, but not BY yourself. For people who want to focus on
what they love to do without the stress of figuring out how to build and manage
a business on their own, a franchise might just be the way to go.
to learn more about A Designer's Eye and this unique franchise opportunity or read a list of questions and answers by
Stephen, Chris, and the
Director of Franchise Operations J. Kathy Repique at