It’s often said that when one door closes, another opens. Sometimes it’s providence; sometimes it’s by design. For Linda Clayton, Allied Member ASID, and Tom Perry the decision to close their retail showroom and open a full-service interior decorating office was a thought-out decision based on the direction the business was developing. And it changed so much.
For 10 years Clayton and Perry ran Linda Clayton Interiors in Davie,
FL, as a full-service retail showroom offering window coverings,
furniture, area rugs, painting, wallpaper and faux finishing. For
the first five years it was a two-person business. Clayton brought
decorating knowledge and window treatment connections having worked
in sales and customer service as well as in a workroom. Perry brought
business knowledge and furniture connections having spent a professional
lifetime in furniture retailing.
As the business grew the two added employees, a separate window
treatment-only retail outlet—Beautiful Windows, Pembroke Pines,
FL—and a workroom. But the biggest decision Clayton and Perry
have made so far came last March when they closed their retail showroom
and opened an office in Cooper City, FL.
That decision changed the way they did business and the way they
market their business. But it didn’t change their commitment
to customer service—friendly customer service, what Clayton
describes as being a design firm with a mom-and-pop attitude.
“If a window treatment goes up that we think looks great, was
done to perfection and was done to expectation and the customer
has a problem with it, we’ll take it down,” Clayton says.
“We won’t argue. We won’t say that’s what you
ordered and that’s what you got. If they’re unhappy it
comes down and we try to make them happy.”
“We know that there have been jobs in our past that we have
lost money in our efforts to accommodate and please the customer,”
Perry confides, “because we know that does come back somehow—it
comes back good or it comes back bad. If you don’t take care
of it, it’s going to come back bad. It’s going to get
around and we’ll end up losing business.”
“When you get big,” he adds, “you end up diluting
your workforce, then your product and service begins to suffer.
It’s not our intent to ever get that big that we can’t
personally take care of the customer.”
WHO’S MINDING THE STORE?
Along with the new space came a new way of doing business. Linda
Clayton Interiors is better able to concentrate its time and efforts
on its best clients.
“Our walk-in store traffic was down, but our design work was
booming,” Clayton explains. “We decided we would be better
able to serve our clients by moving into offices where we were able
to be out in the clients’ homes more often, rather than having
to mind a store.”
“We were in a strip shopping center that had a pizza place
and a restaurant, and that’s who we were getting—either
people waiting for their pizzas or people who had just eaten dinner
and stopped in to see us,” Perry adds.
“Because we were not getting any of what I call legitimate
customers off the showroom—and that had been going on probably
for the last two or three years—with the inventory we were
required to maintain and the amount of labor it takes to keep a
retail store running, it made sense to us to give up that store,”
“We were carrying $80,000 to $100,000 in inventory just to
make the showroom look pretty,” says Clayton.
Clayton and Perry’s new leased space includes a reception area,
a conference room and seven offices. One office is dedicated to
fabric samples, another houses the furniture and accessories catalog
library. It’s not meant to be a showroom, but a space to meet
with clients, go over design plans and review sample boards. “It’s
really set up to accommodate the visitors, rather than be a showroom.”
“Our conference room is a large room with wide windows on two
sides, which is perfect for looking at fabrics in natural lighting,”
Clayton says. “It’s our favorite area.”
“It has worked out great because it does give me flexibility—I
no longer have to make sure the store is manned, I’m able to
be in the home where my productive work is done,” she adds.
Most of Linda Clayton Interiors’ business is what Perry calls
“good business”: repeats and referrals. “I’m
doing clients’ second and third homes,” Clayton says.
“I have clients that I did a home for a few years ago and I
have since done their sister’s, their parents live in New York
and bought a home down here and I’ve done that. It seems like
every week I’m doing a referral off this one client.”
Clayton’s area of Cooper City and Pembroke Pines is just southwest
of Fort Lauderdale, one of the fastest-growing areas of the country.
The housing market features lots of large windows—18- to 20-foot
windows, 12 to 15 feet wide, Clayton says. Better still, it’s
a great market for draperies.
“Our clients include a large population of Latin American people.
They take a lot of pride in their homes and love to do draperies.
Styles tend to be more elaborate with lots of fringes, tassels and
luxurious fabrics,” she says. “It’s not uncommon
to sell a $200 tassel tieback. Fringes go from $30 on the low side
to a couple of hundred dollars a yard. Just about everything we
do has some sort of trim or tassel or fringe.”
Clayton adds that the British West Indies look also is very popular.
“The Tommy Bahama look, furniture of bamboo, leafy wallpaper,
lots of textures, neutral colors with an emphasis on sage green.
Then we go the other direction, too. Our Latin clientele like the
hot colors, the warm golds and reds and that look.”
“Our largest percentage of clients is the two-income couple.
These people appreciate what we do for them more than others. They
value their time and their homes and don’t have the time to
run around town purchasing furnishings. They would rather spend
their spare time enjoying their homes and their families. They also
appreciate the final results where they can entertain in a beautifully
decorated home that reflects their tastes and styles.”
FROM NEWSPRINT TO GLOSSY
Even with most clients being pre-qualified as a repeat or referral,
Linda Clayton Interiors still maintains a regular advertising schedule—although
it, too, has changed.
“We advertise quite extensively,” Clayton says. “Up
until our move we were in our local paper every Sunday with a quarter-page
ad and also in the Miami Herald. When we closed the showroom we
decided to change the advertising, make it a little bit more upscale.
So we’re doing it in a glossy magazine directed toward a certain
income. But we are going to continue our ads in The Sun Sentinel,
maybe on a once-a-month type basis.”
“Our ads have taken on a totally different look,” Perry
says. “They’re very upscale. We’re in upscale magazines.
We’ve had the good fortune to be asked to write articles for
some of these magazines in conjunction with our advertising. Were
we overwhelmed with clients? No, but we didn’t expect to be.
But the clients are going to be much better than they were before.
That’s not to take anything away from our past clients, it’s
just that the clientele will be upscale somewhat from this advertising.”
For their Beautiful Windows showroom, Clayton and Perry continue
doing lots of newspaper advertising along with homeowners’
FROM START TO FINISH
As if running a decorating firm and showroom weren’t enough,
Clayton and Perry also own LCI Workroom, Sunrise, FL. With four
employees, this three-table operation usually has three jobs going
on at one time—mostly for Linda Clayton Interiors, but also
for Beautiful Windows and a few local designer clients.
“Our workroom handles it all,” Perry says. “They
even receive the hard treatments, they schedule the installation
of them. That operation is really becoming very important to us
because of the amount of window treatment business that we do.”
Some years ago, Clayton worked part-time as a decorator coordinator
in a drapery workroom while she went back to college to earn a degree
in interior design. “That is where I gained a world of knowledge
about window treatments,” she says. Later, as the business
was growing, Clayton and Perry decided they needed their own workroom,
initially in a 900-square-foot space.
“We got tired of being at the mercy of the other workrooms,”
Clayton says. “If a product came in wrong we were at their
mercy when they would get around to repairing it and turning it
around—whereas with our own workroom, if a product comes in
wrong or something is made wrong, they take it back to the workroom,
turn it around overnight and get it reinstalled the next day.”
When a well-respected area workroom refocused its business strategy,
Clayton and Perry hired some of its employees and bought some of
its equipment. Now in 1,800 square feet of space, LCI Workroom has
equipment usually found only in larger companies—a 20-foot
hydraulic vertical tabler and their own scaffolding, for example—and
all of its workroom quotes and work orders are computer generated.
More important, however, are the workroom employees. As what might
be expected from a company with a mom-and-pop attitude, the workroom
employees are appreciated.
“Our people are given a lot of credit,” Perry says. “We
tell them what kind of jobs they do and how much they are appreciated.
Sometimes we show them pictures of the product in the customer’s
home so they can see what they are doing.”
“These people are artists,” says Clayton. “They’re
not just people who sit at a sewing machine. You can give them a
picture and they can work it out. They are all very talented. They
can take a job from start to finish—every aspect of it. Each
one takes his or her own job from start to finish. There’s
pride in that.”