In the spring of 2002 three women who had just begun working together after merging two businesses walked into a large workspace on the second floor of a newly completed office building at 40 Main St., Succasunna, NJ. Just the fact that they were there was surprising enough. The thought of opening a workroom to the trade and their own retail customers along with a showroom and sample library on the second floor—and schlepping things up and down stairs—was not appealing.
But they were in a tight spot, quite literally. Nancy Casse, Julie
Koza and Marilyn DiColo had merged their two home-based businesses—Finnegan
Interiors and Sew Creative—and were running out of room.
“There was a lot of dreaming and talking,” Koza recalls.
“Wouldn’t it be great to get out [of our homes] and
expand the space and have a place that’s more professional
to bring customers so they’re not tripping over your dog?
So we started thinking: What could we do, what would this business
look like and what would our roles be? We talked for about six month.
We would drive by a place and say, ‘Ooh, look at that. Let’s
get this place.’”
Soon after, at the urging of a friend, they climbed the stairs to
the space above a dentist office and all the pieces began falling
into place. “The minute we walked in,” Koza continues,
“it was a huge open space with nine windows, and it just felt
like it was going to happen this way.” They even incorporated
the address into their new business name: Interiors at 40 Main.
Less than an hour from New York City, Interiors at 40 Main provides
window coverings (draperies, blinds and shades), carpeting, wallpaper,
paint (finishes and selection), reupholstering, bedding, new furniture,
fabricated accessories and design services to a wide range of clients.
“We’re an active workroom to the trade, and we’re
also retail. We have our own retail client base,” Casse says.
“I’d say we’re about a 70/30 split—mostly
“Most of our bread and butter is the window coverings,”
she adds. “That’s where our expertise comes in. Some
of our designers leave the window coverings up to us. They’re
making their money on other areas so they let us design and really
add a lot of input, more than a regular workroom would.
“We’re just finishing up a very large job on a very
large home with a designer who was spending a lot of time in the
city with antiques and carpets. It was really a relief for her to
find somebody who could measure, design and even help pick out fabrics
and trim and hardware and really detail the treatments. A lot of
times we’re ghost partners in these projects. The designers
have a sense of style, but it’s hard for them to write a work
order or understand that a two-dimensional design can’t always
work in a three-dimensional world. A lot of our designers rely on
us for that expertise.”
Bridging to-the-trade and retail business is a daunting feat for
most workrooms. 40 Main makes it work because each of the women
has an area she specializes in. “We have definite, decided
roles on who handles what,” Casse says. “Julie [Koza]
handles all of the sales with the designers. Some of the designers
are very experienced and some of them are not. Marilyn [DiColo]
strictly handles the fabrication, so she gets the work order end
of it, and I’m strictly retail sales. We’re balanced
out so we are able to do it.” Of course, sometimes the roles
overlap. Koza is “the floater,” moving around to the
different areas wherever she is needed the most.
An added benefit to having both retail and trade business is that
at certain times of the year when the retail business slows down,
workroom orders from designers fill the void.
“We get most of our work through word of mouth, as I think
a lot of people in this industry do,” says Koza. “Sometimes
you have to wait for somebody’s sister, neighbor or friend
[to call you], but if you build a clientele of designers, they’re
bringing you work every week. Early on we established that in building
the business that was something that would help us with the overhead.
We didn’t want just any designers. We didn’t want to
work with 30 designers, we wanted to try to find a handful of designers
that we felt really comfortable with and they felt comfortable with
us. That’s how it works. We know them and they know us.”
For most retail customers Casse, DiColo and Koza never have to travel
more than an hour—usually less than half an hour—although
they have done work down along the Jersey shore, mostly second and
vacation homes, that can be a couple of hours away. Design New Jersey
magazine even featured some of their work there.
Most of their clients learn about Interiors at 40 Main through tried-and-true
word of mouth. “That’s how women are, they want to know
from another woman how they feel about things,” Casse explains.
“Decorating is intimate, and you’re in someone’s
personal space. We very seldom get a cold call. It’s always
somebody heard from somebody . . . it might be three people removed
but somehow they got our name from somebody who was comfortable
with us and had already worked with us and they knew that we were
fair about our pricing and that we were easy to work with. That’s
how we get our foot in the door.”
“We don’t always have just high-end customers,”
says DiColo. “We have a lot of customers that may do one window
at a time, one room at a time, that are repeat customers year after
year. These customers need to know it’s all right to do one
window at a time or two windows or a room then move on to the next
room in six months or the next year or whatever is financially good
for them. The comfort zone for them makes us more appealing, more
marketable to them.”
“Who knows,” DiColo adds, “those jobs may lead
to the big, 9,000-square-foot house!”
That comfort is also visible among the three women. Each comes from
divergent backgrounds, yet each has sewing—and eventually,
window treatments—in common. The freedom and flexibility of
owning their own businesses also appealed to them.
Koza began with Sew Creative after moving with her family from Indiana.
She took some time off to decorate her new home and ended up sewing
custom window treatments. “I can’t picture myself doing
anything else,” she says. As it happened, her son’s
friend had a mother who did much the same thing—enter DiColo.
The two worked out of the Koza family basement.
On the other side of town, Casse was beginning Finnegan Interiors
and working out of her garage. Over the next few years the business
grew and prospered.
Sew Creative and Finnegan Interiors always had a friendly working
relationship, sharing vendor resources and fabric and trim samples.
The three women found they were often together and were always talking
about the industry—the frustrations, the challenges and the
Looking back, it seems obvious these three would work together.
“I really think it was fate,” Casse says, while adding,
“We were all ready. We all needed to make a change.”
The merge also found the three learning a lot from each other. “The
creativity is unbelievable when you have control over how things
are being made,” she says. “We can actually be mid-job
looking at something and thinking ‘You know what . . . what
do you think?’ And we’ll bring the customer in here
and show them how we think it could look better.”
Opening a new workspace was the next big step for Casse, DiColo
and Koza, and when they found the 1,500-square-foot open space they
set to work.
“Half of this space is showroom, which has all different types
of books and fabric samples,” DiColo says. “We have
a Robert Allen library that we allow designers to come in and use.
The other part is my workroom and the back is the office space.
“We have several different windows with different window treatments
on each window so the retail customer that comes in can visualize
different applications of beads or trims or bandings or swags versus
panels versus sheers—so they really get a visualization of
Here designers and retail customers alike can sense the synergy
between the three. “We have a lot of fun. We bounce things
off each other. When designers come in, they enjoy being here,”
Being on the second floor hasn’t been a problem at all. Interiors
at 40 Main gets very little traffic off the street because retail
customers arrive by appointment only. “To have walk-in traffic
you have to have a whole other staff just to handle individuals,”
The also found an advantage of having the showroom and workroom
in the same space. “If someone walks in for an appointment
and sees someone else’s window treatments that have been embellished,
they start to think outside the box,” DiColo says. That thinking
is contagious. DiColo says beads and woven woods are particularly
popular among clients these days, but especially the detail work.
“Embellishing panels. Banding panels and adding beads really
adds the distinguishing custom look,” she says.
“We don’t like to see something go out without trim.
It looks so much better,” Koza adds.
It hasn’t always been as easy as it seems for Casse, Koza
and DiColo. They’re top graduates of the School of Hard Knocks.
They know what it’s like having to rip something out and start
again—sometimes over and over. And they admit to having told
clients they could do something then having to go figure out a way
to do it. But all of their past experiences have given these women
the confidence they need to be creative and to know their worth
“One of the most difficult things to get over is pricing what
you’re worth,” Casse says. “And getting other
people to realize what you are worth, too,” Koza adds.
Casse recalls a sales call after hours on a Monday night during
a snowstorm. “I’m thinking about my kids and that I
have to go home and make dinner, but I want to make the sale. I’m
riding through this snowstorm lugging the books and going in to
sell the husband.” When, after making her presentation, he
says he can get the wood blinds cheaper at a local big box store,
she asked him, “’Where are they now?’ That’s
all I had to say and he gave me the sale.
“We have developed posture over the years,” she continues.
“We know that we know what we know and know that we’re
worth it. We’re not snide or snippy about it, but we will
let clients know that we’re providing a service and, yes,
you’ll have to pay for it.”
Into its fourth year in business Interiors at 40 Main is, on all
accounts, a success. But that doesn’t mean there is no room
for improvement. On the contrary. “Flexibility and willingness
to improve all the time on what we can and want to do,” is
the way DiColo describes 40 Main’s key to continued success
“The future doesn’t mean adding more things,”
Koza adds. “Sometimes it’s looking to see what you do
best and knowing that you can’t do it all. We still redefine
Casse, true to her sales instincts, has a more definite goal in
mind: Increase volume and sales, making Interiors at 40 Main more
financially advantageous for everyone. “We’re realizing
that we have to streamline what we do in our niche and be really,
really good at it—be the resource for that particular thing,”
she says. “What’s interesting is that we find that window
treatments is probably where it’s going to be.”