In order for Joyce Holt to get where she is today she had to do something she admits was the hardest thing she ever has had to do. She had to walk up to a house, knock on the door and ask for the business.
That was more than 30 years ago and quite a bit has changed since then. Joyce Holt’s Window Works, Little Rock, AR, is a retail window coverings showroom with a small fabric store incorporated into it. Besides herself she has two designers on staff—both have degrees in interior design (ASID and NCIDQ)—a woman at the shop who handles ordering and helps customers when the designers aren’t there, a four-person workroom and two people who work out of their homes—one who does all the headboards and cornice boards.
Quality workmanship, good design and being fair with clients has earned the company repeat customers and referrals and led to a current project involving the remodeling of the 200-room historic Capital Hotel. Her reputation has taken Holt well beyond Little Rock to both the East Coast and West Coast of the United States as well as abroad.
Holt’s secret is the simplest thing: “We try to put out the very best work. Try to be very, very good at interpreting what [customers] want and then putting in the things that are appropriate for their situation.”
DESIGNS TO LIVE WITH
Window Works’ showroom began life as a three-bedroom ranch home in what once was the very edge of a residential area. When Holt bought the building five years ago she had some walls and the ceilings removed to open the 2,400-square-foot space.
Part of the showroom is used to display bolts of in-stock fabrics, which gives the shop access to better pricing from the mills, Holt explains. While some customers are interested only in buying fabric, “most of it goes into what we sell,” she says. Blinds and shades are showcased in an area that used to be a bedroom, a sample book library takes up another corner and where a carport and garage were is now shipping and receiving.
The shop is one block off a main thoroughfare, but it sees a surprising amount of traffic. Right across the street is a dress shop that is “the prime, high-end dress shop in Little Rock,” Holt says. “Their customers are my customers!”
Holt’s Window Works’ specialty is window treatments: lots of panels and lots of decorative hardware. Holt especially likes custom finishes on hardware. The soft treatments are done in the shop’s workroom, which does a lot of handwork. “It’s time-consuming, but it works so well,” says Holt. “Almost everything gets interlined. We do quite a bit with bump—the thick interlining. We do lots of trim.”
The types of treatments Holt creates depends so much on the house and the customers. She does quite a few swags and fancy valances for people who still want them, but she’s not into gimmicky things. Her goal is to create something her customers will love for a long time. It’s the same idea she follows when working the local designer showhouse she has done annually since 1981. “My philosophy has been, instead of teaching visitors what can be done, I want for them to come into my room and say, ‘Oh, gee, I could use that at my house. I could live with this.’”
And they do—over and over as repeat customers. “Not only do they re-do a room in their homes, but they move. Either they are upgrading to bigger houses, or they’re downsizing to smaller houses, or they buy a lake house or a house in Colorado or somewhere,” Holt says. That work often leads to new customers in other areas. Holt has done a lot of work in California, some work in Connecticut, and three jobs in Paris . . . yes, that Paris.
It turns out local Little Rock customers leased an apartment in Paris and asked Holt to come over to put in draperies and upholster a bedroom wall. Those customers had American friends also living in Paris and Holt ended up doing two places for them. (She brought everything—supplies, fabric, etc.—with her. Want to know how to get large, bulky roles of interlining into a carry-on? Vacuum bags!)
One of Holt’s current projects is The Capital Hotel, built in Little Rock in the late 1800s. “It’s a wonderful old building. It looks like New Orleans’ style on the front in cast iron,” she says. New owners have gutted the inside of the four-story landmark and are re-doing it into a very upscale hotel. Holt is working on all the window treatments for the 200 rooms—some of which have four windows.
AS BUSY AS COULD BE
These jobs seem a long way from where Holt started, which was a Native American reservation in South Dakota. She had moved there with her then-husband who was building homes.
Holt met and began working for a woman who made curtains for the homes. She worked with her for about a year leaning a bit about draperies, hardware, shades and fabrics. When she moved to Nashville, TN, Holt decided making curtains and draperies was something she liked doing and something she could do while her children were in school. “So I just started telling friends I was doing draperies.” She called a fabric company, they sent her sample books, “and I was in business,” she recalls, “and I could sew anything.” Holt has the ability to look at draperies and pictures and figure out how they are made. “Before I knew it, I was as busy as could be.”
By the 1970s Holt was in Little Rock and ready to go full time into the draperies business. “So I made up a sample of a nice little drapery that was interlined. It was all hand-sewn. I took it to several designers, but nobody would give me the time of day. So I thought I’d have to go another route. I went out to one residential area and found moving boxes on the driveways and sheets in the windows. I just about came apart. I thought, I’m going to knock on the door and let people know I’m in town. That is the most difficult thing I have every done.
“I went out there the next day and picked out a house and rang the bell. Thank God they weren’t at home. [But] that was great for me because I had rung that bell.
“So then I went around the corner to another one and that lady came to the door. My spiel was that I was new in town and when they got ready to do something would they give me a call? That lady said, Come on in!”
Holt so wanted the job she told the woman she would do the draperies for 10 percent over her costs if the woman would just tell her neighbors who did them. She went away with the order and the plan worked like a charm.
“I kept knocking on doors and I found out that it was like picking money up off the street. I got virtually every job that I had knocked on the door.”
Looking back on that experience she says, “I was out asking for the business. At one time I had done nearly every house is that subdivision. One time I went to a door and the lady said, Well, I’ve been waiting. They said you’d be back.”
DON’T BE AFRAID
A few years later Holt had become so successful she took the business out of her home and into a small studio. “I enjoyed working out of my house,” she says. “There is good and bad to it. One, you can never get away from it, and people call you at all hours. I found that when I moved out of the house, people were much more respectful of my time. I didn’t get calls at night anymore.”
She would advise others to do the same. “There are a lot of people who are working in their homes, and that’s fine, and that’s their decision. But if they want to get out, do not be afraid to. You can get out and start slowly, because it is a great way to grow your business.”
Asked for the secret of her success, Holt answers, “We try to do it the way we would want to be treated, and do it right. I try to be fair with the customers . . . and to me.”
“Most of the things that we do actually are fairly simple,” she continues, “but that doesn’t mean they are poor quality. There is still lot of work that goes into them. We do lots of welting, lots of embellishments in fabrics and in trim. It doesn’t mean it’s just plain.
“It’s really doing a lot of little things right. I’ve had good workmanship. I’ve had good designs—things that people can live with; things that are appropriate for them in their house. I pay a lot of attention to proportion.
“It’s also being fair to customers, doing what I say I’m going to do and maybe a little bit more. I’m at their beck and call. They know where to find me if something goes wrong.
“I approach it as a business. Customers don’t have the impression that I’m just dabbling in it—it’s an important business to me.
“When I go into a house, I go in like I know what I’m doing,” says Holt. “They know that I’m really taking their interests to heart.”