Decorators often have the goal of impressing their clients, but there are two women in Stone Mountain, GA, Barbara Elliott and Jennifer Ward Woods, Interiors By Decorating Den, who have a proven success rate of doing it.
Consistently ranked among the very top franchises in the company, winners in the Interiors By Decorating Den Dream Room Contests and recently named to the Who’s Who of Black Atlanta as a top minority business, Elliott and Woods wow their clients not only with their designs, but with the way they run their business, too. They do it all, or course, from design to installation including upholstered furniture and case goods, custom window treatments and hard window covering products, floor covering, accessories, lighting—basically everything. “And we do install everything that we sell,” adds Elliott. It is their process of handling all the decorating needs of clients, following through with all the details and presenting a finished room that usually gets the clients very excited and makes quite an impression.
“Once we’ve done the design and they approve of it, we place the order,” Elliott explains. “Everything is received here and then we have everything delivered and installed—hopefully all at one time. Everything is usually done in a one- or two-day setting so that the room is transformed basically overnight.”
Although Elliott and Woods started in different franchises in different states, the two have been partners in their Stone Mountain business for eight years and find their success is based on their similar approaches to designing for clients.
“Well, other than a whole lot of hard work,” Elliott laughs, “we try to put our customers first. We try to be easy to work with, we try to be fun to work with—make the process one they enjoy—and also make sure it fits their lifestyles. And we truly enjoy what we do, we have a passion for what we do.”
Elliott and Woods’ business evolved over the past eight years to the point where they now operate a bit differently than most franchise owners. Although they began in typical fashion working from a home office and out of the recognized Interiors By Decorating Den vans, “as our volume grew, we needed more space,” says Elliott.
Elliott and Woods have studio space in a retail location where they now have three employees and room to store accessories. It’s not really used as a retail and display space, Elliott explains, it’s really a design studio and has become a form of advertising for them.
When the space became available they liked it because of its location and because it’s highly visible. “It wasn’t that we were really crazy about a retail space,” says Elliott, “but we loved the idea that we would be visible with so many people driving back and forth going to work every day. They would see our advertising and they would see our name.”
The studio gave them visibility and credibility. “Our primary purpose of the building is just for our design studio and for stocking,” Elliott says.
Elliott and Woods go to the client’s home offering free consultation. “Our first appointment is mainly information gathering and assessment of the client, and for the client to get an estimate of us,” says Elliott.
“We go to a client’s home, discuss with them what their design needs are, what exactly it is they need help with. We go through our portfolio with them showing them examples of some of the work we’ve done and then we go through a detailed explanation of the decorating process and then discuss with them price ranges, things they like and things they don’t like.
“Then we come back into our design studio and then we actually do the design, pull together the fabric for window treatments or furniture. Then we do design boards and have the clients come in to actually look at the design.”
About 37 to 40 percent of the business is window treatments, says Elliott. Interestingly, they actually did more window treatments when they first started, but note that now they are doing more in dollar value through window treatments.
“Here in this area, especially, we run into a lot of specialty windows and homeowners don’t know what to do with them,” Elliott says. “We do a lot of arches, two-story windows, wall of windows . . . that is a lot of what is built here in Atlanta. Those are challenges to most homeowners. They can’t purchase anything ready-made for them. They always need our help with them.”
Elliott and Woods have the opportunity to use national workrooms made available through Interiors by Decorating Den, but often work locally. “We come up with very current designs and things that are usually out of what some workrooms want to do. Plus, we work with a lot of homes with very large windows, so those window treatments are very heavy and bulky and hard to ship, so a local workroom is necessary,” Elliott says.
About half of their clients are moving into new homes built in the Atlanta area and the other half is remodeling. In both cases, customers tend to like trims, tassels and decorative hardware and want to add some of the glitz to window treatments.
“In our area they still want the light from the windows so they don’t want full coverage. They do like the softness of adding something like sheers, but they may not want fabric cascading across 120 inches in front of the window . . . but they definitely like it cascading from 16 feet up down to the floor,” says Elliott.
Panels are still popular, she says, but panels with details. “We do a lot of panels with decorative buttons or pleats—goblet, or inverted, or French—a lot of detail trimmings going along the vertical line, a lot of banding, even a lot of where we’re spitting the panel and using a couple of different fabrics.”
PARTNERS AND SISTERS
Besides being partners, Elliott and Woods also are sisters. In fact, they live just three houses apart. At the shop each has her own clients, but they sometimes work together on projects and work together in helping create designs.
It was Woods who first got involved with Interiors By Decorating Den. After working for a time in an insurance sales office in North Carolina she decided to go into the decorating business on her own. She began by doing all the work herself from making window treatments to installing them. “She’s very hands-on,” Elliott says. Woods decided she wanted to learn more about decorating and joined a franchise in North Carolina.
That’s when Elliott found out about it. She, too, had always had a love for decorating and was doing some work for the family. Elliott decided to go back to school to take some design courses, then took another look at the business and purchased a franchise in Georgia.
That was 10 years ago. Her sister Jennifer still was working in North Carolina, but Barbara enticed her to move to Atlanta and come work with her—and they have been partners ever since.
There are distinct advantages for sisters working together, things like knowing each other better than most business partners do. “We’ve always liked a lot of the same things so we’re almost on the same wavelength,” Elliott says. “We both have the same work ethic, so that really helps. And then we trust one another, so there’s always that. We don’t have to worry about one person feeling like the other person is receiving more or doing more. As we say, we’ve got more at stake here than just the business, we have our family relationship.”