Four years ago, Cheryl Draa took her business out of her home and into a showroom. She also decided to step it up: produce a higher end product and target a higher end clientele. These decisions could not have been better.
Not only has Draa positioned her business to survive a downturn in the housing industry, she also has seen the economic benefit topping $1 million is sales last year and expecting to do as well this year.
Cheryl Draa Interior Designs is open six days a week in a 2,500-square-foot showroom in a retail shopping strip. Draa has a large support group for her business that includes full-time designer Johanna Hawf and two workrooms, one of which, Trini Pevey, works almost exclusively with her.
The shop is set up to be a one-stop destination for full interior decorating services. Fabric books hang on one wall with valances along the top. But a visitor there also will find lamps and lighting, artwork and floral treatments. Early on Draa found the accessories often sold so quickly. “Economy-wise, if you can’t spend $1,200 to do something to your house you can still get that lamp for $200. If you want to change a little bit, we’ll help you do that, too.”
Draa has a trick for knowing which accessories to offer. “I look for things that I’m looking for,” she says. “If I have a hard time finding them, then I’m assuming the rest of my clients are having a hard time finding them, also. So then I go out and purchase them. We’ve been pretty successful selling them that way. We’ll load up our cars and take out accessories and place them [for clients]. We very seldom bring anything back. We have a very high sales rate, actually—about 95 percent. We close about 98 percent of all of our calls. And that just goes to show how well Johanna and I know our clients. We take them what they want and what they need.”
Window coverings is the biggest part of Draa’s business with custom fabric sales being about 60 percent of the total. Shutters sales are slowing, moving toward woven woods, she adds, or fabric roman shades with valances and panels over.
In the showroom customers also will find wallpaper books. Draa admits wall coverings are not a real strong part of the business, but it takes care of itself. “What we’re finding is that at some point people went to faux finishing—and we’re still doing a lot of that. We have two faux artists that work for us, and they can do just about anything. But there is a certain paper, the higher end quality that we do sell, that you just cannot reproduce through paint. It just has something special to it.”
Likewise, customers find something special about Draa Interior Designs and its products and services. Draa, Hawf and Pevey made the decision to provide higher end products to higher end customers after attending a seminar on that exact topic. “We decided we were going to up our level of marketing, who we were marketing to and the quality of product that we put out. Which means that there are some people who come in and say we’re too expensive—that they don’t want to add the extra lining or extra cording or something like that. That’s OK; those aren’t the people we’re trying to target. We’re putting out a higher quality of product that our clients want.”
The three of them made a list of certain things they want to do all the time, things they thought were important to produce the quality product they wanted. The goal, then, was for the business to become known for offering a much better product where customers could really get their money’s worth.
“Once they have decided to have you in their homes, they know they are going to spend money,” Draa says. “It’s really not up to us as a designer to decide whether or not they have enough money to afford that $100 trim. They can decide that. But if we never show it to them, we’re never going to sell it.”
When they started applying this to the business they could see the results immediately. Total sales reached $1.2 million dollars last year after hovering right under a million for about three years before that, says Draa.
“I am aiming toward the small business owner who is a little bit more independent, wants something different from anybody else and has some money to do it,” Draa says about her target customer.
To help reach this market Cheryl Draa Interior Designs places ads in outlets most likely to reach them. “I have partnered with the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, which of course targets the independent businessperson, and have an ad in the publication that they put out (Cobb In Focus). I’ve been doing that for the last two years and what I’ve been seeing are the wives of the businesspeople coming in saying, ‘I saw your ad, I see what you’re doing, I like this look.’ They want to make sure that they are going to get something that looks a little bit different from everybody else. So we are targeting the higher end market for that reason and are being pretty successful at it.”
Internet marketing also has helped. Draa has a company Web site that features a gallery showcasing room designs and window treatments. Visitors also can set up in-home appointments via e-mail from the site.
“People will pick up our ads and then go to the Web site and decide they want to come in to the store and see what we have and meet us. Occasionally, I do go into a client’s home to meet with them and I’ll ask how did they find us and I expect them say so-and-so referred us and they’ll say they googled us and our Web site came up first,” Draa says.
Most of Draa’s clients are repeat customers or have been referred by other customers. For them and for new customers Draa has an edge to distinguish her business from others. “A lot of designers still work out of their homes and I have a retail store, so we have better access to using our own product,” she explains. “We’re not running all over the metroplex trying to find a different fabric, we just pull a book off of our wall. I feel like we’re using our time wisely. It’s also our attention to detail, and upping it into window couture and making our products be specific to what the client wants.
“I would say the key reason why we’re successful is because we listen—listen, listen, listen—to what our clients really, really want. We can go in there with an idea of what would look best for them, but if they’re saying they want something different, then they’re not going to buy what we think, they are going to buy what they want. Our job is to listen to what they want, give them really good advice about what their options are, show them what we think would look good and try to come up with a combination of what they initially thought they wanted and what could be best for their homes.”
All of what Draa has done over the past several years, from opening a showroom to targeting higher end clients with higher end products, has positioned her business to make it through what many see as tough economic times. The housing market has seriously affected businesses in the greater Atlanta area, she says, from homebuilders to landscapers—many of them going out of business. “I think what that’s going to do is weed out the really, really good from the mediocre. The really, really good ones are going to stick it out and be left and the other guys are, for one reason or another, going to have to move on to something else.
“How that’s going to affect us is that people are going to do one of two things: They are going to stay where they are and then decide to update what they have, or if they have the money to purchase a home they are getting a pretty good deal on it and they have to do [some decorating] to their house.
“We’re at a slower level at this point, but I feel pretty confident in the future that we’re going to maintain what we’re doing.”
Draa holds one bit of advice dearly: Live life like a swan. “Remain calm and unruffled on the surface, but paddle furiously underneath,” she says. “I think the client should only see the unruffled surface and a smooth installation.”