Penny Overstreet, Birmingham, AL, is a one-woman business, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Talk about a dynamo!
Over the past two decades plus, Overstreet savored the excesses
of the late 1970s to early 1980s (“And let me tell you, I
got spoiled—I was just a kid!”), and then weathered
through the times when the market for interior designers was negligible
and she had to find other work on the side. “But all along
I had freelance work in interior design,” Overstreet says.
“I designed window treatments—whatever came my way in
order to make ends meet.” And then—success! She was
recommended to a builder and now, nine and a half years later, she
has found the prosperity she always knew she could obtain.
Business is growing quite well, thank you very much, but she’s
still a one-woman operation, and plans to keep it that way. “I
keep on trucking,” she says, “I do everything myself.
Right now, I have 35 new home projects and I love it.” Her
enthusiasm rings true. Today, Penny Overstreet culls the bulk of
her business from new home construction with homes running from
about $200,000 to $800,000 with a focus on window treatments in
wood and faux wood, along with custom fabric treatments as well.
“I really like the real thing [wood],” says Overstreet,
“but in some cases it’s not the right thing to do.”
What Overstreet does do is listen to her customers and uncover their
needs. She has found most recently that consumer preference is following
an evolving sense of simplicity in window treatments, and an accelerated
need for ease in their maintenance. “I do simpler designs—not
quite as fussy as earlier in my career. And blinds and shutters
speak to both of those needs.” Easy to install, easy to open,
easy to clean. “With PolyDesign Shutters [a solid, cellular
vinyl faux wood product], for instance, a damp cloth will clean
it.” And, Overstreet enthuses, they don’t peel, flake,
warp or chip—and can be painted just like real shutters. “When
they can afford it and when they want it, however, wood is terrific,
One Woman Show
“My girlfriends ask me, ‘Why don’t you turn that
thing off?’” when referring to her constant companion,
the cell phone. Even on vacations, Overstreet’s business phone
is on. But she insists that if she doesn’t deal with issues
immediately, she’ll have too much to handle at one time and
no one will receive the type of service she strives to offer day
“I’d rather meet the need or handle the problem as it
comes,” she says. But don’t ask her to add any employees
to her business. “I like it just the way it is. I’m
responsible for my work and I know what my work is like.”
Currently, she has three residential contractors she works with
and also offers a small office space in the construction offices
of one of her contractors to show samples. “As much as I can
get in that little space!” she says.
Most of the time, however, she’s in her car, at a job site,
or on the phone making calls from her home. Business has been fairly
good since the first of this year and Overstreet is finding that
instead of sinking money into the stock market, people are investing
in real estate. “Generally,” she says, “if you’re
buying or building in a good area, it’s as good as money in
the bank.” She’s finding the Birmingham area where she
focuses the bulk of her business to be in solid financial shape—especially
the smaller homes such as patio and garden homes.
Retired persons moving from the traditional family home into smaller
places for two or three, and new families are generating the bulk
of business these days. “They’re going to do something
with their windows and they don’t have tons of money to spend,
but hey—it’s something.” And blinds and shutters
fill the bill nicely because they offer immediate privacy and look
great. “They’re a real shoo-in,” Overstreet says.
Of course, she continues, customers do “shop” her. “The
consumer is much more savvy than they were 25 years ago. They price
you, shop, look—they just know more about the market. They
see advertisements. They’re so aware!” But one thing
is for certain, Overstreet says, “once they go custom, they
don’t want anything else.”
So as long as she offers the best sales and service (“They’re
equally important,” she says, “if you don’t have
service, you don’t have sales.”), she has as much work
as one woman can handle.
Behind The Times? Or Ahead?
Yes, there are some business people in this industry who still aren’t
“wired,” and Overstreet is one of the dwindling cadre
of businesses that does not have e-mail, does not have a Web site,
is not computerized. “I’m behind the times; I’m
an old lady,” she says, “but honestly, I just don’t
feel the need for it.”
Instead, Overstreet is on the job site, checking out every window
treatment installation, making sure everything she designated is
being installed to her specifications. “You can catch and
correct the problems real quick when you’re there in person.
E-mail is too slow for me. Maybe I’ll give it a try in time,
but for now—I’m hands-on and good the way I am.”
The fax machine, however, is used frequently.
So how does she build up her business and continue to flourish?
Word-of-mouth, for one. “Since Carter was president,”
she laughs. “Repeat customers are the backbone of my business.”
But she’s into a new trade these days: real estate. Far too
many people were asking her where the best places to buy homes were.
So, “I just got my real estate license,” she says triumphantly.
“I was losing out on a lot of potential sales. I was giving
it away—and now I’m not. My ideal is to pre-sell the
home and carry it all the way through the decorating process.”
She currently has three homes in process and is working on building
the reputation of being a one-stop shop. “That’s my
hope. I can start with the real estate and move right on into the
Laughing, Overstreet says, “I’ll bet you’ve already
guessed I’m not married, but that’s OK. I have a 17-year-old
daughter and the best career in the world. I’ve got it made.”