Phyllis Cain was determined to start her own business. She was determined to make it a success and build it into something her children could carry on. She has done that and more. With clients from Detroit to Key West, her wholesale and retail workroom and showroom designs, creates and installs custom window treatments for customers with modest budgets as well as those with high-end interiors. And now, with granddaughters a part of the business, Interiors By Cain, Inc., Salisbury, NC, is in the capable hands of three generations of women who will see it into the future.
For 25 years, Interiors By Cain has been a family-run business begun
by Phyllis and now owned by her and her four daughters: Lisa Campbell,
Anita Asher, Jennifer Ghent and Andrea Helms. Lisa’s daughters
Sara and Sonya have joined the company marking the third generation.
In all, Interiors By Cain employs 14 women working together in its
60- by 60-foot facility. Most of that space is the workroom with
some 30 machines—including industrial sewing machines—turning
out “anything that can be sewn: draperies, bedspreads, tablecloths,
napkins, towels, whatever,” Lisa says. The small showroom is
packed with window treatment samples, fabric books, lamps and accessories.
In addition to its own retail and wholesale clients, Interiors By
Cain also accepts what other workrooms can’t handle. “Some
people who have their own workrooms will still hire us when they
have too much or items that are too large to fit on their tables,”
Anita explains. And that’s still not all; the company takes
orders from three area furniture stores that sell their products.
Hard work and determination are what built Interiors By Cain, although
Phyllis describes it a bit differently. “It’s always being
available, and letting people know that I guarantee my work.”
That and the fact that she and her daughters are here to stay.
THE BIG AND THE SMALL
Two principles guide Interiors By Cain: quality and a good price.
“Our name and reputation are at stake,” says Lisa. Phyllis
says pricing is “extremely” important to customers, but
service and quality are even more important. If a customer were
to grumble about the cost of a treatment, Phyllis tells them, “You’ll
soon forget what you paid for this, but you’ll never forget
how much you’ve enjoyed it.”
The women’s reputation for quality has spread far and wide—and
almost entirely by word of mouth. “This year I’ve been
to Key West, Atlanta, Detroit and Washington, DC, to hang draperies,”
says Anita. Two of those jobs (Key West and Atlanta) were for professional
Jerry Stackhouse of the NBA Washington Wizards was one of those
clients. That job came through working with Stackhouse’s designer,
Ava Taylor-Williams of Taylor-Williams Designs, High Point, NC,
who also worked with Interiors By Cain on other high-end projects
including the home of one of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. “We’re
trying to get our foot in the door for the Panthers,” Anita
Other high-profile projects include the North Carolina Supreme Court
in Raleigh. “We found that on the Internet,” says Lisa.
“Anita and I were slow one day and we were looking, and we
decided to bid on it and got the job.”
New draperies and cornices were needed in the main courtroom. The
draperies hanging there were made in the 1920s and were just falling
apart. The project involved huge, 200-inch long draperies made of
heavy velvet, each panel weighing in at 80 pounds. Scaffolding,
and additional help, was needed to install the draperies, which
were hauled into place using pulleys. It’s an example of another
tall, odd or large window that no one else seemed to want, but Interiors
By Cain was willing and able to take on.
Of course, not all of their jobs are so large. Anita describes their
projects as covering from doublewide mobile homes on up. “We’ll
work with any budget; anybody who needs our help,” she says.
They’re even known for holding yard sales selling leftover
fabric for $2 a yard—which end up making $1,000 or so.
Interiors By Cain solidifies its reputation through community involvement.
The Women’s Club used the workroom to make scarves for cancer
patients. When the Christian school needed to make angel costumes
for a play the students were allowed to come in and use the equipment
and thread for free.
“We’ll donate scraps to anybody who will make quilts and
donate them to The Boys’ Home or to a children’s home,”
Anita adds. “We give away lots of pillows and things for the
Lion’s Club for door prizes. We also do fundraisers for the
symphony.” They recently did 10 rooms for the Salisbury-Rowan
Symphony Designer Showcase, a project that not every workroom or
designer would be willing to do because of the time, labor and materials
involved. Yet, Interiors By Cain has benefited.
“It’s not an immediate return,” Lisa admits, “but
we get our name out enough that it is worth it.” Sometimes
people visiting the showhouses don’t come in until two or three
years later. “They remember the quality.”
The family’s community mindedness even extends to recycling.
Whenever possible they will reuse boxes for shipping, wood scraps
are made into picture frames and birdhouses, and fabric scraps are
made into pillows, purses, tote bags and patchwork quilts.
WORKING HARD, HAVING FUN
Perhaps the real key to success at Interiors By Cain is that it
is all about family. Lisa, Anita, Jennifer and Andrea all grew up
in their mother’s business and are all part owners. Although
each had moved on at one time or another to pursue families, higher
education and even other employment, three have returned to daily
responsibilities. “These are wonderful working conditions,”
says Anita, “being able to see your mom, sisters and nieces
That family feeling extends to the diverse group of women in the
company’s workroom, where a quiet, Christian environment is
provided. Sewers are allowed a certain amount of flexibility—as
long as the work is getting out on time—to schedule their hours
around family matters. And the work does get out on time. One of
Interiors By Cain’s strengths is a three-week turnaround on
custom orders when most others need six weeks or more.
“We’re just plain people just trying to make a living
doing the best we can,” says Lisa, “but it’s been
a lot of fun.”
At the very heart of Interiors By Cain is Phyllis Cain herself.
When not working what her daughters describe as “her usual
60-hour week,” Phyllis finds time to work with political and
social organizations. She is auditor of the Spencer Women’s
Club, the local chapter of General Federation of Women’s Club;
a Sunday school teacher; on the state executive committee for the
Republican party; a member of the National Federation of Independent
Businessmen; honorary co-chairman of the Business Advisory Council
for the National Republican Congressional Committee; and was named
North Carolina Businessperson of the Year in 2003 among other things.
She may be the personification of hard work and determination.
In the 1970s she was a single mom with four children and needed
to work. She always dreamed of running her own business, but had
no money and no backing. That didn’t stop her. “I was
determined to make this work,” she says.
She started a workroom, and in the beginning cut fabric on the living
room floor. She also took a second job so she could be working in
between drapery orders. Long before there was a term for it Phyllis
was networking every day with local business people as the hostess
at a restaurant.
When a building in town came up for sale, Phyllis had her eyes set
on it for her business. She learned it was being sold by the bank
and went in to talk with a loan officer, who explained she needed
14 percent down to buy the property. She didn’t have the money.
About two weeks later she decided to go back to bank and ask to
speak with the president. Sure enough, the president was one the
restaurant’s regular customers and someone Phyllis spoke to
every day. She told him, “You know what a hard worker I am,
and I want this property.”
Fifteen minutes later he came back and told her the property was
hers, no down payment and 12 percent interest. “He trusted
me,” she says.
Phyllis’s interest in sewing dates back to her own childhood.
Her mother and grandmother made their own clothes and draperies
at home. So when she created Interiors By Cain, it just felt right.
“It was just something I always loved, and I said I would start
my own business,” she says. “I didn’t know how, but
deep in my heart I knew it would happen. This business has helped
me, a single mom, to both support my children and teach my children