Those were the apparent options facing John and Sheila Dorosk just a few years ago. It was 1994, and the Dorosks were deciding if they should get out of their window coverings franchise and go it alone. "The franchise focus was hard treatments, and we could see the competition building," John Dorosk says.
"We wanted to get more into complete decorating, so we went off on our own and started our own decorating store," John says. That store was Draperies & Shutters, Inc. Today it's known as Decorating Resources, headquartered in Sarasota, FL, with three additional locations in Orlando, Altamonte Springs and Naples.
"We did some introspective thinking," Dorosk continues, "and what we came up with was, if we were to grow, we needed to do it vertically, otherwise we were going to lose business." That decision led the Dorosks to add a host of products to their new business from custom draperies and upholstery to headboards, bed coverings, flooring, custom cabinets and furniture. It also led them to add the personnel necessary to make the products they sell.
"We decided that any work we did would be done by our own employees on our payroll," John says. As a result, Decorating Resources has grown from three employees in January 1994 to 29. That number includes three to four salespeople per store, a full-time staff of eight in their own workroom (which includes a quilting machine for custom comforters), two upholsterers, four or five cabinet makers (depending on the project) and their own installers.
And the growth spurt doesn't appear to be over. This year the Dorosks look to open five additional Decorating Resources locations. "John and I like to grow," Sheila Dorosk explains.
Need for Growth.
The impelling force behind much of Decorating Resources growth was need. At first it was the need to remain a successful business by offering customers more products. "For example, if you don't have wallpaper, your customers are going to go to a wallpaper store that also sells many of the same products you do, or to an upholsterer who offers many of the same services you do," John explains.
Next, they added the workroom because the amount of business they were doing became too much for the woman handling it. "We outgrew our original workroom, and we were about to be victims," Sheila says. The Dorosks realized they needed an upholsterer when sub-contracting out the work became a problem. "We could never really be confident we were going to get it on the schedule we needed," Sheila says. "We had the room, so we added an upholsterer," she says.
It was the same for the custom cabinet makers. Decorating Resources was doing a lot of renovation work -- mainly Gulf Coast condos, residential kitchens and their own showroom -- and John and Sheila decided they could use cabinet makers.
"It comes from the fact that I needed more ability to control my own jobs. We needed to be able to control the scheduling and the quality of the work we were doing," Sheila says.
"The message in all of this is that opportunities are all over, you practically trip over them," John says, adding, "You just have to recognize that they are opportunities."
The Decorating Resources showroom is a vital part of the Dorosks' success even though 80 percent of their business is shop at home. "The showroom is here as a resource," Sheila says. "And it's for people to know we really are legitimate. A lot of people like to come in and look around the showroom to see what's available, then we go to their home for the sale," she says.
Decorating Resources' main building in Sarasota is about two years old. Its 6,250 square feet includes the showroom, drapery workroom and upholstery shop. Next door, an additional 7,500 square feet facilitates the warehouse ("We stock a large amount of drapery hardware," John says.) and the cabinet shop. This summer, a cabinet showroom will be added.
"The showroom makes customers feel comfortable," Sheila says. "They come here and see the workroom and everything and know we are going to be around next week if they have a problem."
Sheila describes the Sarasota showroom as having "expanded beyond its room." On display are valance treatments, cornices, wallpaper, tile, carpet, a little custom-made furniture, wood flooring and all the hard treatments including shutters. "There are 21 different kinds of window treatments on display," John adds. "We think that's important for the public that can't visualize things. They come in and say, 'Oh, I like this' or 'I like that,'" he adds.
Contrary to what might be considered showroom convention, Decorating Resources does not display coordinating fabrics, wall coverings and accessories in room-setting vignettes. "We don't have the space," Sheila admits. Instead, they concentrate on showcasing the many types of window coverings and top treatments. "When people come in they are more interested in looking at a style than in an actual fabric," she says. The store also does not stock wallpaper. "All of our wall coverings are custom ordered. We can get wallpaper in about three days," Sheila explains.
A CAD program is set up to design custom rugs and do scale drawings for the cabinet shop. It also helps in doing custom furnishings. "We'll custom make anything for anyone," Sheila says. "The other day I made a bar for some clients. They had a need for piece of furniture they were adding to their living room, so we custom-matched the existing pieces. It's beautiful!"
The combination of Decorating Resources' showroom, workroom and cabinet shop forms a cohesive unit that benefits everyone. For example, the cabinet shop makes the cornices and the upholstery department covers them. But the whole operation benefits through the discount prices received through volume wood buying for custom cabinets.
The same syngery runs right through the company's personnel. John, a CPA who retried from Citibank, runs the back office while Sheila handles the design work and sales. "It works out beautifully because he can run the office and do the things I don't like to do, such as advertising and dealing with reps and all the paperwork," Sheila says. "I can just meet with the clients and do the selling," she adds.
With a background in design, Sheila started out of college designing, building and selling homes. She looks for salespeople with some education or background in design or an artistic ability. She also strongly supports a hands-on approach to design.
"We believe the person who does the selling should actually do the measuring and the calculating," she says. "A salesperson needs to know the concept of how a treatment is going to be installed, or what size or proportions they are dealing with. Otherwise they will sell something that may be inappropriate for the window or the space." For that reason, all of Decorating Resources designers are present at drapery installations. "It helps the designer see if the design really did what they wanted it to do," she says.
The Dorosks also wanted their own installers, who arrive in uniform in beautifully lettered vans. "They are the last person to see the customer. We want to control that image, and we want the installers to be sensitive to our customers, too. We can train them for that, and we do," John says.
Like its customers, Decorating Resources also takes care of its employees. "Our decorators all share in the profits," John says. The company carries its own liability, medical and workman's compensation programs. It's not surprising then that they have worked with some painters and paper hangers for six to eight years. "As you get known for a quality program the tradespeople seek you out," John says.
The Dorosk's philosophy of vertical growth can work on a smaller scale than Decorating Resources, John Dorosk says, just with a lower volume of work. John and Sheila can offer lots of advice for others in the industry based on their own experiences from educating customers about quality products so they can make an informed decision ("We stress that quite heavily," John says.) to stop worrying about the Big Box Stores.
"There are two types of customers that shop the Big Box Stores: The guy who likes to do things himself and would no matter what, and the person who's absolutely convinced they have the cheapest prices and wouldn't believe you if you showed him otherwise," John says. His advice: "Concentrate on the rest of the world."
Some of John's other helpful advice includes:
Advertise name brands. There's a pull effect to direct-to-consumer advertising by manufacturers. "It really does work."
Restrict the number of vendors. "If you're loyal to your vendors, they will be loyal to you and you will get better volume discounts."
Care about your customers and provide them with outstanding service. "We do care about what they buy. If it's something we don't think will work, we'll suggest other things they might wish to look at. We try to be helpful, and we wind up being friends with our customers."
Don't sacrifice quality. "We don't do that."
One last piece of advice might be to watch out for Decorating Resources. John says, "We try to dominate any market we are in. If you're going to be there, why fool around?"