Everyone is looking to improve business. “That’s global,” says Neil Gordon. The problem is too many people make haphazard decisions about their businesses because they don’t have a clear goal, or vision, they are working toward—and that’s where he comes in.
THE DESIGNER'S COACH 6 MODULES• The Leadership Coach—analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of your business, examining individual leadership competencies and creating a Strategic Vision.
• The Team Coach—creating a Team Chart and learning the value of position and vendor agreements.
• The Marketing Coach—examining lead generating systems, and how a great referral system can provide an endless stream of great leads.
• The Sales Coach—developing a great selling and design system, plus techniques of managing the client’s mind.
• The Satisfaction Coach—creating ways that will prevent problems creating flawless client fulfillment systems.
• The Negotiation Coach — examining how to price products and services and learning effective negotiation skills.
Gordon is The Designer’s Coach—and a whole lot more besides. But his focus, his niche, right now is as a business and design coach for interior designers and window fashions decorators. Gordon is available, in person, leading accredited seminars and for one-on-one coaching and on the Internet through The Designer’s Coach newsletter and now Webinars presenting a series of online seminars on coaching, home staging and, soon, window fashions and beyond.
As The Designer’s Coach, Gordon presents six modules, each touching on a different aspect of the window coverings business, which he says are absolutely essential for success. They begin with self-awareness and run through team building and working with others, sales systems, marketing (with a strong focus on word-of-mouth marketing), customer satisfaction and preventing problems, and closing the sale with a defense against discounting.
“We work in depth on creating what I call a strategic vision,” Gordon says, “which is imagining your ideal business five years in the future. If you close your eyes and imagine it, how would it be? A lot of people have trouble doing this.”
To help get things started, Gordon uses the orchid analogy: “Developing a business is almost like growing orchids. To me, an orchid is the most fabulous flower there is. It also is the most delegate and intensive in terms of taking care of it. There’s a lot work in growing orchids. You have to feed it properly, you have to water it properly, you have to turn it, you have to set it next to its proper neighbor, you have to split it, plant it. There’s a huge amount of work, but the pay off is big.”
It’s the same for a business. It takes a lot of work. “I have a worksheet of 20 different areas for creating your strategic vision,” Gordon says, “and we work on this until it’s done right. The first draft usually is not enough; it goes back and forth. But once it’s done, then you have a roadmap for making every decision in the business.” And that’s just where Gordon’s coaching modules start.
To be even more accessible to business owners, Gordon now offers coaching through live Webinars. It’s the newest aspect of his business. “People love this because they don’t have to travel; you can do it from the comfort of your home. Somebody signed up from Australia,” Gordon says.
When a decorator enrolls in a Webinar he or she is provided a link to access an Internet conferencing site. When the software runs at least three windows open on the screen. In one, Gordon is seen via a live Webcam and heard through the computer’s speakers. Another shows a PowerPoint presentation to follow along. A third allows for text messaging to ask questions during the presentation. Looking ahead, Gordon sees Webinars as his prime tool to coaching the most people.
What makes Gordon so successful in coaching are his credentials. He is a certified Master Coach from the Behavioral Coaching Institute, trained in validated, psychology based learning tools. His certification ensures he has the experience, expertise and ability to apply what is taught and get results. He serves as the National Director of Design for Exciting Windows! And on the board of the Window Coverings Association of America (WCAA). When it comes to window coverings, he’s been there, done that.
“Window fashions decorators really connect with me because I come to them not only as a business coach, but also with many years of experience doing exactly what they are doing,” Gordon says. “They can relate to that and find it very comforting.
“I’ve done it all in this business. There’s nothing in this business that I haven’t done. I’ve installed every type of window treatment there is, I’ve sold it, I’ve made it, I’ve bled on it, I’ve trod on it, I have thousands of stories both good and bad and I’m still doing it.”
OLD SCHOOL LESSONSGrowing up in a family business can teach you many lessons. Sometimes they are not the lessons you first thought they were.
“I remember one day,” says Gordon, “I was sweeping the floor and my father came over to me and said, “You know, you’re sweeping the floor like and employee, not like an owner.’ I asked him what that meant and he showed me what it meant. He said when you sweep the floor like an owner you move things away and sweep behind it, whereas an employee doesn’t.
“That was quite a message. I tell that story in my seminars now. I teach—I preach—that you have to work on your business not in your business. Old school was really drilling it into you that as an owner of your business you must do everything in the business. Old school worked for many years, but what would end up happening is that you became a slave to your business. It prevents growth and prevents you from doing the things that are necessary to build the business because you’re still involved in the everyday part of doing everything.”
SELLING STYLE, NOT PRODUCT
In Gordon’s case “still doing it” refers to Designing With Fabrics, his Monsey, NY, custom retail and wholesale showroom and workroom. He’s been at it since 1991 and runs a 1,500-square-foot store with a 1,700-square-foot workroom. “Everything is in one location, so now when people come in I take them to the workroom and it’s impressive,” he says. “I don’t have a competitor that can offer the full integration of service that we can offer from designing it to fabricating it to installing it all in-house.”
Gordon’s inauguration in business goes back much further than that, however. It begins with his grandfather who started a housewares business in the Bronx, NY, following World War II and includes his father who also started a housewares business. The two became partners in the 1960s and bought a store on the Bronx’s Grand Concourse.
It was a real family business complete with aunts, uncles and siblings. “It was a busy store,” Gordon remembers. “Every Saturday morning, every snow day, every holiday . . . my parents didn’t stay home, my mother worked too . . . so they would take us to the store and we would hang out at the store as kids. We would have jobs. Sweep the floor and do all sorts of things and that’s how I grew up. Either I was at school or I was at the store.”
When his formal schooling was complete, Gordon kept learning and applied what he learned. In 1985, after college, he moved to Florida to open a kitchen and bath store. There, for the first time, he got involved with draperies and blinds—first installing them, then opening a workroom to create and fabricate everything he sold. In 1991 he moved back to New York and started Designing With Fabrics from scratch.
By that time his father’s business had become one of the first to sell Levolor blinds and woven woods. He also sold stock roller shades cut to fit. “That business exploded,” Gordon recalls. Then came vertical blinds. But his parents stayed in hard treatments and never got involved in soft treatments. So Neil did and continues with it today.
“Anything with fabric is hot. I like to sell style. It’s all about selling style rather than products. I have six areas of style that I try to teach.
“Romantic, that’s typically a very soft and flowing design done with sheers and a drapery and a swag, for example.
“The next style is Modern, which is contemporary treatments—usually geometrically shaped cornices with drapery panels.
“Youthful, which is all children’s rooms.
“Elegant, typically silk treatments, interlined and combined with trims.
“Historical treatments, which are more traditional treatments using lots of layers. And the last one is Classic.
“When you go into someone’s home selling style, it becomes something they can’t go out and shop around. People don’t want to buy more things; they don’t need more product.”
Success, says Gordon, comes from getting top dollar for your products and that comes from not selling a commodity.