With over 100 million dollars in residential and commercial interior design projects under her belt and accolades about her work from numerous trade publications, interior designer Robin Grant, from Designing Lives International reflects on her 20+ years of success and what lies ahead.
One thing that Robin Grant always makes clear to her clients is that an interior decorator and an interior designer are not the same thing.
“It’s a pretty common misconception,” Ms. Grant noted, “But for the record, it is all based on the level of service. A decorator is someone who does a lot of fabric swatches, they source draperies, choose furniture, rugs, art, and do space planning. An interior designer does all that but on top of it, they also help to pick out things like appliances, plumbing fixtures, light fixtures, lighting design, and even a bit of architectural design. An interior designer can help you pick out your roof tile and even help you with your landscaping. An interior designer is well-versed in all areas of making a home everything the client dreamed of, from top to bottom”, she continued.
Becoming an interior designer, much less a highly successful one, is not easy. Like many entrepreneurs, Robin Grant learned the hard way. Being in business as long as she has been, there were trials and tribulations along the way. Some of the roadblocks she encountered early on were due to building her business on her own.
“I started at a very early age,” Ms. Grant said in a recent interview on Business Innovators Radio, “I knew my talents were in the interior design field; I had a passion for it. Every Saturday, I’d be at some other friend’s house, helping them colorize and style their rooms and clothing. These girls quickly became my advertising. It didn’t take long for me to look at what interior design could offer me as a career. But, I didn’t even know what I was getting myself into at that time.”
She started her own business because she thought she knew a lot about the interior design business. What she would soon discover is that running an interior design business takes a lot more than just be a great designer.
With an overabundance of interior designers offering their services, she relied on word of mouth to grow her business. She also had to learn to network with builders and architects as a means to grow her business, her brand, and bottom line.
Ms. Grant’s early years of struggle is a common thread among many entrepreneurs. Many times, new business owners fail to properly assess their strengths and weaknesses in business; often times trying to wear too many hats at one time. This approach can lead to unnecessary delays on the path to success. Experts agree that one of the best strategies to quickly achieve success is to seek the guidance of a mentor; a trusted individual skilled in all aspects of a particular business.
When asked about their career paths, studies show that most successful entrepreneurs credit a mentor or mentors with helping them achieve their goals. No one learns in a vacuum, and it’s the people that are able to absorb the wisdom of others – and then, when the time is right, pay it forward by becoming mentors themselves – who set themselves apart.
The business side of interior design, combined with the design side can create some real challenges for those new to the industry. Without a mentor, Ms. Grant fumbled initially. She learned from her early mistakes and pressed on to achieve success.
When asked about what pitfalls she encountered on her way to success, Ms. Grant was quite clear. “Oh my goodness, not really having anyone to bounce ideas off of was perhaps the hardest part. Not having someone to answer questions like, how do I do my contracts? How do I get myself out there? Who do I market to? What is my price range? There’s such an advantage in having a mentor that is well-read on all levels. Once I recognized that, it fast tracked my path to success in my design business. I grew my business more quickly and avoided all the pitfalls and obstacles that my competitors struggled with, because I had a great mentor that had ‘been there and done that’ before. His guidance was invaluable.”, she reflected.
Whether it’s measuring for tile, knowing product applications and specifications, measuring for draperies, furnishing sizes, deciding what fabrics should be used on sofas versus draperies…a designer entrepreneur has to know what he or she is doing, or they can get into a lot of trouble.
Ms. Grant recalled a time when she mis-measured an entire set of drapes and had to take a major loss on the project. “That was a lesson well-learned,” she said, “I knew right then that I needed a mentor. I really needed to know my business inside out; and the sooner the better.”
If there is anything she would tell new designers about succeeding in interior design, it’s this: “It’s dedication, it’s not giving up. It’s putting in long hours and a lot of hard work…but don’t go it alone. Having a mentor is invaluable to seeing rapid success in this industry.”
As for what’s next for Ms. Grant and her company Designing Lives International, she is paying it forward by imparting her vast knowledge and experience in the interior design field to recent design graduates as well as emerging interior design talents through a licensing opportunity as a DLI Design Director.