Courtesy of Black Enterprise
Over 20 years ago, Barbara Elliot was making her living as a CPA, but her passion was somewhere completely different. She knew that her flair for design, combined with her understanding of numbers and business, would lead to owning a business she could enjoy and be proud of. Like many people contemplating this transition, Barbara
considered starting a design business from scratch. However, her sister Jennifer Ward Woods, was already working for a Decorating Den Interiors franchise owner, which gave her great insight into what a franchise would offer to get a new business off the ground. Barbara did her research, and determined that Decorating Den Interiors was the only franchise at the time, which provided all the elements she was looking for to service clients. As a result, Barbara decided to purchase a Decorating Den Interiors franchise, and she asked her sister to move to Atlanta and be her partner. Together, the sisters embarked on building an incredible business that has garnered them numerous awards, including two Decorating Den Interiors Decorator of the Year awards, People’s Choice Awards, and the Crystal Award, which places them among the topthree in sales for the U.S. and Canada. As with most businesses in 2008, Barbara and Jennifer’s business took a hit. Their sales dropped down to about half of what they had been. But Barbara’s background in accounting allowed her to realize that, in order to survive the Recession, it was important to pay close attention to the bottom line. The sisters decided to go back to basics and employ costsaving tactics—operating lean and mean. They stopped carrying a high amount of debt by lowering receivables, limiting the number of supplies ordered, scrutinizing over whether a particular expense was necessary, hand delivering flyers, leveraging lower cost marketing channels—such as the internet—and increasing the focus on former customers for repeat business.
Like with most trying times, this test made the business stronger. After making it through the Recession, the sisters decided to keep the strategic costsaving tactics that they put in place, which helped the business recover and achieve sales beyond the levels they had prior to 2008. I asked Barbara what sets their Decorating Den Interiors apart from other interior design businesses, and she noted that their unique design talent, combined with hard work, focus, and a commitment to superior customer service, places them at the top of the game.
Barbara also sang the praises of the Decorating Den Interiors franchise. One of the reasons she chose this franchise is that it was not only supportive, but it welcomed input from owners, to continuously improve and evolve the business. The franchise allowed them to develop new opportunities to service customers—going from a mobile showcase, where they would bring all their samples to a customer’s home, to creating design lobbies so that customers could come and view products while on display.
This was a critical point that Barbara made because, oftentimes, people have the misconception that franchises are restrictive and do not allow owners enough freedom. As Barbara put it, the franchise supplies the “gears” to get the business up, running, and moving forward; it’s up to the owner to build on those gears, and make it their own.
logo-decorating-denBarbara had great advice for people who are considering purchasing a franchise. Find something you love doing and would enjoy even if you weren’t getting paid to do it. That will help get you through times when sales aren’t here you hope or need them to be. She also advises that you must be committed, as it’s hard work—far beyond 40 hours per week —but the rewards can be incredible.
The support that franchises provide can be invaluable. They take the guesswork out of, “Where do I start?” Additionally, franchisees know what you don’t know, and they provide operational support and networks that could otherwise take years to amass on your own. There are costs involved, so you must weigh those factors, but if you do buy, FOLLOW THE SYSTEM. You’re paying for it! Barbara and Jennifer are continuing to grow their business. They have also expanded into the area developer side of the franchise, where they help other budding entrepreneurs purchase a Decorating Den Interiors, and mentor them on building their businesses. Once again, they are taking advantage of additional revenue streams the franchise has to offer.
Nancy Williams earned a degree in sociology from UCLA with a specialization in urban studies and business. Her first business was a partnership in a small record label right out of college. After working with a few tech startups, she concluded her career in the corporate world with 14 years at Sprint, a majority of that tenure as a director of customer and sales operations. Nancy started NValuable Franchise Consulting, in order to provide free consultation, relevant insight, pertinent and candid feedback to her clients, so they are able to confidently purchase the right franchise. As a result, her clients achieve financial independence and a positive, enduring impact on their families and local communities.
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