Panel: Designers from across the country share business-boosting tips

This Spring High Point Market, I had the privilege of hosting the “From the East Coast to West Coast” panel of designers from across the United States Presented by DesignOn High Point Market in partnership with JuniperMarket, it gave interior designers an opportunity to learn creative ways to refine and grow their businesses, tips for making the most of their time at furniture markets and more.

One good tip: Keep moving during furniture markets. Don’t waste time asking questions that you can get answers to later.

The panel included accomplished interior designers Keia McSwain (Mississippi, Colorado), Christopher Todd (Nevada, New York) and Katie Wozniak (Illinois). It wrapped up with book signing of “Green Interior Design: The Guide to Sustainable High Style,” co-authored by Lori Dennis (California) and me. 

Our conversation covered topics ranging from how to branch out into other facets of design (like product or event design) to the role social media plays in promoting a design business. Here are some highlights:

Sit and move on

Over the course of the past few years, McSwain’s style has evolved from eclectic to more refined, she says. Stylistically, this mirrors the way she’s learned to navigate High Point Market: It’s less partying and more focus. She prioritizes spending time in the showrooms where she has brand collaborations (like Ngala Trading Co., where she launched her NeKeia lighting collection in 2021) and advises not to waste time asking questions you can easily find answers to online. 

Wozniak shared a similar sentiment, advising designers to be wary of furniture reps who can monopolize your time. After you’ve given a new product the “sit test,” move along, she says. You rep can answer specific questions via email later on.

Diversify, diversify

Todd is as well-known for his event tabletop designs as he is for his interior design services. He also owns a brick-and-mortar retail space, just outside Las Vegas in Henderson, Nevada. Those aspects of his business took a hit during the pandemic. Fortunately, his client base followed him online and he was quick to rebound. But going fully digital has its downsides, too, he says.

All three designers expressed similar grievances about not being able to design in-person during the pandemic. It’s been a frustrating two years.

Function and flexibility

More than wanting style changes, Wozniak notes her clients want more functional changes to their homes. Her clients are paying more attention to comfort and to entertaining at home. While the open-concept floor plan is still popular, having more flexible spaces and “design moments” within an open floor plan are becoming more popular, she says.

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Todd echoed her point, sharing an anecdote about his own home in Nevada, which he is renovating. He’s transforming his dining room into a flex space: a large, functional pantry with doors on both sides that can open to create an airy pass-through when he’s entertaining. 

Where to find clients (hint: not on social media)

For Wozniak, social media is a casual way to keep tabs on past and current clients, rather than a way to attract new ones. Most of her clients find her through local print publications, as opposed to the national ones. McSwain says most of her clients come to her through the Black Interior Designers Network (she’s president of the group) or through word-of-mouth, one the oldest referral methods there is. Todd turns to networking with real estate agents when he wants to attract new clients.

A full video of the panel’s conversation is available courtesy of Robb Media Partners. Watch and you can also learn what each designers says is their superpower!

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