Amber Lewis: Growing Pains + Industry Stardom

Episode 14 July 17, 2023 00:59:00
Amber Lewis: Growing Pains + Industry Stardom
The Interior Collective
Amber Lewis: Growing Pains + Industry Stardom

Jul 17 2023 | 00:59:00


Show Notes

Amber Lewis: Growing Pains & Industry Stardom


Episode Details

Noteworthy success is always the goal for an interior design business. But when a studio expands into a full blown lifestyle brand, the lines can blur when it comes to corporate structure. With an ever-changing industry and internal roles evolving to fill gaps that come with growing pains, managing who does what in each department can prove complicated. Today, I’m welcoming Amber Lewis of Amber Interiors to walk us through her studio’s structure after spending a decade as a top designer. We’re chatting all about repeat book deals, product licensing, and what comes next for an interior designer of her caliber.


In this episode, Amber and I discuss:


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You can follow along with Amber on Instagram, discover more of her work on her website, and shop her curated home decor at Ayr Barns.



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Episode Transcript

Speaker 1 00:00:08 As an interior design studio expands into a full-blown lifestyle brand. Those lines can blur when it comes to corporate structure. Managing who doess what in each department can prove complicated, especially with a growing client roster after a decade at the top, Amber Lewis walks us through her studio structure, repeat book deals, product licensing, and what comes next. Hello Amber and welcome to show. Speaker 2 00:00:38 Thank you so much for having me on. I'm so happy I was able to finally make this happen. I'm so excited to be Speaker 1 00:00:45 Here. I know everyone listening is so excited we were able to make this happen. <laugh>. I love it. Thank you. It's highly anticipated show and I appreciate you closing out season two of the Interior Collective, so well Speaker 2 00:00:57 Congrats on that for you too. That is such an achievement. I really love that you've been able to keep through it. I feel like a lot of people started podcasts and then they were kinda like, so podcasts <laugh>. Speaker 1 00:01:06 I feel like I let everybody do their trial and error and then I waited and five years later I decided a podcast was a good idea. So just bringing it around at the end. But it's been a really fun project. It's honestly my favorite part of my job, so I, it's, it's nice to bring a little bit of design camp to everybody who can't make it. Yeah. And kind of dig in a little deeper. So I love that. To those of you who were at Design Camp with Amber, I guess that was a year and a half ago already. Yeah. Wow. You'll hear some questions. I'm excited to see if her answers have changed at all because a year and a half in business, I know, especially in Amber's life is a long time and so a lot has shifted. So let's go ahead and dig right in. For those listening, give us a little background information about the structure of your business in the studio and the shop, because are they two separate entities entirely or do they fall under the same umbrella? Speaker 2 00:02:08 So I have probably not a completely unique situation, but I'll just kind of give you the, the broad overview of how it works for me. So I, we have the retail stores. So we have e-commerce, we have four physical locations slated to open probably two, hopefully three over the next two years. So we're very like actual physical location, retail heavy. And then we have our e-commerce site that is a separate business on a day-to-day for sure. I still run all the creative, I still do all the designs. I'm still on every single photo shoot, but I'm sort of less in the weeds with that business as I used to be just because it's such a beast on its own. I mean, I think there's over a hundred employees over there and you know, there's so many people over there. And then I have my design studio and that is, that is like my baby, right? Speaker 2 00:03:03 Those are my, my team has been with me for a really long time. The majority, like my two lead project designers have been with me five plus years and they kind of run the show over there. So we've really kind of gotten to a place where they are presenting me, I, I'm going to them with concepts, ideas, this is how I want this project to look. And they're sort of taking it from there and then we're sort of designing it together, but they're really managing that project from, you know, soup to nuts, which is incredible. I trust them implicitly to do that. And then the third and fourth portion of the business really is the licensing and then the author component. So the licensing has really taken such a front seat to so much because it's so time consuming. Not, not in the sense that like I'm sitting and designing so much, but the amount of like traveling and you know, just like things I have to do for all the shows and everything else for the licensing deals is, is a lot. And then obviously writing a book, which is a whole other beast. I just literally turned in my manuscript for my book to, we are announcing the book name and cover I think in the next like next week actually. I know. Speaker 1 00:04:24 So exciting. Well it's crazy by the time this airs, that should be out there. So I'll make sure to include the title and the book cover in the show notes for everybody who's curious. Speaker 2 00:04:33 Amazing. Speaker 1 00:04:34 Amber, totally feel free to ignore this question, but yeah, everyone listening you explain four real key pillars to the business. Yeah. Can you share which of those pillars is the most revenue generating for you? Speaker 2 00:04:47 So it's sort of like apples to oranges because I think really it's hard for me to say, you know, when you have such a massive operation as what shop has become, it's like, sure it has the most revenue, but is it the most profitable? Not necessarily, right? So it's, it's like that is kind of a big part of it that um, yes, that's the giant sort of beast That said, it's not necessarily always the, the most revenue generating the design business is profitable and great and then the licensing is also quite profitable. And I, I've had a great experience with it. I've had really good luck with the partners I've chosen to work with. So it's been a really easy awesome structure to have because it's been so easy to have this relationship with 'em. Yeah. But yeah, that, that's kind of, and then the books actually, ironically I always was told money in books and you know, it's, no one's retiring on it, but it's actually done really well. I mean it's literally been a, a bestseller since it's come out, which is crazy and made, sorry, my first one made for living. It hasn't really seemed to die down. So I'm really fortunate for that longevity. Speaker 1 00:06:08 Well it's just such a good book. I reference it. Thank you. Over and over and over again. It's just such a like tactile, actionable, usable design book and obviously incredibly beautiful to look at. So I thank Speaker 2 00:06:23 You so much. Speaker 1 00:06:23 Totally get why it's at the top of the charts all the time. Yeah, Speaker 2 00:06:26 Yeah. Speaker 1 00:06:27 So you mentioned E-commerce has over like a hundred employees now. How many employees do you have across the umbrella of Amber Lewis? Speaker 2 00:06:35 I think the whole, gosh, the whole umbrella of everybody, I don't know wants something I don't actually really don't know. Yeah. So I don't wanna say, but we're always hiring and we're always expanding, you know, with expansion comes great struggle and and issues and pain and you kind of get into a new world of people management that you have to hire HR and you have to have a whole other operation to just be people managers, which is not necessarily my strong suit or Mike, my partner's strong suit. We are just kind of like, okay, we're running these huge businesses, we don't really know what to do. So we're really in the hiring amazing people to take over that stuff. But we are, on my design side, it's very lean, um, office manager, obviously HR, accounting, and then my designers, there's only eight of us, so we're not big at all. We're lean and mean. Speaker 1 00:07:39 Every time you tell me that Amber, my jaw just drops to the floor. That's so incredible. Does that design team do the designs for your product licensing too? Or is there a different team that does that? Speaker 2 00:07:53 So you're looking at her for product licensing as it stands right now I don't have a designer for product. We are currently filling that position, which I'm extremely excited about because I'm not kidding when I say like it's me and essentially Kat who's actually the VP of my brand who's not a designer, <laugh>, her and I are kind of pulling it together, which is, so that's changing because there's only so much to go around and as my partnerships grow, I need actually more support in that area for sure, certainly. But no, we're really lean and meeting and part of the reason why I don't have a bigger design team just to speak to that, is I'm very particular because it is such a family and we're so involved and I'm so involved, but also, so I give everybody so much leeway that you really have to have some talent. And I think that I don't just hire people to be a warm body, I really want people to have career and feel really good about what they're doing every day and have ownership in projects. So experience is a big one. And you know, lo and behold, there's not a lot of completely experienced designers out there who are currently looking for jobs. So if you're listening and you need a job and you are the most talented person, call me <laugh>. Speaker 1 00:09:11 Yeah, Speaker 2 00:09:12 I definitely, Speaker 1 00:09:12 The team, I definitely can see that there's a bit of a void because so many designers are opening their own firms and to find a designer that really wants to be a designer under a creative director elsewhere, I can see that. That is tricky. So it sounds like if you have been wanting to work for Amber, this is your time <laugh> to apply. Amber, you had touched on a little bit before about how you structure your design team and their responsibilities. Yeah. I'd really, really love if we could go into a little bit of detail with that. Like most specifically, do you said that you have eight designers. Do they all have project managers under that? Do they have procurement teams? Like how does that break down? Because I just, the caliber of your work and honestly the quantity of your work is vast. Speaker 2 00:10:01 Yeah. So we, you know, to speak to BA basically what you just talked about, I currently have, what do we have? So it's, it's Bri, Anna, and Morgan and both of them are now like five. Morgan's been with me all I think seven years, sorry Mo if you're, if it's seven years and I forgot. But it's basically a long time. And so they have grown with me from coming in seriously as junior designers and assistant level to now running their own show and underneath them. So they're lead project designers. They basically, our client facing their construction management, they're doing almost all of it. They're also sourcing and selecting. And then underneath them they have a very CAD heavy, very like technical designer, whether or not it's junior or project designer. And then another project designer. We, we tend to like to have four on each team. Someone who's more of like procurement, invoicing, all of that stuff. Cad, heavy project designer and then a lead project Speaker 1 00:11:08 Designer. Those lead project designers, do they all have excellent CAD skills and technical skills or do you Yeah, let them do more concept and then those junior level designers with those technical skills fill in. Speaker 2 00:11:21 So they have to have it all right. So Bree and Morgan specifically can do all of the things incredibly well. They wear so many hats and they do it with ease. And then below them they just, now it's funny, when they first started they were sort of just working under me. It was just like us and we were doing stuff and now that they're running their own team, they have to be very careful about who they hire as well to support them. So I like the trickle down method. I like to make sure, make sure I oversee, edit, whatever, whatever. But I really give them so much autonomy in the company. You've said everybody's starting their own company and they're all wanting to be designers. There's perks and then there's really a lot of downfalls to that. You know, when you come to work for someone like me, you're, you're, you're working, you're not waiting, you have a career, you have a 401k, you have health insurance and you have a sure thing when you're a designer on your own. Sure. I fully, you know, in hope that you could at least try it and decide if it's for you, if that's your path. But there's a lot of curve balls there. It's the things that nobody talks about. The overhead, the people management, the client management. I mean, clients can go crazy and then you no longer, it's no longer your problem or it's someone else's problem, it's your problem. And that can be a very expensive problem to have sometimes. Speaker 1 00:12:45 Totally. It's the stuff that keeps you up at night when you are the business owner. Yeah. And the designer that working totally under creative director or another studio, you can remove so much of that stress that us as business owners are feeling 24 hours a day. Yeah, Speaker 2 00:13:00 A hundred percent. Because you're really just going to work and doing your job and you're doing more like of the fun part. To be honest, you don't have to do all the shitty parts like I do <laugh>, which is just, you know, again the people management is the biggest one. The biggest one. Speaker 1 00:13:16 So when you started to really grow Amber Interiors and needed to bring on help, who was your first hire and what did they do? Speaker 2 00:13:25 My first hire, I had a couple of like smaller hires that them out. It just wasn't a good fit. I just sort of like threw trial and error realized, oh I really need someone who's going to fill in where I lack. I do not know cad, I do not know a lot of those technical programs. I've taught myself Photoshop and InDesign and all that. But in the very beginning that was the only skill that I brought to the table. So I was really looking for someone who was gonna come in who not only had a great eye but was able to do the CAD work that I couldn't do. I tell the story that my Mike and I, we bought our first house, we kind of DIYed the entire thing cause we didn't have any money. And in that DIY process I started blogging about what I was doing. Speaker 2 00:14:12 It kind of got attention and then, you know, got published and I got my first client from that whatever. And the rest is history. But when I sold, we sold that house because I wanted to start the business and, and I've mentioned before, I've never taken a dime. So everything has been self-funded this entire thing. So we took that, whatever profit we had made from the sale of our house and I put enough aside to hire a full-time employee for one year and I, and then pay myself whatever that was, it was basically just paying for like bills and preschool at that time because that was it and rent because we couldn't buy another house and whatever. So I put in all my financials into just hiring a one employee and then she became kind of my right hand man and eventually she was with me for a coup, you know, five years, something like that. And she ended up starting her own, moving to another state and starting her own company and I'm really proud of her for that. But yeah, I, that was my first hire. And then from there I just hired another designer and another CAD person. And then an accountant a really good, like someone who was an office manager who could also help with like some of the bookkeeping stuff and answering all <inaudible> emails. And then I branched out to the social media stuff now too. Speaker 1 00:15:35 In hindsight, knowing what you know now and especially to those listening who, you know, they've been in business three to five years probably, especially after this wild season of Covid and just the boom in the business. Yeah. Looking back, was that the right role that you needed at first or would you recommend hiring that account at first or another role? Speaker 2 00:15:57 I learned a lot of lesson with the systems aspect of it. So when I first started and I, I try to give this piece of advice, imagine that you're gonna be as big as you think you are from the day you start. Because truly when you start rolling and when things start happening for you, it's hard to go back and recalibrate your systems to adjust to a bigger operation. When I first started, I was using just some really, like, I don't even know what it was, it wasn't even QuickBooks or anything, it was something super small and invoicing, um, app or whatever programs, software. And it was fine in the very beginning when you had a proposal that had, you know, 60 things on it and you were just billing for a flat fee, fine. But now when we have proposals that have 750 things on it, that system obviously we outgrew that and we tried a lot of, we kissed a lot of frogs before we got to a good system. Speaker 2 00:16:58 So I say start where you assume you're gonna be. So I needed that CAD person because when we were doing these projects, I needed to be able to translate technically what I wanted. It wasn't good enough for me to just hand draw something and say do this. I wanted it to technically be spelled out so I could go to the architect and the contractor and tell them exactly what I wanted instead of just kinda winging it so that I would never change. I thought that was a really important hire for me, but I would've hired a better, more equipped accountant and bookkeeping team kind of straight on or someone who had a little bit more experience in the systems. Speaker 1 00:17:40 Yeah, for sure. Speaker 2 00:17:41 But, but but money, I didn't have money so I had to figure it out so much on my own, Speaker 1 00:17:46 Take and choose for sure. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, that brings me to a perfect segue point. Thank you Amber. <laugh>. When Speaker 2 00:17:53 Uh, I'm a pro I Speaker 1 00:17:55 Guess. Yeah. You know, when starting out did you have big goals like having a shop and a book and licensing deals or did that organically happen? Because as you're saying, you know, y'all sold your house to invest in the business like that feels like you've always had those big goals and going from furnishing a project to bringing on someone with technical CAD skills, that's because you know you wanna do full architectural design too. So what did Amber's big ultimate grand supreme dreams look like back in the day? Speaker 2 00:18:33 I wish he was that black and white. So, so much of my behaviors as a business owner have been circumstantial. So when I say I sold my house and put so much into the business that was, there was a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes, which is why we had to sell the house. So I became overnight potentially the sole breadwinner in my family. So I all of a sudden was like, oh shoot, we're gonna be fucked if I don't, sorry, am I allowed to cuss? That's fine. Ok, whatever, we're gonna be fucked if I don't put this money into something. And I think that I'm currently kind of having clients or potential opportunities come my way, that's the only thing we have on our plate. We need to make some dramatic decisions right now. So did I have a giant plan in place? Speaker 2 00:19:18 No, but I was circumstantially like this what was on my plate. I had to kind of survive and figure out the next step. And I kind of bet on myself that even if I have x, Y, and Z client or one more client this year will survive another year. So it wasn't this big grandiose plan and when I brought on a CAD person, it was because I couldn't do it. And the only way that I was going to be able to like do a good job on that one opportunity I had to get another job was to do it right and get that reputation going. So what did you know? You asked do I have all these stores and all this stuff? No, not really. It it's sort of organic. It truly organically came out of circumstances and things that were brought to me and I realized, oh I got this and how about we do this risky thing like opening a store <laugh> or E-com or whatever, you Speaker 1 00:20:17 Know. So I'm interested, I feel like the best pivots in life always happen with a force of hand. And in that situation that's what happened to you when you brought that CAD person on, did you bring them on full-time right away or did it start contract or what was that? Speaker 2 00:20:34 I think it was hourly at first and then she was just, you know, then I think she went to salary and yeah, she actually went to a salaried position and yeah, I think like back end, I don't know, I actually don't remember this part so I'm kind of blacking out but I must have started like payroll or something. But Speaker 1 00:20:53 Yeah, so you are definitely a by your gut kind of girl and there isn't a lot of grand plans always laid out in front of you and it's about what feels right and how it feels right for your life, for your team, for your family. Has there at any point been a time that you've made a pivot from this is what feels good to I am going to sit down and put together a plan? Speaker 2 00:21:20 Yeah, right now, currently I'm in this situation. Right now I'm really trying to do things that feel, you know, not to bring it kind of back to, well I'm gonna bring it actually personal. So reality is, is I have to be really cautious about stress. I, I think I've talked about it, everybody, maybe everybody knows if you don't know, I was diagnosed with MS in March of 2020 when the world shut down. And ever since then I've had a real like change of perspective, a dose of reality that what can I do and what can't I do? So I'm a lot more, I have a lot more to lose now. I have a lot more people to take care of and support now. So I can't be as flippant. I have to do things a lot more strategic and a lot smarter than I was before. Speaker 2 00:22:11 I could operate on my gut still, but I have to do it with a lot more intention. So currently that's kind of where I am. I'm trying to make sure that I make the right move for longevity as opposed to, you know, being lucrative. I kind of feel like that's a really beautiful position to be in and I'm super grateful that I can make those decisions based on what makes me happy versus what's going to line the pockets. I don't wanna do anything that's gonna be stressful. I don't wanna partner with people that are gonna be hard to work with clients and license partners alike. So yes, now it's a lot more calculated. Mm-hmm <affirmative> it has to be. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, I don't have the, you know, if there was just me, myself and I, sure I could just go out whatever, screw it but I, I can't do that. Yeah. There's too many people to take care Speaker 1 00:23:03 Of <laugh> so we can totally edit this out Amber. But I am, I feel like on a very different scale, this is a really relatable crossroads for people. We've had a booming industry for the last few years in particular and a lot of people who were in the infancy of their business right before Covid or started during Covid, things are starting to feel a little bit of a shift as you know, there's this constant talk of recession that I feel like is going to force us into recession <laugh> whether we were or not. Right. You know, so that stop Speaker 2 00:23:35 Talking about it. Speaker 1 00:23:35 Exactly. Yeah. And so I'm curious as, as you are getting into a, a head space where you're making a plan and being more strategic, can I ask, are you talking to outside consultants on that? Is it literally just carving out time that you can be alone? You Amber thinking about the strategy or? I think a lot of people get caught up and it's like how do I make this pivot and who is it that I talk to to make the right pivot? Speaker 2 00:24:04 Yeah. I don't have a ton of outside advisors that said I have great people I trust so I now trust my attorney implicitly. I have a couple of them and that he's like my favorite cuz he is very gut check, no you're worth more than this. Don't do anything, blah blah blah. We have a chief financial officer who works with us. We have a controller who works with us for like the big picture stuff. We do these long range plans now financially we're able to look at it in a very clean picture of what to predict now and the variables of this, I'm not even gonna say the word of potentially a softening of the, you know, market if you will or some whatever we wanna say, you know we're, we have to roll with the punches. We've been here before though and I fully believe that you know, we have to keep going forward. Speaker 2 00:25:01 We can't just assume the world's gonna crash all the time because what would we do? We'd always be scared of the next opportunity. I am a full believer that you won't know until you try and I have to okay with both sides of the spectrum, the best case scenario and the worst case scenario. And typically when I go into these opportunities I ask myself, if it wasn't on the table, would I survive? And if the answer is not yes, then I can risk it. Right? Like I, I have to, did I say that right? The answer is not yes, whatever I like to know. If it wasn't there, will I survive? And if the answer is yes, then we're good. I don't need to take it. So it becomes less of a taking something for necessity and more of taking it for, because it's gonna create the best opportunity and the best outcome. That said there is some strategy now with with how and what we do take on because we do have so many people to take Speaker 1 00:26:04 Care of. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Okay, I wanna get into technical questions and I know that this is one that you have other people who do these things so we can skip over the ones you don't know the answers to. So software is a continuously challenging topic for our listeners. It feels like everyone has to use 10 different programs to run their business. What softwares are tried and true at Amber Interiors? Speaker 2 00:26:30 We have been operating with Studio Webware for years now. We the account, you know the forward facing side, it's easy, whatever, it's really not the most accounting intuitive when you get to a scale of our size. So we've brought on NetSuite we won't know about, you know we're like the design team hasn't been introduced to the NetSuite yet. That's gonna be like a very long integrative process. But in the backend that's being sorted, it makes sense for us just because we carry so much inventory. It's hard for me because I am purchasing so much from my own retail locations that that accounting gets super dicey. So we're switching to NetSuite but Studio Webware for any all intensive purposes have been really great. Speaker 1 00:27:21 And correct me if I'm wrong, studio Webware rebranded to Studio Designer. Is that the same company? Speaker 2 00:27:28 Mm, there we go. One of the things, I dunno. Okay perfect. So Speaker 1 00:27:31 Yes, I'll make sure to link the correct one in the show notes for you, but that's interesting. Speaker 2 00:27:36 I think it's studio Speaker 1 00:27:37 Designer. That is so interesting that you have made the jump over to NetSuite cuz on Bria Hamill's episode she was saying same thing because they have e-commerce, they have inventory that they've had to make that she had mentioned that it's a pretty expensive investment to make that jump. And so it's really when you have a large format e-commerce or even brick and mortar option to really look into. But that's great to hear that that is something that multiple designers who have multiple revenue streams like that have moved over towards. Speaker 2 00:28:09 Yeah, and I have separate, you know, just to kind of clarify too, the majority of all those businesses are separate companies. They're all under the umbrella of one corporation but they're separate, you know, companies. So they'll each like for the licensing, it doesn't need to be super NetSuite it out. I think we're just QuickBooks because I'm not really expecting a lot of stuff out of there. Right. Really just Speaker 1 00:28:31 Myself. Yeah, totally. Speaker 2 00:28:32 <laugh> not even. Speaker 1 00:28:33 Yeah. Um, for design presentations, like the presentation itself. Yeah. And like approvals. Do you have a software for that or is it just like old school, here's a print of copy, I need a signature. Do you get signatures? What does that look like? Speaker 2 00:28:46 We <laugh>, we do presentations on Photoshop and design right now. So we present them in a format. It's just a template that we use. We kind of go room to room, option to option, whatever that is. We're in a place in our career where we kind of like to limit our options. We hope that we have a, a big enough conversation with clients at the forefront that we're not missing the mark. We adjust obviously. But we'll typically do mood boards that sort of show for us and for them a generalized idea of what we chose, what the items are gonna look like, fabrics we chose, et cetera. Um, and then we send just studio proposals right now that have a little image of what they're agreeing Speaker 1 00:29:31 To Right. Are, Speaker 2 00:29:33 But yeah, it's not a lot of crazy stuff anymore. I'm kind of trying to Speaker 1 00:29:37 Simplify for sure. Speaker 1 00:29:42 One of the first impressions prospective clients have of your brand is your website. If you don't have a strong online presence to show off your work though you're losing out on potential clients. ICO Studio offers a selection of limited edition website templates designed specifically for interior designers just like you. If you're looking for a more hands-off experience, you can add on implementation and professional copywriting and we'll have your new website up and running within a few short weeks visit to choose your favorite before it sells out. Are you at every design presentation or is that where your lead designers go? Speaker 2 00:30:17 No, so that's the one thing I have yet to relinquish control of. There was one instance recently where I was not involved in an out-of-state project to do tile and plumbing and I that Brianna or Morgan can take over some of those that are not necess. Mm-hmm <affirmative> like I've picked it all but I'm not necessarily able to be on the actual call. And clients are actually pretty cool with it unless they specifically say we don't wanna work with anybody but Amber normally my answer is like, well that's not possible unless you want to just like take over all the other things that require my attention, you're not gonna be able to do that. So you have to trust that I'm making the right choice and pairing you with the right designer who's going to, Speaker 1 00:30:59 Right. You're like, trust me, you want this person doing this not me <laugh>. Speaker 2 00:31:05 Yes. Yes a hundred percent. And I, yeah, you don't want me answering the email about where your stuff is, I promise you. Or sending you the proposal of where things are my and, but yeah, I'm involved in all of the designs still a hundred percent and design presentations. Speaker 1 00:31:21 Yeah. You're still the one literally presenting to the client. Speaker 2 00:31:25 Yep. Yep. And I mean I'll be with my team so that they can make sure to back me up cuz of course if you have 20 some odd projects, I'm not always knowing the nuances of everybody's job <laugh>. Like if something literally changed that morning and I didn't know, like Morgan will be like, actually it's different now we're going with this is the new whatever and so I'll recalibrate but that might be my super power is the ability to remember what's going on in the houses to a bizarre degree. Like I remember weird things and can shoot from the hip with that stuff without really prepping anymore. I kinda what I want and we do it, but they're very much there to support me. Speaker 1 00:32:08 Thank you. Mentioned just now 20 some odd projects. Is that like a pretty standard number that the design studio is carrying at once? Speaker 2 00:32:17 No, right now actually I think we have less so I think right now the, you know, we're doing a lot of ground up builds, which take years. We're not doing a lot of decor, which I wish we were, to be honest. I kind of love doing the decor cuz it's so straightforward. Give me an amazing shell. I don't need it to be my design shell. But no, no we're designing I think 80% of our stuff right now is completely ground up builds. But yeah I think we have like 16 or 17 at the moment with like maybe two or three and Speaker 1 00:32:49 That's like a comfy zone for that size team. Speaker 2 00:32:54 I mean for me fine my, I'm sure the team will wanna punch me when I tell them like anytime I'm like we're doing this new thing <laugh>. Ok, how, I dunno, we'll figure it out. Speaker 1 00:33:06 Come on. So I'm asking you this because I know you've tried every trick in the book. I wanna talk pricing. Yeah. Previously I have been 100% pro hourly pricing only, but as I've been in business a bit longer and I've understood the nuances of different markets et cetera, the concept of flat rate is becoming more and more enticing to me because I feel like there gets to be a point where you cannot charge more hourly but you're better at your job and you're doing it faster and in turn you're punishing yourself and making less money. Do you have any thoughts onto hourly versus flat rate and how you sort of justify that difference? Speaker 2 00:33:49 Wow, I actually have never heard it put that way or spun that way. So that's really interesting the way you just put it cuz you're, you're kind of right. I currently am. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, I've done all of it. I've done flat fee, I've done all the things we are at the moment. Mm-hmm <affirmative> hourly with a markup. So that is the general revenue stream for Speaker 1 00:34:11 And when you say with a markup, you mean you're hourly and you markup product? Okay. Speaker 2 00:34:17 Yes, yes. I markup product, I charge an hourly project. Lead charges an hourly project designer charges an hourly, junior charges an hourly. So they just basically mark all of the time that they're spent or that that they're spending on the project. You know, utilization is pretty mm-hmm <affirmative> pretty high. I would say when we kind of break that down, you know, most of the designers are anywhere between 80 to a hundred percent utilization of those hours per project. So we're really working hard and you know, my team, I've never met anyone who works harder, they just are nonstop and you know anyway. But yes, so we're hourly. Speaker 1 00:34:57 So when you are sitting with the team and there's four of y'all all together that our meeting, each one of those people is logging that hour and so it'll be whatever, $780 by the time everybody's added up or whatever. Speaker 2 00:35:14 Yeah. Yes. And I try not to do that too much. So the majority of the time when we do these check-in, I'm not, it doesn't really need to be the entire team. They'll be the check-in with me and the project lead and maybe a project designer and then they'll kind of have their own check-ins. But mine are really typically just an hour here and an hour there. I try to go on site when and how I can, if unless it's an out-of-state, obviously that's a lot harder to do or if we're like in the foundation stage of a project, I'm not going to check those out. But yeah, that's, that's the way that it is. We just charge for the hour and I think my theory and my justification of that has been just because on the flat fee side I was starting to realize that our time was being a little bit more abused as opposed to respected. Speaker 2 00:36:01 So we would get asked to do things felt like a fool's errand just to see and it wasn't, I wasn't able to charge for that time. So if I had allotted 500 hours for a project and it ended up taking 700 hours and 200 of those were just ridiculousness, then I, I was starting to be like okay, well what the heck, nobody wants to spend that money when they have to pay for it or spend that time when they have to pay for it. And I personally on the opposite was like I liked that it streamlined the communication as well. It really got to the crux of it, answer it. Because if you ask us to go back one too many, three times, four times, however many times it is, you know, and I'm not ruthless we're, we're very understanding sometimes if it's, especially if it's our issue, if it's something that we fucked up on, like I'm not charging the clients for sure and that becomes my issue. But if we're being asked to do, you know, things that are just taking up time for the sake of it, at least we're being Speaker 1 00:37:06 Compensated. Yeah. So as a business owner and as a boss, <laugh>, and this is probably more of a personal question, but I'm like yeah, how do you get your team to accurately log their time? I struggle with this so much because as a creative you can't force that creativity in this box of time and sometimes it comes to you when you're doing this thing instead of this thing. And how was that time actually accurately logged? Do you have any tips for that? Speaker 2 00:37:36 So the designers definitely a lot the time to be creative and they account for that in their hourlys. So if they have a day of sourcing, that's their creative time. Me on the other hand, I am working 24 hours a day. So when you look at the utilization of me on a project, my hours are fraction of the girls because mine is truly spent, I'm thinking about nine different projects and one failed swoop. So it's hard for me to say that I'm never not working. So I only charge for the hours that I'm allotting to actually do the sourcing for the project. So I'm kind of creating for free, I know that that's whatever, but I sort of am creating for free. But when I'm actually like sitting down and sourcing the items to put in the project or the way that it's gonna look or whatever that got it. Time is Speaker 1 00:38:29 Billable. Okay. So you mentioned that you've never taken money from anybody for your business business, can you? Speaker 2 00:38:37 Well that's not true. I took $5,000 for my grandma and paid her back with interest in six months. That was 10 years ago. Speaker 1 00:38:43 Thank you grandma. We are all very grateful to you Speaker 2 00:38:46 <laugh> since then. Speaker 1 00:38:47 So since then <laugh>. Yeah. Do you feel like there were any key points or key decisions that you made that really helped you grow the business and other business revenues without taking on investors? Because I know investors are knocking on your door every day probably. And so what we're like, what are those pivots where you're like, I'm not going to take this money and I'm going to make it work this way. Speaker 2 00:39:12 Okay, so the irony of that sentence is that actually it's not the truth. We are not being solicited for investment often, which seems crazy. And I think maybe I've done myself a disservice by being so vocally like I don't want any money, I wanna own everything autonomously. That's it. As we grow that door is definitely getting cracked and open and more and more, you know, we have to because we cannot at the rate and size that we wanna scale without some outside funding. Mm-hmm <affirmative> pretty soon here. So also careers. Got it. Also investors, if you're listen, Speaker 1 00:39:50 I mean girl solid, I've got like a hundred bucks on it. Like I will go in right here, I Speaker 2 00:39:58 Also have a hundred bucks on it. That's about all I have left after all of this. But no I, your original question, what was it? Sorry, I just Speaker 1 00:40:07 No, it's great. Totally great sidetrack. I love your sidetracks. So like were there points where that, that were key to be like this is how we scale the next step and we have only funds based on our cash in cash out. Speaker 2 00:40:22 Yeah, so that's been more that has happened on the shop side. That's more happened on the retail side of things. So we've just kind of dumped so much money into my beliefs, which is that I don't think retail should ever die. I feel really sad that we're such a culture of online activity. I am still so inspired by the actual walking into a store and touching and feeling and seeing things that I believe very much in that methodology. I don't want that to die. So it's a, luckily the retail stores are profitable and they do well every time I've had a gut to open a new one, those have been the biggest pivots that have all ended up actually working to our favor. When we opened up the Pacific Palisades location, that was all self-funded obviously, but we had an amazing relationship. Found very serendipitously found this lo the guy who owns is the sweetest man ever. Speaker 2 00:41:28 Um, and it was just perfect like okay that was the sign. And then I had a great experience doing that. So then Newport came next and that was kind of the same thing, very serendipitous. We got this amazing opportunity. Holy crap, I can't believe they're asking us to open a store here. Like we still think we're small fries. That's maybe part of our, the humbleness of it all is that no matter what anybody says, we still operate kind of like a mom and pop boutique even though we're not anymore, but our operations are as such. There is a a very much like I need to also be involved in all of those crazy decisions when we're opening up a new store or does it make sense to us and where do I wanna be next? I mean those aren't ma being made for us. We don't have someone who's like mapping that out. Speaker 2 00:42:16 It's literally me and Mike and saying, okay, are we gonna do another store here or should we do another store here? So those big changes have been pretty pivotal, at least for the retail side of it. In terms of the design side, I've always gone with gut with who to work with and what clients are going to be the most, you know, honestly this sounds awful, but kind of hands off to a degree. There has to be trust and if you hire clients that are gonna dictate every single thing that happens and not necessarily allow you to do your job, it's gonna look like their project not yours. And if they're, if they're so confident that they can do the design, I encourage them <inaudible> because it is very labor intensive. There is so much project management, so much behind the scenes that people don't see. Speaker 2 00:43:11 So I'm pretty outwardly open about, I want all of your input of what you want it to look like, but not micromanaged. And I, and I say that to save you money and I save that to save your stress and I save that to save your sanity and so that you're happy with the end result because you're coming to me because you liked what you saw. And let me tell you how that project went down. They just, what do you think? Let's make this happen. It's a tug and pull, you know, we're, we're having discussions. It's not like it's my way or the highway, but I also have value in what we're bringing to the table and I make sure that the clients understand the value of that expertise or however many projects we have under our belt now they're not, you know, gonna get a shitty Speaker 1 00:44:00 Adult. On a previous episode, I was speaking with Renee Bush and she had the greatest quote. She said, when you're thinking of your ideal projects and your target clients, you don't want someone similar, you want someone who compliments. And her example was you, you probably don't want a detail-oriented client because you are detail-oriented and you do not want them also doing that. Yes. And I thought that was such a great mind shift to think that you're looking for someone who compliments your strengths because they will trust you in your strengths and they, they will contribute where you need them to. And I really, really like that. Speaker 2 00:44:35 Yeah. I also wanna make sure that I don't hire a client that's just gonna say, do exactly what you just did because how do you push the envelope every time if they're just wanting you to repeat, rinse and repeat. So you know, it becomes a little bit of a vetting thing. I used to just say yes to everything and now I'm really trying to choose, it's a partnership, it's a marriage. You're, you're in this with this person for years sometimes or these people, the contractor, the architect, the landscaper, the lighting, whoever who and the clients and all the shit that comes with the clients and the money and the stuff that is hard to, you know, especially if they've never done it before and all of a sudden they're like, wait a minute, how much is this stuff gonna cost? Well it's not cheap. You know, you're building a house <laugh> Speaker 1 00:45:25 Do 23, a percentage of clients that this is their first time doing a ground up build or are your clients coming to you that have done this before? Speaker 2 00:45:35 You know it. It's a little bit of both. I think we have a couple clients that you know have never done it before and this is their first rodeo and it's a lot of holy crap, how did Speaker 1 00:45:45 It sticker shock over and over again. Speaker 2 00:45:47 It's so, and by the way not expensive from us, it's just the contr, like the construction of everything is crazy or the lines and all the other stuff. Especially if we're building in California. It's a joke. But yeah, I mean we have a lot of client, like I would say 20% of the clients have never done it before. But we have a lot of clients that are like their third, fourth home. Some of it like their third, fourth project with us. So it's, it's a great relationship. Speaker 1 00:46:16 So you were talking Bri mortar, I'm super obsessed with this. I have been begging you for years now to open one in Austin. I'm still crossing my fingers that that'll come down the pipeline. <laugh>, can you talk to us okay about what you look for in the physical space of a retail store. You mentioned having like really Yeah great partnerships with the landlords and the people who own the building, but like in the physical space, what is important to you? Speaker 2 00:46:44 Good lighting, great location, good demographics. I think it's, if I'm just really simple and blunt about it and vibes like I want to go to a place that I'm gonna enjoy visiting or where other stores around us are equally as inspiring. I really like to be around stores that I know are gonna kind of get the same clientele that come into shop and it could be down to clothing. I mean I we're sort of like, we make the joke Emily Current from the great Emily and Merit. They, you know, we were always like, where are you going? That's where we're going <laugh> because so much of our client it like also wears the great or you know, whatever. So I like to partner in that respect too. I like to be in places that I know are going to have our, our uh, the lovers of shop or open up to new avenues of people who didn't know that we exist and you know, they want cute stuff Speaker 1 00:47:42 At their house. So let's talk books cause we're running out of time <laugh> and I wanna get over the last few questions. Okay. So Made For Living was just such a breath of fresh air and it was so much more actionable and tangible than most other design coffee table books. What was your priority when differentiating it and how is the new to be named book going to differ from Made for Living? Speaker 2 00:48:08 So Made For Living really was just a, almost like an extension of my blog, my blogging ears. I wanted to put it all down in writing because I was asked the same question all the time. What's this formula? This formula? How do you do this? How do you do that? Or what do you use? Whatever. And I wanted to put that down on paper. That was really, again, very much winging it. We knew with a concept we knew what we wanted to do, but me and Kat, who is sort of like my right hand wrote that entire thing. We did not have a ghost writer. Of course I have a editor because I can't spell, she can spell better than I can. But punctuation and all that stuff and like book layout, it was just a very much like a hard crash lesson. We didn't know what we were doing. Speaker 2 00:48:55 Um, so when I was writing it, it was just giving information to imagery pretty much. So the new book is called Call It Home, that is the official title and that is more, it is, it's a takeaway, not like Made for Living. There's less, well it's not true, there's a lot of tangible information. It's really more about the details. So we're talking about countertops and flooring and what to do and what to look for. It's different than Made For Living and not may or may not be so much of a Bible, but there's definitely takeaways. It's a lot more driven about focus on the process and the details that kind of go into it. So the collaboration with architects and contractors and how to do it yourself. I actually also include, which is crazy, but I've been asked so many times my, my house that's kind of all over the map, right? That I actually give a floor plan of and I give like a detailed why, what, when, what that remodel looked like, process about it. So there are some tangible stuff in that I think for people who've been like, <laugh>, can you just tell me your floor plans? Now you can buy the book. Speaker 1 00:50:11 That is exciting. Thank you so much for sharing that. Okay. Book deals are like, yeah, you know, that's like the ultimate for so many designers who just love having that tangible Sure. Experience of the physical spaces they have designed. What are two things you wish you knew about writing a book before you started Speaker 2 00:50:29 The value in hiring a ghost writer? Actually, so I wrote Call it Home Too also with Kat. We wrote both of them. If and when I do a third book, I will never do it again. It the it is so I wanted my voice to come through, which was the whole purpose of why I thought I could write the whole thing. But it's very labor intensive and I think sometimes you lose speed a little bit after or not momentum kind of cuz you're so bogged down with all your other work to go back and make sure that you're, you know, doing the same thing you just did with Made For Living. But better it it, you know, I'm not gonna lie, it's definitely tough. So I wish knowing in fact you're not gonna get a prize for not or for writing it yourself <laugh>. Like if you can afford to hire somebody to help you, if that's given to you as an opportunity. Speaker 2 00:51:18 I would say that's the reason why that's their full-time job. And then, I don't know, the other thing too is to just focus on the fact that if you, photography is a huge one. I think who you hire to present your designs to the world really, truly can make or break in my opinion. You know, made For Living looked a very specific way. It was written befo, you know, almost a year and a half before it ever came out. So that's also a very bizarre thing to think about. It's the same as all these projects that were designed six years ago that you guys are seeing today. Um, it's the same theory. Like that book was done. You have to actually have a manuscript completed, photos done everything a year before it comes out. So I have a manuscript done of all these projects that are like years past and it won't come out. We won't even see it Speaker 1 00:52:15 Until our, well that is a constant challenge. By the time you're photographing a project that's not going in a book. Yeah, you've already moved on aesthetically and like you're like over that project. So that does bring me to our final topic before I let you escape from my grasp. Yeah. <laugh> <laugh> Speaker 2 00:52:33 Clutches. Ah, you're fun. I actually like talking about good stuff. It's Speaker 1 00:52:37 Amazing. So the concept of signature style, I think you have just really become, yeah, the epitome of and from you know, a 30,000 foot level looking down, I definitely see you having a signature style. Now that signature style has matured and evolved over the years, but one thing you've been able to hold onto is that when I see an amber space, I know it's an amber space. So to those listening, how important was and is having a signature style to really getting to that next level in your design career. Speaker 2 00:53:16 It's very important cuz I think if you flop to trends or you flop to what you think is going to get you clients now, there's no longevity in that. So I think I take that as a huge compliment that you understand and see the through line. My principles have always been the same. Do I love it? Does it give color? Is it layered? Is it textural? Does it feel lived in? Does it feel comfortable? Those are my principles. I don't wave around those. I never want anyone to walk into a space and feel like it's stagnant or whatever. Even my most modern projects that I've done still feel like me. If the architecture shell is extremely contemporary, it's still my project on the inside and I wanna make sure that I adapt to that. So a signature style in my opinion is extremely important. You have to be able to adapt, you have to be able to accept the evolution. Speaker 2 00:54:08 I mean, I am also 41 years old, so of course I'm not designing the same way that I was at 30. So much has changed. I've got a life and a child and a 13 year old actually. And you know, businesses have developed and I know now what I want my spaces to look like as a woman in her forties. So I kind of designed that way as someone who's, who has a family and kids and pets and whatever. So I designed that way now a little bit more specifically. But yes, there has to be a through line. It has to look like your project. It cannot be an echo of somebody else's or a repeat of somebody else's. It has to be yours. You can be inspired by people. I mean, we all are, I'm so inspired by so many designers that I'll take, you know, like, oh, I love the way that they did that and try to redevelop it to how it would, Speaker 1 00:54:59 Yeah, your good friend Jay had mentioned on the show to look at one specific element from a space room, another designer, and focus on that one single element and not necessarily the whole room and how does that get replicated in another project, but just look at that one SCO or just at that single wall treatment. And I really loved how he put that. How, how do you help guide your clients to buy into that signature style? I know at this point in your career, people are coming to Amber for an amber space, but when someone's, you know, more in the infancy and trying to define that signature style, how do you either say no to the projects that aren't gonna fit that aesthetic? Or how do you weave it in to get the clients to buy into it? Speaker 2 00:55:45 Well, I think, you know, the clients that we ultimately get to the next step with or the ones that A, are very, they want to be involved in the process to a degree. Sort of like what I said earlier on. They want to be hands-on to make sure that it's their space. But I also encourage them to get a vision of how they wanna feel in the space, less how they want it to look. So I personally come from that space. I would like to know how I'm gonna feel in the final project versus how it's going to look. I think sometimes things look really pretty, but functionally they suck. And that is not how I design, I design for reality. I don't, yes, it looks good on a photograph, sure, but it also has to look good five years from now, 10 years from now and look timeless and not look like it was done in, you know, 21, 22, 23. Speaker 2 00:56:36 I want it to look like it. Who C who knows when was it actually designed? Which kind of pulls you back to signature style and making sure that you're doing things that you truly love, that you love from day one that you're gonna love in 10 years. And we can't always predict it. I mean, I still love the color pink. Can I use it all the time? No. When I can do I, hell yeah. I have to get clients on board with that. Like trust me, it's a neutral, pink is a neutral, you know? And I have to like almost mood it up a little bit now. Like, well it's not pink, it's terracotta or it's like, you know, salmon or whatever. Um, but no, I've always it, you have to get them on board with timelessness. I think that's maybe more the key word. Timeless and comfortable is how I approach a project and feel so Speaker 1 00:57:24 Much bring that down with every show. I like to end it with a little sneak peek of news to come. You already gave us news about the next book, which will have been announced by the time this airs. Can you share with us any other secrets you have in store for 2023? Speaker 2 00:57:43 Oh my God. How long you got? I have a lot going on right now. I've got a lot going on. I think, you know, we're working on some bigger hospitality projects, Speaker 1 00:57:53 So Cool. Speaker 2 00:57:54 Which are really fun. Fun and stressful. I'm working on a lot of really beautiful out of state like mountain houses and these really beautiful beach ho like we're just doing so much fun stuff on that project side. We are opening another store for sure. It will be spring 2024 and it will be North California, not as far as north. Okay. That's all I'm gonna say. <laugh> and near a beach. How about that? And then also just working on more, you know, deals really like bigger licensing projects and trying to figure out my next move with, you know, the next category I'm gonna get into, whether or not it's furniture or textiles or, or whatever. Well Speaker 1 00:58:41 That is so exciting. We are all here to receive all of it. And as always, I'm so grateful for your time, Amber. You're so generous with it and I just love catching up with you. Speaker 2 00:58:51 Thank you for doing this. Speaker 1 00:58:53 I will talk to you soon. Speaker 2 00:58:54 It's so good to see you. And thank you for having me. It's always a pleasure.

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