Bria Hammel: Pivoting in Times of Uncertainty + Expanding Into Commerce

Episode 2 January 13, 2023 00:51:06
Bria Hammel: Pivoting in Times of Uncertainty + Expanding Into Commerce
The Interior Collective
Bria Hammel: Pivoting in Times of Uncertainty + Expanding Into Commerce

Jan 13 2023 | 00:51:06


Show Notes

Bria Hammel: Pivoting in Times of Uncertainty + Expanding Into Commerce

Episode Details. As an interior designer, how do you keep your doors open during times of uncertainty? The short answer: Diversify your revenue streams and always, always be willing to pivot. Walking us through this process is Bria Hammel, the creative director and CEO of Bria Hammel Interiors. After over a decade of business, Bria has become adept at finding ways to keep her studio thriving despite any hardships in the national economy. Full service design, complete furnishing projects, spec homes, designs for full neighborhood developments, design expert consultations, a digital store, a physical store, events, and product collaborations–Bria knows how to do it all and how to do it all really, really well.

In this episode, Bria Hammel and I discuss:

Mentioned in this episode:


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You can follow along with Bria on Instagram, book a call with her on The Expert, discover more of her work on her website, or shop Brooke & Lou.

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 1 00:00:06 As an interior designer, how do you keep your doors open during times of uncertainty? Well, the short answer is you diversify your revenue streams and always, always be willing to pivot. How exactly do you do that though? Walking us through this process today is Bria Hamel, the creative director and CEO of Bria Hamel Interiors. In addition to running her coveted design studio, Bria also runs Brooke and lie her life friendly HomeGoods brand, which produces and sources a collection of furnishings, wallpaper, decor, and one-of-a-kind items available for purchase online or in her Adina, Minnesota store, which all began with a six month pop-up shop signed during the pandemic with a team of 14 talented women relying on their sister brands for the livelihood. And over a decade of business, Bria has become adept at finding ways to keep her studio thriving despite any ships in the national or global economy. Full service design, complete furnishing projects, spec homes, designed for full neighborhood developments, eSign expert consultations, a digital store, a physical store, events and product collaborations. Bria knows how to do it all and how to do it all really, really well. Hello Bria and welcome to the Interior Collective. I am so honored to have you today and I know everyone listening is freaking out right now. Speaker 2 00:01:33 Oh my gosh, you're too sweet. I'm really, really excited to be here. You know, I listened to your podcast on my morning walks with my dog during the summer. It's now too cold to be doing it outside, but I just love listening to you and all your wonderful questions and all the people that you have on your show. So I'm very honored to be here. Speaker 1 00:01:50 Well, thank you so much. I am super grateful to have you talking about the topic we have here today because I have heard around the industry that things are kind of maybe slowing down a little bit or catching up and we're getting a breather and it feels like it's slowing down even if it's really just like normalcy. And so I'm so grateful for you talking to us about diversifying and e-commerce and kind of all of those different ways that you've really helped keep your business afloat for years and years. So let's go ahead and dig in a little bit to your background. At the beginning, you earned a degree in interior design and you quickly climbed the ladder at Ethan Allen and Thomasville Furniture, managing 16 designers by the time you were 25 years old. Yeah. What key business lessons did you learn during that experience? Speaker 2 00:02:38 Yeah, you know, so when I moved home from college, I didn't really know where I was gonna enter the design world. I had worked for a design firm when I was in college and a few years after in Kansas. But moving back to Minnesota, I didn't really know the community and I didn't really know where I wanted to be long-term. So I took a job as an interior designer at Ethan Allen and I didn't think that that's where I wanted to stay for very long. But at the time I thought that it was a great way to kind of just get to know the design community and get to know my way around town as far as showrooms and people and just making new connections. And I ended up staying there a lot longer than I thought I would. I was an interior designer there for about a year and was very successful as a designer there. Speaker 2 00:03:23 We were on a hundred percent commission and I learned a lot about the different part of interior design than what they teach you in school. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> a lot about sales, how to sell. You know, we were driven by the end of the month. I talked to my team about this. We have so many open proposals and man, when you're a commission salesperson you'll do anything to close those sales. So I learned quickly a different part that I wasn't able to learn in school and I really am so grateful for that now to this day. And then getting into the management part of it, I was asked if I would be interested in working more as a leader for the design team. I really got along with all of the peers that I had and I was really excited about the numbers and I was really excited about the challenge of closing business and having someone come in off the street that I'd never met before and teaching them about the company and why it was so wonderful and the new products and really it was kind of like selling and education all in one. Speaker 2 00:04:20 So I really enjoyed that aspect of it as much as I was enjoying the actual designing. So I think that corporate at Ethan Allen really saw the potential in me and they flew me out to their corporate headquarters multiple times and I did a lot of training and all of that training, you know, when you're in the thick of it, it seems monotonous and like you're going to the same place learning the same things. But I still to this day use all of that training that I, I learned about furniture construction, how to manage employees, how to se sell to somebody that doesn't really know about your brand. I mean there was so many different aspects of beyond interior design that I now bring to my business today that helps me be a better business person, me be a better boss, helps me teach my team how to grow and how to do that as well. So I can't thank that experience enough. Speaker 1 00:05:12 That's so fascinating because I always think there's so much you don't learn in design school and so much of it is the business side of things, but also like you said, the sales side of things. Cause at the end of the day, an interior designer is selling things. That's all you're doing. You're curating it and selling it. So I love to hear that you had a great corporate experience and that sales background is actually a really great avenue for interior designers if they're feeling like they can't make that jump. So at that time, did you always know you wanted to open your own design firm? And when did you decide to set out on your own what were the most important first steps you took to start your business? Speaker 2 00:05:50 Yeah, so I definitely did not have any aspiration to start my own company. But what I did learn quickly working at a retail design company like that is that I was not cut out for the hours. And there were some designers that had been there for 20, 30 years and I just like cannot speak highly enough of them of their work ethic and how much sacrifice that you have to have and give to work those kind of hours. So once I got married and knew I wanted to start a family, I just knew that my husband needed to see me more than once a month. I needed to see him, that was for sure. So I decided to go work for another designer in town who was just about to start her own business and that was really great because I learned how she did it. Speaker 2 00:06:36 You know, she was actually, I think she was almost turning 60 when she did it. So it was really cool that she had that energy and that vision still to drive towards the end of her career. And I got to learn a lot from her too. So again, everything that I've done in my career has been a major learning experience. And when I worked for her, I only worked for her for probably a year or two and then she was still trying to figure out what size she wanted to be and mm-hmm <affirmative>, I think that that was my opportunity. I was pregnant and I decided that I didn't wanna slow down and stop working, I just wanted to be able to be in control of my schedule. And so I talked with her about it and she was very supportive and that's when I decided to start my company was when I was nine months pregnant. Speaker 1 00:07:19 <laugh> naturally as we do <laugh>. So your team has grown to 14 women, is that still accurate number? Yeah, 14. A team of 14. And as someone myself who employs a team of amazing close-knit women, I know firsthand, I'm feeling it really hard right now Bria. Yeah. Ha. The real pressure to make sure that the business is thriving and you can continue to support and provide for these individuals and their families. How do you handle that stress so gracefully, especially in times when project inquiries may be slow down or store sales don't meet their projections or you're in the middle of projects and there's not really billable hours and furniture isn't coming in and you're just kind of sitting around waiting. Speaker 2 00:08:04 Yeah, it is an absolute issue that I think as business owners we face every single day this year more so than most years I would say is the team that I have has been with me for a while and they are amazing, incredible designers and support team who love our businesses and really love what they do. And so more than ever do I wanna take care of them. And it comes with challenges of, you know, as a leadership team, us looking to the future and not necessarily as much of living in the moment, but it's always funny when our team feels the most pressure, they're working their hardest. When we as a leadership team we're getting stressed that we might not have enough business to hold them steady for in the future. And so when we're feeling the stress and wanting more projects, they're like, we can't take anymore. Speaker 2 00:08:54 You know? So it's because they're on the tail end of what we've already captured and worked on in the beginning of the year. So you know, that's a constant back and forth of how much do we say to them versus like building their trust in us that we're gonna try and spread out the projects evenly and make sure that they have just enough support on the team. But I also don't wanna be overstaffed. I've done that before where you hire anticipating business and we've been as big as, I wanna say 22 people. And I think at some points it was too much. We didn't need as many people, it was just we weren't organized, we didn't have our processes in place. And now I always say we're a well oiled machine, we are a very process driven business. We use a system called e O s that has helped us organize our daily activities and how we structure our meetings and how we structure our team. Speaker 2 00:09:47 And that's really been great for us to help with future forecasting and watching when we think someone's gonna be overwhelmed on the team and how can we shift things around. We use an accountability chart for every role in our company and we list out under that role all the responsibilities so you can physically see on this chart, like, look at this person. They have way more tasks under their job description than anybody else. We need to shift some of that around and we're constantly shifting. And I'm telling you the key to that is hiring people that are agile and willing to be flexible. I always tell my team like we are not a corporate company, we are a small business. And what comes with that is being flexible. It's very rare that you get to sit in a seat and only wear one hat, you know? Speaker 2 00:10:30 So we're constantly staring hats or we say we have our behinds and more than, you know, half on one seat, half on the other <laugh>. You know, that's okay. That's part of the benefit and the beauty in my opinion, of working for a small business. So when we're hiring we have to find people that are comfortable with that. So it's strategy all the time. And I agree with you, I think that it's been an interesting year as far as design business. We're doing the best projects we've ever done, truly working with ideal clients right now. And we're probably about, I would say, 30% down as far as the amount of projects we have from previous years. But it doesn't mean that we're down profitability wise. So it's not a bad thing necessarily. We just have to be really careful about who we say yes to make sure that we're the perfect fit for them and their project is the perfect fit for us and that helps us balance it all with the smaller team. Speaker 1 00:11:22 So quick follow up question. You mentioned when you were at your largest, you had 22 people on your team and now you're down to 14, that's a 30% drop. I am curious if you're willing to share, did those people naturally get weeded out? Did people go on maternity leave and not come back personally? Once you get to a certain mark, it's like, okay, how do I actually now scale back because we have those systems and processes without, I don't know if without is the right word, there's never, not the emotional tie to these people, right? Who've dedicated their lives to you. But like how did you scale back to a really agile efficient team? Speaker 2 00:12:01 Yeah, I mean I would say all of the above. We have always had women working for us. It's not that I wouldn't hire a male, it's just in our industry I would say 99% of applicants have been female and a lot of them are torn with the motherhood slash work-life balance. And I don't love the work-life balance conversation because I think it's bogus <laugh>, it's just a matter of what you're gonna pick each day. But I think that a lot of women struggle with that. So we have lost a few that have either had baby thought they would come back and then they don't. Or maybe they've come back and you know, they have multiple children and the daycare situation costs are so expensive that while the kids are not in school, it's hard for them to balance that. We've had some bad hires, you know, where not on them on us, um, where we have hired people that we didn't communicate the position well enough or what they would be doing. You know, a title is a big thing in our industry and especially with this younger generation, they think more about the title than reading the job description. Yeah. And what they're gonna do. And we struggle with that of like, especially with our employees that are working for Brooke and Lu, there's a lot of glamorous titles out there that require not so glamorous work to go along with that. Interesting. And we've learned a lot about having to really like maybe even change the name of titles so that we don't make it sound so fluffy. <laugh>. Speaker 1 00:13:27 Yeah. So it doesn't mislead someone. Speaker 2 00:13:29 Right. Cause it doesn't matter. Once we get them into our office and they see our team and the beautiful work environment, it's hard to not wanna be there. And so they kind of are like, oh yeah, I can do that. I can for sure do that. You know? And it's like, well that's great, but do you wanna do it every day <laugh>? Yeah. You know, so when we've gone through that, every time that we lose the person from the team, we always analyze, do we rehire for the exact same position? Do we actually need someone else to do something different or was their plate full? Is this something that now that we have our team that's been here long enough and they're really, we don't, we're not training as much anymore. Is there somebody else on the team that could actually take this on now? Because maybe the person that left wasn't working on a full plate. Speaker 2 00:14:12 And that I'd say in the last two years has been a major aha moment for us of these employees that we hired on full-time that you know, I've taken on some of their work just to see what they were doing and how much work it is. And that I find that, you know, it's maybe a day and a half of work. Yeah. And so spread that out between four or five people, that's not that much extra and maybe there's a process or a system in place that we can do to automate it so it won't even be that much work. So we've gotten really creative because we've been very careful since Covid hit us straight in the face <laugh>, you know, of just being like, we need to think ahead and be a little bit more conservative than we used to be. Speaker 1 00:14:52 Speaking of Covid, you have been designing since 2004, which means you have weathered the financial crisis of 2008. Mm-hmm <affirmative> Covid 19 pandemic and now we're in talks of a potential 2023 recession crossing our fingers. That's not happening. But the conversations there, what words of encouragement do you have for interior designers who are worried about what's in store for 2023? Speaker 2 00:15:17 Yeah, I would say I think that I sleep the best at night when I'm not taking a lot of risks in these kind of times. So there's years where you can just feel that a little bit more risk is okay, this is where I hunker down and I save money and we make decisions that might seem scary to your team. Like you know, switching offices, maybe we are thinking about moving offices. For example, this past year, a bigger more beautiful office. My dream is to have our warehouse attached to our, to our studio. I'd love to have our store attached to our studio and we are in the works of plans of doing that. And then this year I was starting to not sleep at night and I thought to myself, you gotta follow your gut. Like why not put that money into a savings account and ride this wave a little bit? Speaker 2 00:16:03 And there's no huge hurry. And honestly, the commercial buildings, they were exploding. And now like our landlords were willing to do shorter term leases so that we didn't have to commit to a long-term lease. So it felt like it was too far away this dream that we have, but it just bought us a couple years to kind of ride this out and not make some big drastic decisions that in the long run could affect my team. Like I wanna give them an even more big and beautiful office, but at the same time it's more important to me that they still have their jobs and that I can give them the raises they want and deserve. And you know, so I think that you have to make hard decisions and be okay with that. It is a very tough industry because our work and our lives are so blasted all over social media that people are constantly watching and it can be hard to not feel like a failure when you may have talked about a project and then all of a sudden you're pulling back from that. Speaker 2 00:16:57 But when it comes down to it, who cares? You know? Like you gotta make what's best for you and your family and your team. And those are those things that the last couple years we've had to make those decisions on some things. And then there's some things that we've invested in, you know, and we've taken those leaps because we know in the, in the long run it's gonna be best for the company. And we're balancing that out with some of the maybe more fun glamorous things that we're pulling back on. So balance and being conservative and all of that, I think that really will help you at least sleep through these nights where things are a little bit unknown. <laugh>, Speaker 1 00:17:30 You just touched on something that I think was so powerful saying that, you know, with social media it can feel like you're failing when you talked about a launch or a project and then you kind of pulled back from it. Uh, but I think it's important to notate that the only person who would've noticed you, you pulled back from it was you. Nobody else on social media who's consuming that content is gonna be like, oh wait, 18 months ago Bria mentioned that they were maybe gonna have this <laugh>. Nobody's sitting there taking notes. And so I think we can all breathe a little bit easier realizing that we are our own worst critic. Absolutely. And as a business owner, I know you're letting yourself down in those moments, but at the end of the day, like you said, if you can keep your staff on the people that you want on the team, that is the most important thing. So letting something maybe get put onto the back burner and circle back around to it later is totally not only acceptable, it's really, really healthy. So that is great. <laugh>. So you touched on it a little bit already, thank you for sharing as much as you did. But I'd love to dig in a little deeper as to how you've been able to come out thriving no matter what kind of curve ball life has thrown at your business. Can you walk us through the times that you've had to pivot as a business owner? Speaker 2 00:18:45 Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yeah. I feel like I constantly pivot whether it's good times or hard times, it's a constant what's best for the company, what's best for my family. And one thing that when things were good, when we decided to launch Brook and Lie, that was a time that we were noticing a lot of growth on social media and not just social media but press and just like the visibility of our brand. And I saw a lot of potential customers kind of slipping through our fingers where, you know, maybe they weren't an ideal client for a full service design project, but they still wanted our aesthetic and wanted to have a piece of what we do. And instead of saying yes to all of them for design projects, which I knew would not fill my cup because trying to get clients to do work that maybe they can't afford or they're not ready for yet is very painful. Speaker 2 00:19:42 Yeah. For them it, and the worst is it ends up with normally makes them unhappy and not happy with us with what we didn do. And so I knew I didn't wanna just say yes to everything that way, but I decided that that was our opportunity to create this e-commerce retail brand and be able to capture those people and give them a piece of us without, you know, the extra expense of paying for a designer. And that was a, that was a good pivot. You know, that was a place where we saw an opportunity and we didn't wanna miss out and we were able to pivot quickly. I think we came up, we decided we were gonna do it in January and we launched it in August. So Wow. Eight months <laugh>. Speaker 1 00:20:24 Wow. That's amazing. 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. So I'm gonna skip forward a couple questions cause I really wanna dig into brick and blue. Yeah. One thing you have mentioned as I follow you so closely on Instagram is that you thought that there was a gap in the market for life friendly furniture and home goods. Yeah. As in that eight month period of this idea to launch, how did you know it was the right time to take that leap and open the second business, especially e-commerce? Because I mean, when you launched Brooke and Lou, there was definitely like, there was some big e-commerce designers starting to like ramp that up. And so like where did you find the space to carve out that unique concept of life friendly furniture and home goods? Speaker 2 00:21:38 I think that it kind of came to us through our clients. All of the clients that we were attracting for our design business had this desire for that product. And so we had already spent the last six years developing the product for our clients. How do we make that sofa more, more durable for the family? How do we pick a table that's not going to get beat up by running cars across the top of it? You know, <laugh>, just like all the different pieces that we'd taken into consideration for our clients, we had said like, how do we make this more accessible to more people? So it kind of was an organic creation that we came up with for Brook and Lu and that was 50% of what I wanted to do was make that more accessible to people. But then the other 50% was, I felt like, especially in Minnesota, our aesthetic was very unique and we wanted to be able to share more of that with the world. Speaker 2 00:22:29 And we were noticing that we were getting a lot of people out of the state. We were probably a third of our businesses, not in Minnesota. So we knew that we'd probably be able to capture a lot of people across the country with the e-commerce knowing that we had done that with our design business and we kind of knew that that was an opportunity to spread more of the style that we do, you know, across the country and not just be localized here in Minnesota. So it felt fast, but it was also something that clearly had been brewing for quite a while. Speaker 1 00:23:01 So Brick and Lu sells a combination of your own product line in addition to curated products from wholesale vendors, et cetera. What do you feel is the perfect product ratio between original items and curated? And for someone who isn't quite at the point of producing their own furniture or accessories, pillows, whatever collection, do you think it's possible to open a successful e-commerce shop with only curated offerings? Speaker 2 00:23:30 Yeah, so I mean right now I would say we're about 40% of our SKUs are exclusive to us and 60% are curated from other manufacturers. I say that our goal one day would be to be a hundred percent exclusive, but I actually don't know if that's realistic or what I wanna do. I personally love to go to markets and I love to go to those crazy showrooms, especially Atlanta, where you see all of these products and there's so much, what I would say is crap <laugh> and you have to go find that needle in the haystack. And I think that that's what's really exciting about our our business is that we can do that and we take the work out of it for our customers. So I do think that you can be successful in having a retail brand and having it be all curated if you want. Speaker 2 00:24:16 I would just say if you were gonna do that, you should really lean into your style. I don't think it works as well. And especially as more and more designers and more and more people open up e-commerce, I think that the way that you stand out is by having a viewpoint and sticking to that viewpoint. I've noticed after we launched Brook and Lu the second year, I got a little anxious about not being a good spot for everyone to shop. And you know, we started to go wide in our aesthetic and partly influenced by some of the employees that were working for us at the time, having their own personal aesthetic. And I can be swayed. Um, and as a designer I love all things and we do a lot of different styles and so sometimes it was like, well it'd be nice to have that because I know our clients would love that too. Speaker 2 00:25:02 But recently this past year have really scaled back again on honing in what our style is and defining that true Brooklyn LU look because that is where we find success. Like our Christmas collection, 80% of the pieces that are selling are the really refined different look that you cannot find at Target. You cannot find at our other competitors, design competitors, it's very specific look to ours and that's what people buy from us. So I would just say if you are gonna do it and you don't have the capability of doing anything exclusive to you, you just really need to define your style and make sure that your customer knows what that is. Speaker 1 00:25:41 So for those interested in launching their own e-commerce, cuz we get this question 10 times a day at Idco <laugh>, everybody wants to start an e-commerce store. Yeah. Can you talk to us about the process on how to get started? Because for me it feels so over the concept of shipping freaks me out. Like I'm just like the logistics of shipping seems mm-hmm <affirmative> impossible. So talk to us about how you got started. Give us the cliff notes version if you're willing to share, just so we have a direction to start our research. <laugh>. Speaker 2 00:26:15 Yeah, so I mean getting a business license is fairly simple. You just can do that online. So I did that the same exact process as starting an interior design business, but when it came to researching platforms, I reached out to a lot of peers who had it and asked them what they preferred. I read a lot of blogs, again, this was five years ago, so blogs were a bigger thing. But you can still find a lot of information. There's still people writing blogs and sharing information. Might be a YouTube video now. I don't know <laugh>, <laugh>. But there's a lot of information on the internet of good resources on you know, the pluses and minuses of each platform. We use Shopify and I've been very happy, I've never had a regret about using them as our platform. And then for our accounting software we started off with QuickBooks and that was not very conducive to what we do. Speaker 2 00:27:04 I think that if you just sold t-shirts and hats or clothing it might be easier. But for those of us like interior design where we have components to build a product like a sofa where you might have a fabric from one vendor and the frame from another vendor that complicates and QuickBooks just can't keep up with it. So we have just recently switched to NetSuite, which I would say is not something you should invest in right away off the bat because it's very expensive and I just don't like to put the cart before the horse. So I think that it's good to see profitability before you invest in those big long-term solutions. But we have just finally made that investment and it will go a long way with us. So the nice thing is we get to grow with that, but starting off, you know, maybe less is more. Don't overdo it on skews, pick the pieces that feel really special. From day one. We have always shipped most of our product, most of our furniture I would say is drop ship, everything else, we have a warehouse. I have a warehouse team who picks it and ships it for us. Speaker 1 00:28:04 And lighting and artwork too. Speaker 2 00:28:06 Um, artwork, yes, lighting is drop ship typically it depends on the fixture. So we're getting more and more into unique pieces of lighting that you can't find on other websites. And those pieces we do inventory. Mm-hmm <affirmative> artwork, we do inventory because a lot of the manufacturers won't ship to your customers. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. So if you wanna sell their work, you have to have it in warehouse. A big thing that I always was afraid of the logistics of shipping it ourselves, but honestly where it gets to be a nightmare is relying on someone else to ship your product. They just don't care about it as much as you do. They ship the wrong things or it gets damaged, they're not packaging it well enough. We have our most success from the items that we stock in the warehouse. Also. Like we're not selling products that we don't have anymore. Versus it's very hard to stay on top of a manufacturer's inventory One day they say they have it, the next day you place the order for and it's gone. So I sleep a lot better at night when I am selling mostly in stock inventory items. But of course things like furniture, I'm not gonna buy 20 sofas in 10 different fabrics and hope that people all wanna buy 'em. <laugh>. Speaker 1 00:29:14 Yeah, definitely. Like Speaker 2 00:29:16 Maybe we will, but that's not our bread and butter right now. So we only sell holster that is custom and high end and made to order. And so I feel good about our customers waiting for that and really truly getting a solid piece instead of a manufactured piece that wasn't made for them. Speaker 1 00:29:32 So obviously there's a lot of expense with starting an e-commerce or diversifying into retail in general. So beyond the cost of like your branding, your web design and and development, your employees to run it, you also need to purchase inventory your warehouse fulfillment and shipping it. So do you have an idea if someone's looking to start small? Mm-hmm <affirmative> a broad estimate of like what you should save up for to really launch this. And I know that that depends so much on like how many SKUs you wanna have, et cetera. But I'm curious if there were costs that like you just didn't even think about before you actually got started with it. Or if you have like a general, hey this was a good safety net and this got us through the first six months. Speaker 2 00:30:13 Yeah, well that is a very hard number to throw out because I think you're right when it depends on what the product is you wanna sell, how much you wanna sell of it, how quickly, you know, it's like are you gonna buy tennis something or are you gonna buy a hundred? Mm-hmm <affirmative>. So inventory is a slippery slope. So I would always suggest, you know, finding that niche of what you think you'll be known for. When people come to you, what are they coming to you for? Is it accessories, is it textiles? Is it more of those drop ship items, the bigger pieces? Do you have a store? I always think that it's harder to sell furniture if you don't have a place for customers to see it. So all of those aspects kind of go into it. So it'd be hard to throw a number at inventory, but I will say that the startup cost beyond inventory was almost six figures. Speaker 2 00:30:59 If you hired the right branding company. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and the right website design company and you're getting all the right products, we did trademarking on our life friendly tag and you know, that alone was close to $10,000. I mean all of that stuff adds up. So we hit six figures pretty quickly that first year. The good news is that the design business was successful enough that I've always leaned on my design business to support the other ones. So my family isn't having to do that. So the first year we were not profitable the second year we were. And then with Covid it goes back and forth of like how successful it is. We've learned a lot about what you invest in and what to spend money on, what not to. So like I said, that NetSuite situation and just like the software that you spend on these companies, holy cow, our line budget every year, I'm like, do we really spend that much money on software? It's Speaker 1 00:31:54 Crazy. Yeah. Like upwards of a hundred thousand dollars just on the software. Speaker 2 00:31:58 Yes. It's nuts. So you know, those are the things that like is there something else you can do or maybe use that good old Excel spreadsheet for a while <laugh>, you know, so that you can show profitability because what's the fun of doing these businesses if you can't be profitable? No. There's something to be said about giving yourself a couple years to get it up and going and that's what we did and we're feeling really good about the future of Brook and Lu and November has been our best month ever and coming off a year that was a little bit quieter than 2021 and 2020 but now November and we're exploding this month so I don't get it. I've done predicting, I'm just being conservative. So when it's a really strong month like this, there's a lot to celebrate. But you know, just making sure that you have enough cash surplus that you're not gonna strain the rest of your businesses in the rest of your life. You know, if it takes an extra year or two to save up so that you can do it and feel comfortable, in my opinion, that's the way to do it. Now I know there's people out there that put everything on the table and they cross their fingers and they make it and they have great success and that's awesome. I just, I don't know, that's not who I am. I'd rather feel very comfortable every night when I go home. So <laugh>, Speaker 1 00:33:10 Hey I'm so happy you're having an incredible month. That's so exciting. So congratulations on that. Thanks. And B, are you open to sharing, it sounds like you took money from the design studio to start Brook and Lu, but just to confirm, did you take on investors or was it totally self-funded from the design business? Yeah. Speaker 2 00:33:30 Um, I've never taken on investors for any of my businesses. I think the only thing that I've ever gotten from anybody was when I started my design business. My dad paid for my AutoCAD subscription <laugh> and that was my gift for starting a new business. That's the only thing I've ever gotten <laugh> Speaker 1 00:33:45 And thanks Mad Speaker 2 00:33:46 <laugh>. Yeah, thanks. Mad I still use <inaudible> <laugh> Speaker 2 00:33:50 So you know, I feel good about that too. I don't owe anyone anything besides maybe a line of credit to the bank but not a big one. And a lot of times we have that as security blankets, so it just feels really good to not be indebted to somebody and not be tied to making decisions with somebody else. I don't know, there's a lot of pressure that comes with that and I've been offered, people have offered to buy in to the company and I don't know, I just, it's never felt like the right situation. So I'm just doing it on my own with my, my workforce and my team that's so incredible and supportive. So we've been able to do it ourselves so far. Speaker 1 00:34:30 You go girl, we've never taken out any credit for the business either. It's always been cash and the idea of having to answer to someone else about how to spend our money, I don't love that. So <laugh>, it's always been a pass for me too. Okay, so let's get into product design a little bit and again diversifying that revenue stream. Can you talk to us about the differences, if any, between designing for retail versus designing custom pieces for client projects? Speaker 2 00:34:56 Yeah, I mean I think that you have to think about retail and the fact that there's a lot of competition out there. It's very easy to shop what you're selling. So when we're designing for our clients it's different because it's so custom and it's so much about, I mean we're looking at what's their height, how do they like to sit in a piece of furniture, what type of quality, you know, we'll have two clients at the same time who say they want the highest quality furniture and one is like, I will not buy anything but down furniture. And the other one will say, why would I spend my money on down furniture? It is not gonna look tailored and crisp and refined in six months. And so, you know, every client is so different and we're able to capture what they want and design to their needs versus retail. Speaker 2 00:35:42 You have to make it a little bit more universal and approachable for the masses. Now again, with a grain of salt because I truly believe that our pieces that we sell on Brook and Lie, the ones that sell the best are the ones that are really unique and special to our brand that they can't necessarily go and shop everywhere else but still there has to be something that seems achievable to them. You know, it's like you see that picture on Pinterest or on Instagram and it's so beautiful but they don't know it's how to do it and our pieces are meant to feel like they could fit in that picture but also make sense like they can understand it. You know, like sometimes as a designer we wanna do crazy things that our clients are like, what are you, what? Why would you do that? And we're like, can you just trust us please. You know, and with the retail business you don't have as much of a platform to be able to convince them of that. So it's the fine line of creativity and your, your style that you're sharing with them but also making it feel approachable and attainable by them. Speaker 1 00:36:45 So overall I'm hearing an underlying tone that you like to proceed with caution and you like to have everything planned out and while you are willing to take the risks, they are thoughtful, calculated risks. Yeah. So let's flash back to early 2021. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, when Brick and Loo was going from exclusively online to potentially having a brick and mortar space and really getting into traditional retail pop-up presented itself as an option, which I believe it was like a six month contract or at least talk to us through that. Because if we look at a calendar beginning of 2021 was in the middle of a lockdown when people said retail was dead. So talk to us through that calculated risk and then how you went full-time after that. Speaker 2 00:37:33 You hit the nail on the head there of me loving to be cautious, but I do take risks, they just need to make sense. So an opportunity came to us where we were able to open up a pop-up shot with only a six month commitment and the way we paid rent was a percentage of sales. So basically if we didn't sell, I didn't pay, they approached us, I did not know of the opportunity, they knew of our brand and actually sent me a DM on Instagram and I kind of thought like, how can we not save do that? There's aspects of that that definitely were still risky or just more cost involved. It was an opportunity to be in a really great part of town and have a lot of exposure that we weren't getting at at the time. So I went for it and we signed that six month lease and we bought fixtures that were movable so that, you know, if it didn't work out we could put them somewhere else. Speaker 2 00:38:28 And I didn't feel like we had a lot to lose in it clearly that I was right because we were be there six months and now it's been almost two years and it's just been really great. I love being able to have the opportunity to be in person for our customers, to be able to see our products and touch and feel and truly see the quality of sometimes price points. We are not the least expensive place to shop, but when you see the quality and the uniqueness of every piece that we sell, it makes a lot more sense when you're in person. So I love having that experience. My goal is to be able to do that type of experience in other locations. You know, I think our target markets, well definitely where our customers are coming from are the East coast and the south and a lot of California too. Speaker 2 00:39:14 So I don't know that like long-term brick and mortars are answer versus the pop-up shops and just pop-ups are a great way to kind of test the waters and see what's right for you and if it's a good market for you, do they understand your brand? Do they understand your product and your price point and be there? My dream of all dreams is someday in Minnesota to have one big space that has my studio, my warehouse, and a beautiful store all in one building. Cuz I have found that people come to shop now more, they don't care, they'll go for a destination more so than just, I was shopping in the area and I, I came in, there's a, there's a lot of lookers people that'll come in, swing in through the store, but maybe not purchase that the people that are purchasing from us would probably go anywhere in Minnesota, honestly. <laugh> Speaker 2 00:40:06 Like, yeah, friendly. They're, they, they want the experience and we do the best sales in our store when we have events, when we have, you know, a little coffee cart come in and serve free C coffees or we do a charcuterie board class or you know, just those more of like event type experiences that you can't just walk into another store and get, that's been really successful for us. So in a dream world we would have that all together because that's the one downfall of having a store that's not connected to our offices. I don't get to be there that much, you know, and I, I miss that part of interacting with customers and clients. So someday popups are, I could go visit and try and test markets out I think are great. Maybe having a store connected to our office is great, but taking, I don't think it, it was not a huge risk for me because of the terms that we were able to sign up with and they've been super supportive us of us and it's in the, the town where I grew up so it kind of felt like moving back home. Speaker 2 00:41:03 So that part was really great too. But I guess I would just be careful. I don't know if I would sign up for a normal 10 year lease, like the retailers, some people are still thinking that's around, but I don't know. I just don't think that's the way of the retail future. Speaker 1 00:41:19 So I know you have kids coming up and so I have just a couple follow up questions that I know everyone listening is like, wait, we need more detail on that. I'm sure some of it is probably pretty private, but can you explain to us what a situation looks like where someone invites you to come in as a popup? Was that a shared space and they were giving you part of their space or was it a completely empty space? I'm just like, great. Yeah. How do other people get to try this out, not have to pay rent unless they actually sell things and then get to stay longer? Speaker 2 00:41:50 Yeah, you know, it was a really unique environment. It was a new building in a very popular shopping destination in Minneapolis that they were thinking outside the box during a crazy pandemic when they didn't know if retail was gonna happen at all. You know, they had already built the building and then Covid hit and they had this beautiful building that could hold multiple retail stores that was sitting empty. And I thought it was genius of them to think outside the box that way, you know? And those terms were just for the popups. Once we decided to stay longer, we switched to more of a normal short term but normal leasing situation. But it gave the opportunity for companies like us who had never done it before to take that risk. So I don't know how you convince somebody of that except that you know, when there comes hard times or a recession sometimes maybe you put yourself out there and suggest it, you know? Yeah. Like Speaker 1 00:42:50 If you have a cute building that's been sitting empty for a long time, reach out to 'em and everybody can point to Brick and Lou in Minnesota and be like, check out what a success story this was. I can do that for you here in our little town. Speaker 2 00:43:04 Yeah. You know, I think that it puts everyone's skin in the game because then the building, the property managers were just as invested as us as we were investing in them. And so when we were successful, they were successful and I think that's really a cool opportunity for a brick and mortar building to be able to support their tenants. But also if the store is successful, they might make more money then they would have had they just charged normal rent. So certainly they can be, and they're very supportive in the marketing aspect of the buildings and all of that. So it made for a really great opportunity, maybe not an opportunity that would've come up had we been in the crazy spending world and when things are really great. But you know, in these times where things are unknown and a little bit scary, it's a, it's a great opportunity to get more people to think outside the box. Speaker 1 00:43:54 So second to last question, are there any ideas or concepts of diversifying revenue as an interior designer that you have thought of that you think are worth sharing here with us? Or you thought of a tried or just any other things besides e-commerce or retail specifically that you think designers could start to explore? Speaker 2 00:44:16 Yeah, this is something that we definitely dove right into in about April of 2020 when we thought we weren't gonna get another client for a year. <laugh>, you know, we thought to ourselves, okay, we can't even work in our office anymore. How in the heck are we gonna get a client to hire us to come inside their home? So speaking of pivoting from earlier, we pivoted quickly and decided to start offering eSign services again. We had already had Brook and Lu and so it was a great opportunity to support Brook and Lude as well. Most of the time our clients are hiring as far our aesthetic and Brooke and Lu is also our aesthetic. So it's pretty easy to cross promote the companies and it was also an opportunity to say yes to more people. You know, we decided to keep that eSign on once things got better after the lockdown and we realized that there was some clients that that's all they needed. Speaker 2 00:45:06 They might, they might have the budget to hire you, but there's some people out there that just really love to do part of the work. You know, they love the ordering, they love the tracking and receiving and the installing and all of that. So we, uh, started offering eSign and we still do that as a big chunk of our business for design. I mean it's not 50 50, but I would say that it's a, a big enough number that it makes us continue to do it every year and include it in our budget goals. And then the other thing that I do now is I'm on the experts. So that's another platform that was a great opportunity for me to meet clients and give them some of my time without a huge commitment on their part and not a huge commitment on my part. Uh, there's not really a lot of work that goes on before or after it's really engaging. Speaker 2 00:45:51 It's one-on-one time with me where, you know, when we do any of our other projects, you get my whole team, which means that you're not always with me the whole time. We have past clients that are coming back that are considering buying a different house that'll book with me to look at the real estate with them and you know, talk about, okay, if I buy this house, what would we do to it? You know? So it's just a really nice opportunity for me again to not have to say no to people and it's diversifying. So you know, if things get scary and you know you're not booking as many full service design projects, we have those other two buckets to lean on that you know, we'll say we can, we know we can book some expert sessions and we know we can book some ees designs because significantly less money than a full service project. So opportunity-wise it just allows us to, you know, spread it out a little bit more and that's been really, really successful plan for the design business the last couple years. Speaker 1 00:46:47 For those listening. I know that there's a long wait list to get on the expert and you have to be approved. So don't feel like that concept of diversifying is reliant on you being accepted to the expert. You absolutely can offer one hour, two hour consultations, however you'd like to just directly on your website and you get to keep all of it instead of giving some of it back right to the platform. So definitely don't feel like you are set up for that in the show notes. I will link, we have a whole product built like for this in Idco studio, so you can set it up without the expert. I know everyone's desperate to get on the expert and I've booked so many calls with it, I've loved it so, so much. But don't feel like you have to wait to be accepted to be able to capitalize on that concept. Speaker 2 00:47:28 And I do think that there are other platforms coming out that they've seen that has been so successful that I'm sure that there's gonna be other opportunities. And honestly, before Covid the expert came out, we did do one-time consultations, we called them one-time meetings and we would charge significantly more than we would for a full service design package way more than our hourly rate because you know, you're going out, we would go to the client's house and give them three or four hours of our time, but that was a great way for again, clients to maybe test the water, see how we were to work with, maybe they weren't ready to sign on for a full project, but they needed answers to some of the questions right away. And that's what's the beauty of the expert or the concept of it is that it's a lot quicker way to meet with a designer and get your answers that you need right away versus like getting on our wait Speaker 1 00:48:14 List. Especially for like design enthusiasts, someone who doesn't necessarily want a full on designer, they like to do it. So to get to be a little more collaborative in really just an hour is amazing. So Brea, before I let you go, we always like to end the show with a little sneak peek teaser of what is in store. Can you share anything coming up next year for either the Design Studio, Brea Hamel Interiors, or at Brick and Lu? Speaker 2 00:48:41 Yeah, well, gosh, we are in deep with a few different licensing partnerships that I can't they are yet, but it's more home decor lines that I'm very excited about. One we'll be launching this spring with a incredible artist and I'm can't wait to share. I actually, the samples just arrived at my warehouse and I get to pick those up tomorrow and see 'em in person, so that's gonna be very exciting. And then we are working on another collaboration that'll launch in 2024, so we're really starting to get more into the licensing. I love working with other designers in the community and so licensing with wholesale brands has been a really great opportunity for that, of making the products that we design accessible for them. So those are some things that we're working on coming up here that's gonna be very exciting to share. Speaker 1 00:49:30 Bria talking with you today has been so personally uplifting. I speak on behalf of the entire ICO team when I say your leadership vision and flexibility are so inspiring. Your candor and willingness to share your experiences and learnings today are going to provide so much hope for our community when faced with hard situations. And we cannot express how grateful we are for that. And for those considering branching out into the retail side of the industry, they now have a toolkit and a roadmap to follow. I feel like we can have you on for a dozen episodes and continue to learn something new each and every time. You can follow along with Brea at Bria Hamel Interiors on Instagram, book a call with her on the expert or shop her incredible product [email protected]. If you're near the Twin Cities, we encourage you to drop into her shop and say hello. Speaker 1 00:50:20 For those of you listening to today's episode on the go, or if you wanna revisit the wealth of knowledge, Bria shared You can find all of the links, tools, and other details referenced in today's episode of the Interior Collective on our website at We are so excited to be back for season two of the Interior Collective. As always, please hit subscribe and write us to review those two tiny actions make such a big difference to us. If you have questions or topics you'd like to hear this season, email [email protected]. Again, that is Podcast Until next week, I'm your host, Anastasia Casey, and this is the Interior Collective.

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