Sometimes, a single strategic adjustment can change everything. That was the case for these six designers, who can each identify one fundamental shift—whether in mindset, marketing or management—that helped spark a new level of success for their firms.
BY KAITLIN PETERSEN
The Art Connoisseur
Finding connection (and guidance) through creative community helped Houston- based Chandos Dodson Epley break out of a business rut. By rebranding her ﬁrm as a premier destination for art sourcing, she began to grow and thrive at a whole new level.
You had a long stretch where you were successful but feeling stagnant in your business.
When I joined the Design Leadership Network in 2019, my firm was busy and had been operating at status quo for at least five years. Business was steady and the market was good, but I wasn’t really working on the types of projects that I wanted to work on, so I had started looking at avenues to accomplish that. Being in one of the DLN’s forum groups helped me realize that I was at a growth point, and that I needed to have someone analyze my business and help me develop a marketing and branding plan. That’s how I ended up working with [New York– based creative business strategist] Kate Verner. She helped me gear my business toward staying brutally focused on what I wanted it to be.
That’s such a ﬁerce way to describe it. What did it entail?
I started an art advisory business in 2011 called C2 Art. We manage AT&T’s collec-tion nationwide and BNSF Railway’s in Fort Worth, Texas. In the beginning, that was a separate piece of the puzzle that married well with my design business, but they were two different entities. But while I was working with Kate, we deter-mined that all of my projects needed to be art-centric. And really putting that out there first and foremostdefining what was important to me from the very begin-ning of a project and making sure it was going to be includedis what took the firm to the next level of clientele.
Were you looking for clients with a strong existing collection, or clients who wanted to build a collection with you?
Both. Either way, art needed to be a core component because for me, a house is really never finished until it has art. Art expresses who you are in a more personal way than a sofa or a bathroom.
Chandos Dodson Epley deploys rich, saturated hues as a striking backdrop for contemporary art. By focusing on clientele who are looking to build their collections, the designer grew her ﬁrm to new heights.
What does that look like in practice, and how did it change the type of people who wanted to work with you?
I had all these clients in their 50s and 60s who were spending $5 million to build 10,000-square-foot houses, but they did not own any art and found the whole process very intimidating. They couldn’t understand the pricing, and found that the art world wasn’t a friendly environment to purchase. Buying art can be a lot like walking into a car showroom and not really knowing what you’re getting or who to trust. But if you trust someone to build a house for you and furnish it, you trust them to help you buy art.
How did Kate push you to realize that this was where you wanted to focus?
We all have to think about what makes us different from the competition. How do you suss out what you do differently from every other design firm? And we realized that our strength was really that art expertise. With that knowledge, the first thing we did was dig into social media we hired someone to work on our brand identity in order to express who we are in that space. I also hired a public relations firm to put our name out there in a bigger way. I have not rewritten my business plan yet but I probably should, given how much has changed.