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Nancy Fire, Of HGTV HOME And Design Works International, On Scaling Up Fast And Well
You may not have heard of Nancy Fire’s role as the design and trend forecasting expert behind the HGTV HOME brand for close to a decade. But her professional brand seems to be everywhere at the helm of Design Works International. For an entrepreneur like Nancy, how do you leverage a strong brand into a successful and viable business? And even more importantly, how do you scale the business quickly and well?
Whether your strategy involves franchise (as mine does), a set of capabilities you are known for (hers is about creative mixing of colors and textures and spotting and advancing design trends; my own is about character-centered leadership and extreme wellness), many of the challenges are the same.
In my case, after the launch of the first Restore center in Salt Lake just 5 months ago, we want to scale to 100 or more in our 8-state region as quickly as we possibly can. For Fire, it’s the melding of her various endeavors (30-year old flagship company Design Works International, in NYC, which she owns and runs with her husband, and the recent opening of her Studio NYC Design line of offerings). How do so many initiatives become melded into a meaningful, and most importantly, lasting and successful whole?
Author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss distills the essence of scaling into three foundational steps:
- Confirm your endgame. What’s the big picture outcome your business needs to achieve and by when? This is especially important whether you are working toward an exit or toward the succession or evolution of a family-owned firm.
- Learn how businesses grow extremely quickly. Franchising? Online distribution? Partnerships? Consider these alternatives carefully, especially before taking in outside capital. And to the money concerns,
- Overcome cash flow concerns creatively.Other alternatives than outside investment such as crowdfunding, joint ventures, bridge or SBA loans and even factoring against your invoices will probably be your best alternatives to get your venture established as you consider the right time and nature of an outside funding event.
And to that end, I took the opportunity to interview Nancy directly about the strategies she’s used to scale her multiple businesses well.
Dave: When your passion has helped major brands turnaround and you have successfully picked and advanced trends, how do you go to the next level?
Nancy: Our flagship business, Design Works International, has enjoyed great success over the past 30 years. It’s incredibly humbling to see a company that started as a passion to help small and large businesses with their design needs evolve into a lifestyle think-tank that global brands, influential designers and A-list celebrities use to keep their images fresh. It’s been an incredible rush being able to use my talent for spotting trends and educational background in fine arts to help foster and create these innovative designs.
On taking it to the next level–for me it actually involves, ironically, returning to my roots. For the last 30 years I have been creating designs for others. Whether it’s working on the runway, creating a new fabric for a major pillow manufacturer, or restoring the iconic billiard room at Elvis’s Graceland, we’ve always worked behind the scenes. Now I am stepping forward with our own collection. That’s what our Studio NYC Design arm of the business is about. We’ve started a Modern Organic collection, inspired by nature, based on many of the designs I paint in my studio in the country as well as collaborations with my designers in the studio to round out the collection.
Dave: The opening of Studio NYC Design was a major step for someone already highly successful in work with celebrities, major corporations, and even HGTV home. What makes the launch of Studio NYC so compelling and important to you?
Nancy: It’s the fact that Studio NYC is a collection I can call my own. I’m not letting someone else’s established brand or style dictate how these designs come to life. And it’s a collection inspired by nature and the beautiful world that surrounds me when we’re at our beach house on Long Island. It’s so fun and rewarding to be creating for myself again!
The Organic Modern collection itself is an affordable home décor line with a high-end feel. The textiles and fabric designs mimic nature, ranging from our Eclipse fabric that captures the wonder of a solar eclipse to our Currents design that captures the rhythmic motion of the ocean’s waves.
Organic Modern is designed for millennials, who are trend sensitive but also cost conscious. But I also kept baby boomers in mind when curating the line. Many boomers are scaling down their living spaces, and while style sensibility is still important to them, they don’t necessarily want to spend a lot of money decorating a smaller space. It’s a very exciting, and sometimes challenging, collection to design and I’ve loved doing it.
Dave: The organic designs are clearly a labor of love and a representation of your own personality. Does this make it harder or easier for you to face the outside opinions of consumers and press?
Nancy: You’re right, it’s a very personal project and a labor of love. But so are the designs we create for others. So we are used to receiving input from others. And honestly–no ego here—I enjoy getting even the critical feedback, because it challenges me to work harder at hitting the mark for everyone.
Dave: How is the new studio being received thus far? What are some of the highlights?
Nancy: We’ve received an overwhelmingly positive response so far. We started the collection a little over a year ago and are happy to report tremendous commercial and consumer interest. We’ve partnered with Nourison, a prominent floor-covering manufacturer that is using our designs on rugs, pillows and throws. And we’ve just announced a collaboration with Prestige Art to have our prints and designs offered as high-quality wall art. In 2019 we plan to move into bedding and home accessories. Our over-the-counter fabrics are sold on platforms like fabric.com, and this season we’ll be in brick and mortar stores.
Dave: You have been working with your husband on Design Works International business for 30 years. What is that like, and is it still as rewarding these 30 years in? And what can we expect for the 30th anniversary that is coming in October?
Nancy: My husband, Neil Breslau, is my best friend, business partner and the love of my life. We have built this company together, using our different talents and strengths. In the end, I’d say that’s our greatest key to success. I stick with the creative and he runs the business. All the while, we’ve maintained a successful marriage, raised two wonderful children together and continue to enjoy each other’s company every day. Not a lot of people can say that. I know how blessed we are. So this October we plan to mark the milestone with a party in our NYC studio. We will host our employees, customers and the media in a very special way, so stay tuned.
Dave: You are involved in so many projects (at once!). What is your advice for other entrepreneurs on how to keep so many balls in the air? It appears to have worked well for you, but what is your advice for others?
Nancy: I think my biggest advice would be to choose a career you love, because then it doesn’t feel like work. I love what I do. While it is challenging at times to keep all those balls in the air, it is my passion. Being passionate about what you do makes all aspects of it enjoyable. Finding someone you love working with is obviously another component. They say you spend more time with your co-workers than with your own spouse, so you better like them. Luckily for me, that person is one and the same. Finally, learn to delegate, share the work and share the successes. I have an extraordinary team behind me. If I didn’t rely on them, we wouldn’t be where we are today.