Sisters Barbara Elliott and Jennifer Ward-Woods love decorating, but don’t let Hollywood fool you, they say.
“It’s not the glamour you see on TV,” Elliott says. “You have to crawl around on the floor, doing everything from measuring to installation, and it’s a lot of physical work. We try to make it look easy, but it’s not glamorous.”
While there may not be much glitz or glam for the Decorating Den Interiors Franchise Owners, the sisters are happy to have found a company that enables them to build a business they’re truly passionate about—and to do so on their own terms.
Unlike other franchises, Elliott says Decorating Den isn’t a cookie-cutter model. The company provides a foundation for each franchise, but owners have the flexibility to decide how they want to run their business.
For Elliott and Ward-Woods, that meant working hard and leaning on one another for support. The sisters—whose work has been featured in over 20 publications—have individual clients and projects they are solely responsible for, yet they help each other in the office with design work and installation.
The model has suited them. With 14 years’ experience with Decorating Den under their belts, Elliott and Ward-Woods have worked on everything from a hotel to a large church and even a McDonalds.
Whether it’s a huge commercial project or a single window treatment that turned out beautifully, the sisters say they are proud of everything they do. They share a passion for people and design, and have turned that into a successful business.
“We love seeing that look on a client’s face when a project is complete,” Ward-Woods says. “We don’t just create beautiful rooms—we solve problems. We do things that clients haven’t been able to do on their own and relieve that frustration. Some of them are so grateful, they have even cried.”
Elliott and Ward-Woods’ rapport with clients has paid off, as 85 percent of their business comes from repeat customers and referrals. The sisters make it a priority to keep in touch with old clients and have found it particularly useful to send them decorating calendars each year. “We stay in front of their mind every day of the year,” Elliott says.
To draw in new customers, the sisters constantly reevaluate their marketing strategy. They also get advice from their peers thanks to the Decorating Den Interiors Intranet—a forum for decorators and owners to swap ideas, give advice or just vent.
The network provides a great support system, but Elliott and Ward-Woods say interior decorating can be a very solitary career path. “People who are interested in becoming decorators or franchise owners just have to evaluate themselves,” Ward-Woods says. “If you come from a corporate environment and then start out at Decorating Den by yourself—as most people do—it may seem lonely. You have to be sure you can thrive in that setting.”
Fortunately, both women have done just that.
Sisters Barbara Elliott and Jennifer Ward-Woods love decorating, but don’t let Hollywood fool you, they say.
Jan Bromberek has had many past lives.
The Illinois native started working at a finance company after high school, followed by a stint as an oral surgery assistant. When that didn't click, she became a legal secretary, an administrative assistant to the president of a bank and a university, a water aerobics instructor, the manager of a health club, and finally, the manager of a party planning company.
Still, something was missing.
Then Bromberek found Decorating Den. Over 15 years later, she couldn't be happier.
"Each day is different—different clients, different projects, different problems—and that's what keep's this job interesting," she says. "I never thought I'd have my own business but I certainly have the personality for it."
But Bromerek's success didn't come without a few tough lessons along the way.
Her first three years as a franchise owner, Bromberek says she gave away too much control to her administrative assistant, while also spending far too much on advertising—two decisions that led to considerable debt.
"I knew there was a problem when it came time to do taxes and I realized I'd sold the most I ever sold in a year and made the least I ever made in a year," she says.
It took Bromberek a year and a half to get her feet back on the ground, but she says it was an invaluable learning experience that taught her the importance of keeping an eye on your bottom line at all times.
"Decorating is an emotional thing and you can get caught up in thinking, 'everything's beautiful, everyone is happy,'" she says. "First and foremost, you have to remember you are running a business. The decorating is just the icing on the cake."
For those interested in owning a Decorating Den franchise, Bromberek says experience with secretarial work and managing an office are both very helpful. However, if you don't love to decorate and are just in it for the business, you're going to struggle.
Fortunately, Bromberek has both the passion and the business sense. She says part of her success comes from putting in a typical work week, despite the flexibility that comes with working from home.
"There are a lot of distractions—you can think you're working all the time but you forget you stopped to do the laundry or pick your kids up," Bromberek says. "I work from 9 to 5, just as I would if I were in a regular office, and when five o'clock comes, it's my personal time."
The system has worked well for Bromberek, who says the boundaries she has created between work and home have helped minimize the risk of burn-out. When she does feel the occasional frustration, Bromberek remembers the feeling of leaving a client’s home after a successful project—the heart of her job.
“If people feel good about their home, they feel good about themselves,” she says.
Yet the project Bromberek is most proud of happens to be the most personal: designing the future she always wanted.
Decorators' love of food and travel is comparable to their passion for interior design, and there is nothing they appreciate more than getting together with their peers to enjoy all three. At Decorating Den Interiors our decorators earn points from their roster of vendors, which make it possible for them to travel to fabulous places others only dream about. Our exclusive travelogues have included viewing the sites along the canals of Venice, cruising around the Greek Isles, and touring the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia. But when it comes to visual beauty, decorative arts and divine dining no other city promotes "Joie de Vivre" more than Paris.
Decorating Den Interiors latest Grand destination trip was a balance of planned sightseeing and free time to stroll, shop and sit at cafés. In addition to our tour guides history lessons of famous Paris landmarks, we were entranced by the Louis's classic style and the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles and Jean-Paul Gautier's avant-garde decorating at the Elle Decoration Suite in the Palais de Chaillot. And, for interior decorators no trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to their famous flea market.
As for dining experiences, the group was welcomed to Paris with a sumptuous dinner at Laduree Bonaparte on the Rive Gauche where Madeleine Castaing, the late legendary French interior decorator lived and ran an antique shop. One evening when we visited the Basilica of Sacre Coeur, we dined alongside the artists that lined Montmartre's Place de Terte. Another night we had an elegant dinner at Le Grand Colbert, the restaurant featured in Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton's movie, "Something's Gotta Give." On our farewell dinner cruise on the River Seine we had a last look at Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the sparkling Eiffel Tower.
We are home now bursting with new ideas and ready to build up points...from the use of suppliers products on our various interior decorating projects...for Decorating Den Interiors' next Grand Destination adventure. For me and my cohorts who joined me on this trip, "We'll always have Paris!"
Carol Donayre Bugg
Director of Design
Cliff Welles and Judy Underwood transposed two numbers while ordering a sofa for a client during their first year in the interior design business. When the piece of furniture arrived, the fabric was totally wrong.
It was a costly mistake—and one they never made again.
The sibling duo purchased a Florida-based Decorating Den franchise in 1984 after successful business careers in real estate and aviation, and quickly realized they still had a lot to learn.
“We made many mistakes in the beginning, but every owner needs to do every aspect of the business themselves that first year,” Judy says. “If you don’t learn how to do it, you’ll never be able to train or supervise anyone else.”
Over 25 years later, Cliff and Judy have graduated from the self-described “school of hard knocks” and now run one of the most successful Decorating Den franchises in the country.
The two make the perfect team, with Judy doing what she refers to as the “fun stuff”—decorating—while Cliff handles marketing and advertising.
Both say becoming part of the Decorating Den family was the jolt they needed in their professional lives. “Each day is completely different from the next and we are constantly stimulated by each client’s unique set of challenges,” Cliff says.
Judy agrees, and says one of the most satisfying aspects of working for Decorating Den is the look on a client’s face when their living space is transformed.
“When a client trusts me and lets me loose to do my thing, that’s the best. I’m in Heaven.”
Not all clients are as willing to leave the decorating decisions to the professionals, but part of Cliff and Judy’s jobs as franchise owners is to put clients at ease during their initial consultation, encouraging them to move outside of their comfort zone and consider new colors and styles. Both agree that developing such personal relationships is the best—and most vital—part of the job.
The focus on personal connections paid off. Word-of-mouth referrals have generated some of the franchise owners’ biggest and best projects to date, enabling them to hire additional decorators, administrative employees and a team of trades people.
Hiring is always a challenge, and Cliff and Judy say they look for someone with an eye for interior design and a strong entrepreneurial sense—or at least a willingness to work on their weaker side.
While most businesses are still struggling to recover from a collapsed economy, Cliff and Judy have projects booked through the summer. Both insist this is largely due to the confidence clients have in the Decorating Den brand and its products.
“Each Decorating Den franchise owner receives merchandising support that enables us to purchase the latest and greatest products directly from the manufacturer,” Cliff says. “That’s a huge advantage over independent entrepreneurs who have to research products and seek vendors on their own.”
With this support, Cliff and Judy can focus on what matters most to them: transforming one client’s living space—and life—at a time.
As a child, Lauren Riddiough Clement remembers a house full of fabric swatches, a father who made her breakfast every morning and a mother who attended all of her equestrian shows.
Lauren's parents began working for Decorating Den Interiors in 1984, embracing a career path with a company that afforded them the flexibility to be both hands-on parents and successful interior designers.
It wasn't until 20 years later, when Lauren was studying to become a clinical psychologist, that she had a change of heart and decided to follow in her parents’ footsteps.
"I knew I was good with colors, style and fashion but I had no formal training," Lauren says. "I had no idea how to measure for windows or carpeting."
In the absence of experience, Lauren relied on her passion and strong work ethic to jumpstart her interior design career, completing Decorating Den's two-week professional design and sales school, followed by 12 weeks of ongoing training modules.
The learning curve was steep, but with the help of her fellow Decorating Den Franchise Owners and comprehensive training, Lauren quickly found her footing and launched her own franchise in Northern Virginia.
Today, she runs one of the most successful franchises in the company.
"Five years later I still see things that surprise and challenge me, but the fun and excitement keeps me going,” Lauren says. “And the support I've received from other owners is incredible. Decorating Den is one big family."
For Lauren, the sentiment takes on a whole new meaning. Her husband also works for Decorating Den—the perfect fit for their growing family. Both parents often create their own work schedule around lunch and dinner with their daughter.
"With one child and another on the way, it's important that my husband and I
are there for their big moments, just as my parents were,” Lauren says. “Working for Decorating Den, I'm not missing my daughter’s first steps and new words, and I still work up to 60 hours a week doing something I love."
In addition to the family-friendly schedule, Lauren says Decorating Den empowers employees with an incomparable selection of over 100 vendors and an established brand. When clients see the company attached to Lauren’s name, they know the quality of her work will be high.
As a wife, mother, Franchise Owner—and most recently, a Regional Manager—Lauren says it is a thrill to have a career that allows her to feel fulfilled in each role. Her work days are long and the job isn’t always easy, but Lauren has the autonomy to design her own future without someone looking over her shoulder.
“You can make this opportunity what you want—and work as little or as long as you want,” she says. “But most Franchise Owners are such strong, competitive go-getters, and we love interacting with clients every day.”
For those interested in joining the Decorating Den family, Lauren says interpersonal, organizational and time management skills are just as critical as being able to put colors together. You need a passion for—not a degree in—interior design.
It’s a message Lauren has heard since she was two.