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Small Business | LEARNING CURVE: RYAN TAYLORS

Redesign : Decorators Gain by Ditching Retail

December 24, 1996

When Vicki Hoover and Sandy Smith launched interior design firm Ryan Taylors, they envisioned a retail business selling individual custom pieces to walk-in customers. But when it became clear that the commercial design part of their company was growing rapidly, they abandoned a substantial investment in their retail store and changed the entire focus of their firm. Hoover was interviewed by Karen Kaplan.

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When Sandy and I started planning Ryan Taylors, we had a completely different concept in mind than what we ended up with. We wanted to open an interior design firm with retail being at least 80% of our business and the rest being commercial design work. We had lots of meetings with a business consultant, and Sandy spent a lot of time researching other retail stores. We spent about $15,000 to decorate our store.

It turned out that the retail market we were hoping for--people who wanted custom individual pieces but didn't want to remodel an entire room--didn't really exist. But the commercial design part of our business was very strong.

After four months, we started talking about the fact that the business wasn't working the way we expected and that the commercial design end was growing. We could hold on to our old business plan, or we could just switch gears and let go and move in the direction that was driving the business.

It was like looking at a fork in the road and realizing that only one road was available--the other was scattered with detours.

We moved out of our retail store and found a house that had more space for the kind of commercial design work we were doing--interior design, space planning, layout, carpeting and wallpaper. We needed room for worktables and all our sample racks. We still had $25,000 in retail inventory, but we figured we could sell that eventually.

I'm not saying we couldn't have been successful in retail, but it became obvious that the other side of the business was growing. We decided we didn't need to spend a year and a half or more to make our original idea work when we could just go with the new vision.

We're proud of ourselves for making that decision. After two years of planning and fantasizing about how it was going to be, it's hard to admit it's not happening.

When we abandoned retail, we decided we had to do some marketing because we weren't going to be getting any exposure from foot traffic. We hired a marketing person and put together brochures and portfolios. In our minds, we justified it by saying that the money we were saving on rent would be used on marketing instead.

We named the company after our children because we were looking for a name, like Nordstrom, that wasn't a description of our business. We thought that was classy.

But our marketing person said that was a problem. When we were a retail store, it was obvious what we were selling because people could come inside and see. But now that we have to do marketing we realized we needed to explain what we do. So we added a slogan to our letterheads and business cards: "Tomorrow's designs for today's home and office."

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AT A GLANCE

Company name: Ryan Taylors

Owners: Vicki Hoover and Sandy Smith

Nature of Business: Interior design firm

Location: Fullerton

Founded: March 1996

Number of employees: 4

Expected annual sales: $300,000 in first year

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