contributed by Susan Hopkins, ASID, CID [efficiency addict / problem solver & business owner / organizational junkie]
The business of interior design can be messy one. Bookshelves of catalogs, file cabinets full of brochures, sacks of samples, stacks of vendor business cards, and endless account numbers all requiring constant order and maintenance. Have you ever wished that an online database existed that would organize all of this information for you and allow you to find answers to the questions you have for vendors no matter what time shows up on the clock” Well, I did, and after years practicing in both the commercial and residential design fields, I actually did something about it and have now opened up this Trade Only online research vendor database into a service that other qualified design professionals can use as well. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me go back to the beginning.
An Interior Designer Is Born
Just like so many designers in our industry, I have had a love and passion for art and design from a very young age. I first discovered that there was such a thing as a career in Interior Design when I was in seventh grade after my mom showed me its section in the library because I had just rearranged their entire house for the fifth time. Sound familiar”
After reading all of the books and still being thirsty for more, I got deeply involved in art and took classes in architecture in high school. It all led to me graduating from Drexel University’s FIDER accredited (now CIDA) Interior Design program – ranked 9th in the country – after completing my co-op with an architectural firm.
I continued working with the firm for a short time after getting my degree, after which I immediately immersed myself into my career path by bringing my passion for design to several different companies over the next several years. In fact, I was the youngest employee for USI Corp, one of my employers during this time, and was the sole Space Planner for the entire United States responsible for designing all retail branches and real estate locations on the GMAC Mortgage account when I was 23 years old.
Also during this period of time, I created Sonata and Partita – my first foray into self-employment. On a part-time basis, I started learning how to run a business and handle projects on my own. By the time 2006 rolled around, I was ready to start working for myself full-time. I changed the name to Susan Hopkins Interior Design, LLC, and I have been designing homes all over the Philadelphia region ever since.
In 2009, I took a business trip to High Point Market in North Carolina for the first time and my senses were so overloaded! I remember walking around, taking it all in, and just LOVED being surrounded by amazing furnishings and so many other people who also had a passion for interiors.
An Idea Is Born
In May 2010, I returned to High Point Market for my third visit. By this time, I knew my way around and had a much better understanding of how to plan ahead and make it effective for my business. Most importantly, this visit was what motivated me to create The Designing Link.
I had just returned from my trip and my infant son was having a snack in his high chair. I was trying to organize the piles and piles of manufacturer and contact information obtained from all of the vendors, which now sat on the coffee table in disarray. I needed to go through all of this information to set up accounts, re-familiarize myself with their products, which I could use for projects, etc. I thought to myself, “I wish there was an online database that would have all of the information about every company, manage the accounts, and automatically manage my library…” From that it turned into, “what if that existed…” and then finally, “let’s make it exist!”
At first, I didn’t tell anyone about the idea except for a design friend who also has a small, emerging design company in Philadelphia. The two of us were giddy with excitement talking about how this would solve so many issues we, as designers, face with limited time and resources.
During our discussion I also began to realize how The Designing Link would bridge the gap in communication between vendor and designer. Right now every designer has to contact each vendor for answers to the most commonly asked questions, and conversely, it is the vendor’s burden to provide these answers to each inquiring designer – even those who don’t end up placing orders.
We began to realize how dramatically this could change the way our trade does business. I continued talking with other designers to get more feedback, and they each had the same question – “When can we start using it””
A Business Is Born
The first step was to come up with the name so we could secure the web domain and get the business registered. I knew I definitely wanted “design” to be a part of the name, and since the concept of the business was completely web-based, “link” ended up being an obvious part of the title. After doing some domain name searches for easily remembered web addresses, The Designing Link was born.
So then it was time to get down to business. I started creating list after list after list of all of the things that I wanted to incorporate into the website. My hands and fingers simply couldn’t keep up with my brain. I contacted my web developer and showed him the designs for the pages that I had created. We figured out the navigation through the site and, amazingly enough, got it up and running for vendor registration by August 2010 – only four months after I came up with the concept. Things were moving very quickly.
I started contacting all of my favorite vendors to tell them about the site and to invite them to be a part of it. We received amazing feedback! Many vendors were astonished that nothing like this already existed and really complimented me on my enthusiasm in making it happen.
We originally required that the vendors have a phone interview to obtain the answers to our comprehensive list of questions for their profile, but realizing that time was of the essence, we fast-tracked an idea designed for the second phase to make it that vendors could login and edit their own accounts. This seemed to propel things along. However, when we began to notice that vendors weren’t completing their profiles in a timely manner, we went back to offering the phone interview and added the ability for vendors to complete the questions offline. This worked much better, and we currently have over 260 registered vendors with The Designing Link, over a third of them with completed, published profiles.
Then we realized that many vendors would be waiting to see the design professionals’ interest in the website, and we needed to address getting them involved. We developed a promotion to give the first 500 registered and approved designers a free lifetime account, as our concept was to make membership subscription based. We received a terrific response and had dozens sign up in the first week. At the time of this writing, this promotion is still going on.
An Opportunity Is Born
The goal for the rest of our first phase is to get as many designers registered and interested in using the site as possible to drive more vendors to the site. We also really need the wish lists from designers to help us bring in the BIG guys. As soon as we feel as though we have the first phase moving smoothly and designers are in and enjoying the site we plan to roll out the second phase, which includes plans to implement library management and account set up for members.
It certainly is a carefully choreographed process, but one thing is clear – the enthusiasm and positive feedback we’re receiving remains strong. Our vision for The Designing Link is rather simple. We see our website as the go-to place, with 24/7 accessible information (yes, even during those 2am specification sessions for the client who needs everything yesterday), which previously wouldn’t have been obtained until the vendor’s business hours and after a few rounds of phone tag.
In our business, time is money, so if we save you time, we save you money. Isn’t that what doing business is all about”