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An Interesting Business Opportunity for People with an Eye for Home Design

When I was a child one of my favorite games was “house.” I was forever re-decorating my bedroom, turning corners of the attic or basement into imaginary abodes, and re-arranging the doll’s furniture. Given that the dolls themselves were optional suggests what I was really playing was the child’s version of interior decorator.

As an adult I still love home decorating, but when it comes to making major design decisions, I always call on my friend Gail. Gail’s house looks like something out of a magazine. Although her job-job is installing computer networks for a major airline, Gail’s passion and gift are home and garden decorating.

Here are 5 ways to tell if you have a passion for home decorating:

  1. People are forever walking into your home and complimenting you on your sense of home design.
  2. Friends frequently call on you for decorating advice.
  3. You’re hooked on the cable television channel Home and Garden (HGTV) or magazines like Better Homes and Gardens, Architectural Digest, Domino, Country Homes…
  4. When, at a mall, you would rather browse Restoration Hardware or Pottery Barn than Coldwater Creek, J. Jill, or other clothing stores.
  5. You could sit and admire the fruits of your own home design handiwork for hours.

If you passed the passion test then you’ve probably already thought about becoming an interior designer. The fact that you haven’t pursued this as a career path suggests there’s something about it that isn’t a fit for you. Perhaps it’s because becoming a licensed interior designer means getting into more complex areas like structural issues and electrical schematics.

Even though decorating itself is about color, shapes, texture, and design, it’s also very much a people thing. This point was driven home to me by a client named Robert. Robert’s passion was creating ambiance. One big reason being an interior decorator never spoke to him was that he didn’t want to work with people he couldn’t relate to. As Robert put it, “I don’t want to spend hours helping rich housewives decide between this crown molding or that crown molding.” What Robert really wanted was to get paid for doing what he loved to do – helping average-income people create spaces that feel good.

Getting Paid for Your Sense of Design

Self-taught designer-turned-entrepreneur Stephen Fofanoff knows exactly where Robert is coming from. I first met Stephen when he was a panelist at Changing Course’s annual Work at What You Love workshop in Ventura, California.

Stephen’s entrepreneurial aspirations began when he and partner Chris Warnock bought a house they planned to fix up and sell. Although neither of them were trained as a decorators, their renovation job was so fantastic that friends began asking for their advice. No one they knew could afford to drop $100,000 on a pricey interior designer.

What the do-it-yourself types really wanted was for someone with a “designer’s eye” to sit down with them for a few hours and tell them what they should do. Someone who could come in and offer advice on what color to paint a room or what kind of countertops they should buy or how to place furniture to make a small room appear bigger or an oversized room feel cozier.

So Stephen and Chris made it their mission to find interior design companies who were offering the kind of affordable, flexible home and garden design advice that their friends were looking for. When their search came up empty they knew they heard the unmistakable sound of opportunity knocking.

Seeking to ride the wave of the do-it-yourselfer craze and acknowledging the fiercely independent and style-savvy homeowner, they started their own company aptly named A Designer’s Eye. Initially they structured the business on a percentage basis like interior designers do. For a short time, they considered another popular commission-based model that involves pushing a specific brand of furniture or window treatment. Neither felt right. Stephen and Chris put it more bluntly. “We both tried doing it the old way, and it sucked. We felt like scam artists trying to win clients’ trust, then overcharging them.”

Instead say Stephen and Chris, “We really just wanted to swoop in, help clients come up with great ideas and cool designs, then give them a hand pulling it off, not latching on and draining them until the next juicy prey came around. Once we decided we were going to do it our way, it was easy. Clients loved it. We just built our business around the things clients needed.”

Needless to say, A Designer’s Eye was a huge success. The clients loved being able to control how much they spent by paying for expert advice on an hourly basis. But the business attracted another fan base – namely style-savvy people like Stephen and Chris who have a natural talent and passion for decorating.

So after receiving 79 unsolicited requests for franchises in a matter of months, Stephen and Chris decided to franchise their business. “We knew we were on to a winning idea,” says Stephen. “What has surprised us in the test phase of the business model is how responsive customers have been to our ‘no pressure’ philosophy. This approach has won us a trusting customer base that keeps working for us in return business and add-on services. This element is making our franchise model even more viable.” The company’s goal is to franchise 500 units in the next five years.

Stephen and I have talked on and off since meeting in June. Given the high interest in home decorating, I wanted to learn more about what’s involved in becoming A Designer’s Eye franchisee. Franchisees are no small investment. So why, I wanted to know, wouldn’t someone with a flair for design just strike out on his or her own? One of the biggest reasons says Stephen is while creative types are gifted design-wise they hate dealing with the business side of self-employment.

To help with things like planning, organizing, client and time management, each franchisee is partnered with a personal Business Development Coach. Part motivational “life coach” and part “business coach” this person has one job and one job only – to do everything they can to make his or her franchisee successful faster. Toward this same end, Stephen and Chris are already in the planning stages of additional revenue streams for franchisees.

Each week the designer and his or her coach get together for a phone meeting. During that meeting the coach helps the designer create a weekly activity plan, decide how best to prioritize and manage their time, problem solve, and more. In addition to the human support, franchisees get a state-of-the-art Web-based business management system that automates all the key design and business functions.

Having an innate talent for home decorating is just the beginning. As part of their 160 hours of training (which, according to Stephen, is considerably more than the 80 to 100 hours interior designers typically receive) franchisees receive a week of onsite training at the company headquarters in Woodland Hills, California.

In addition to learning about various aspects of design, the training includes role playing, technical training, marketing and networking, class shopping trips, and negotiating with vendors. Designers also receive ongoing training where they learn, for example, how to work with the yearly color forecasts. Even though each franchisee has a protected territory, they are encouraged to network and learn from other decorators via regional meetings and monthly phone calls with a coach.

Going the franchise route requires an initial financial investment. The advantage, though, is that what you spend in money you make up for in time. It’s kind of like taking out a loan to get an MBA or other advanced training verses trying to acquire the same level of training and experience on your own time. As a franchisee you’re also buying into a proven system, which in the end can save a considerable amount of time and money that can otherwise get eaten up through individual trial and error.

For those who are drawn to the creative side of home and garden decorating but have trouble being self-motivated, another huge advantage of becoming a franchisee is support. Between the initial training, the ongoing training, the one-on-one coaching and support, and the live customer support available to clients when you’re out of the office, you get to be in business for yourself, but not BY yourself. For people who want to focus on what they love to do without the stress of figuring out how to build and manage a business on their own, a franchise might just be the way to go.

Click here to learn more about A Designer’s Eye and this unique franchise opportunity or read a list of questions and answers by Stephen, Chris, and the Director of Franchise Operations J. Kathy Repique at


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