With dire warnings from economists about an impending recession, many designers are searching for ways to prepare their businesses to weather the storm. BOH reached out to West Palm Beach–based designer Gil Walsh and asked how she’s working to recession-proof her firm.
How did your transition from a corporate environment to managing your own firm prepare you for running a business?
Before I started my own firm, I ran the interior design department at a corporate architecture firm, where I was overseeing 20 people. Early on, I learned that you need to sit down and talk about your goals each month, and then once a year I would have everyone come to a what I call a “visioning day,” where we would talk about things like what we wanted to achieve in the coming year.
In 2008, when I started my own firm, I brought the visioning day concept with me and began to hire consultants to come and facilitate those discussions. Everyone on the team is given the opportunity to express their views and then we narrow down the discussion to implementable, actionable items.
Interior design is a business as well as an artistic endeavor—you’re not only expected to have an artistic vision, you also have to know how to run a business, market a business, hire and manage employees and, now, have a social media presence. And those other areas, they have nothing to do with whether or not you’re a good designer. So coming from a corporate firm that handled most of those things for you, I knew where my weaknesses were when I was going out on my own. That’s why I hire consultants year after year to help me in the areas where I’m weaker, so that I can spend my time and talent with my clients. I would suggest that all firms do a version of this.
What strategies are you employing to actively grow your business year-over-year?
Our strategy for the future is based on our annual visioning day, which is facilitated by a trusted consultant. We discuss what went right and wrong the previous year, trends in the market, enhanced roles and responsibilities [for team members], and then identify the areas that we need to focus on in the coming year. Otherwise, we concentrate on attracting great talent, and have promoted from within the firm, which has helped us stay competitive while delivering exceptional design and service, thus increasing the word-of-mouth referrals.
As economists predict an impending economic downturn, are you worried about your business?
Although some economists are saying the economy may slow down, I must say that here in Florida, the economy is driven by the number of people moving down from colder climates and new tax laws that have had a negative impact on them, making Florida a tax haven. According to Forbes, data shows that 900 people move to Florida per day—it is the second-fastest-growing state in the country, behind Texas. South Florida has evolved into a worldwide epicenter for development and investment with countless international players operating within our market.
How did you get through the last recession? Are there strategies that could become useful again?
When things slowed down, we spent more effort and money on advertising and marketing, especially social media. Being active on social media as well as regularly submitting to both print and digital publications has kept the Gil Walsh Interiors brand top of mind and recognizable to potential customers.