It’s an industry cliche: Every “overnight” success story has a decade of hard work behind it. In Jean Stoffer’s case, it’s three decades. Over the past five years, the celebrated Michigan designer has seen her career catch fire, with the launch of a cabinetry business, a store, big licensing deals and a daytime Emmy nomination for her Magnolia Network show, The Established Home. But for much of Stoffer’s career—she went out on her own in the early 1980s—she was patiently honing her craft as a kitchen designer with a small firm in the suburbs of Chicago.
On this episode of The Business of Home Podcast, she shares the story of her career with host Dennis Scully, along with some key takeaways.
Success Is a Gift
After bringing her son John and her daughter Grace into the business in the 2010s, Stoffer’s firm began to get noticed on a national scale—an unexpected late-career turn. “You work really hard for a long time, and something like this might never happen. … the fact that it’s become well-known in my case is quite unusual, and isn’t something that I think anyone should assume is normal. It’s not possible to engineer it,” says Stoffer. “What you can engineer is doing a good job, making sure every project is done with integrity and excellence. The stuff that has come along with it in these later years for me is quite unusual—they’re just gifts.”
John’s photography skills helped Stoffer earn attention on Instagram. Grace’s gift for whole-home design helped Stoffer think beyond the kitchen. There’s no question that working with family (Stoffer’s husband and son Daniel are also involved) has helped her firm go to the next level. But Stoffer says that working with family takes careful consideration to get right. “We meet regularly as a family, just the family, to make sure we stay on the same page,” she says. Another key move? Hiring a longtime family friend, Laurie Hamen, to act as the firm’s CEO. “There were a lot of things that need to be navigated that are very hard as a mother to navigate,” says Stoffer. “I’ve removed myself from being the person that has to have those tough conversations by hiring [a CEO]. … that was very crucial for us as a family.”
Highs & Lows
A multifaceted approach has defined Stoffer’s firm in recent years: There’s the core design firm, an independent cabinetry brand, a store, an e-commerce platform and even a cafe. All of it has been challenging to pull together. “The first day, it was amazing, we rang up $3,300 of product, we were high-fiving each other. Second day was $1,600, we were like, OK. Then $500, and then one day $29,” says Stoffer. “It was a little scary realizing I built it, and they’re not coming.” But as she and her team pivoted to figuring out e-commerce, volume started to pick up online, then came the pandemic and growth exploded. “That became the whole focus of our team, and it was very good,” adds Stoffer.
The Thursday Show
Meanwhile, on the latest episode of The Thursday Show, Scully and BOH executive editor Fred Nicolaus dissect the most recent news in the design industry, including out-of-control construction costs, some big retail moves and a viral TikTok mocking celebrities and their pedigreed wood furniture. Later, The Textile Eye’s Saana Baker shares what’s next in fabric.
Homepage image: Jean Stoffer | John Stoffer