As Trade Tales enters its third season, we’re trying something new: For the next six months, the show will feature stories of business pivots—large or small—that fundamentally transformed a firm. This week, the show features a designer who decided to scale back operations at her firm in order to shift her focus to the launch of a retail venture.
By the time she turned 30, everything was falling into place for Jenny Wolf. She was newly married, settled in New York and had built a successful career overseeing retail openings at Ralph Lauren. Then, a work assignment at The Greenbrier hotel in West Virginia changed everything.
“I was just awestruck by the design—Dorothy Draper was the interior designer. … It was bright and cheerful and colorful, and I was amazed by the risk-taking,” Wolf tells host Kaitlin Petersen on the latest episode of the Trade Tales podcast. “I was like, ‘This is my path.’”
When her husband picked her up from the airport, she insisted that the pair drive straight to a bookstore so she could learn more about Draper’s published work. Despite being at the top of her game with an enviable job, Wolf was willing to go back to the drawing board to follow her passion and soon enrolled in the interior design program at Parsons. The following years were a blur, packed with internships, coursework and even the birth of her first child—which took place in the middle of the installation process for her very first design client.
In the end, the hard work paid off. Wolf launched her own firm in 2011, just a month before graduating from design school. In the years to follow, she learned to step into the role of firm owner, hiring the team needed to scale up and welcoming employees who could fill in the gaps in her knowledge of back-end operations.
Wolf grew up in her parents’ furniture showrooms, and the pull of helming her own retail brand had always lingered in the back of her mind. The timing never felt right as she was building her design business, but the personal upheaval of her divorce prompted her to start looking for the right place to set up shop. The resulting venture—a retail business called The Huntress, located in Pound Ridge, New York—proved to be the perfect opportunity for Wolf to unleash a creative side that didn’t always have the chance to break through in her projects for clients. Still, she soon realized that something would have to give. Allowing the retail arm of her business to thrive, she’d come to find, would mean restructuring her design firm and scaling back its operations.
“I would love to tell everyone that there’s a shortcut, but I don’t believe in shortcuts,” says Wolf. “This life is a journey—these businesses, these roles that we take on, you have to go through them to get to whatever is meant for you next.”
In this episode, she shares the strategy she’s using to better distribute the workload at her firm, how launching a new retail business has shifted her creative output, and why she’s not afraid to hire employees with big ambitions.
Homepage image: Jenny Wolf | Courtesy of Jenny Wolf