For the third season of Trade Tales, the show will feature stories of business pivots—large or small—that fundamentally transformed a firm. This week, the show covers a designer who is launching a branding studio and trend-forecasting house within her firm.
For most designers, the early moments that set the stage for a future career in interiors often involved redecorating childhood bedrooms or rearranging living room furniture. For Sarah Goesling, it was an engineering summer camp for fifth graders. “I thought I was the coolest kid ever—that was not true, but it did open up a lot of opportunities,” Goesling tells host Kaitlin Petersen on the latest episode of the Trade Tales podcast. “I realized I could do something creative and live inside this world of design.” The daughter of a fine artist, Goesling was no stranger to expressing herself creatively, but learning about the processes behind the built environment brought new life to her artistic inklings.
After attending Iowa State University, where she studied interior design, Goesling kicked off her career at a residential firm based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where her work with high-end clients and stunning luxury properties (“that happened to exist in the middle of cornfields,” she says) helped her realize that her ultimate goal was to collect enough experiences to feel confident starting her own firm. A few years later, she moved to Chicago and sought out roles that would teach her the ins and outs of the design industry, from plumbing to project management. When she ended up at a firm where the leadership was intent on presenting clients with an overly polished version of the design process rather than setting expectations about the tumultuous nature of a renovation, it prompted another major career shift.
“We’re essentially coming in and professionally destroying their lives for a little bit. At the end of the day, it’s going to be so worth it—but we can’t promise it’s going to be beautiful every step of the way,” she says. “Going out on my own was the path I needed to take if I wanted to try to make an impact on peoples’ lives and change this industry a little bit.”
The difference of opinion ultimately led to Goesling’s dismissal from that firm—and she chose to view the moment as a window of opportunity. The very same day, one of her favorite past clients reached out asking for help renovating a condo, and the resulting consultation marked the informal start of her own design business. She spent the next six months formalizing everything from branding to business plans before officially launching the firm in January 2019. It might have been smooth sailing from there, but that’s never been Goesling’s style. Instead, she’s spent the intervening years leading her firm through a series of new challenges—acquiring a GC license to take on a more holistic approach to design, for example—with the ultimate goal of building a business that’s as dynamic as the industry itself.
In this episode, Goesling shares why she’s unwilling to settle into a comfortable routine with her business, how she’s creating a company culture that fosters growth and development, and why she recently realized a longtime dream by tapping her sister to launch a brand-development and trend-forecasting agency within the firm.
Homepage image: Sarah Goesling | Courtesy of Sarah Goesling