Business growth isn’t always a steady acceleration—sometimes, it comes in fits and starts. For two designers, taking a step back (and getting sound advice) helped them take control of their forward momentum.
Though Boca Raton, Florida–based designer Margaret Schaffer launched REH Interiors as a one-woman home staging operation, it didn’t take long for her to set her sights on expanding the business to include an interior design division and warehouse fleet—ventures that increased her workload and quickly made hiring an essential next step. The first few hires went smoothly, which inspired her to keep at it. “Once I had gotten a taste for those first few employees taking work off my plate, I hired more and more—and I wasn’t really hiring intelligently,” recalls Schaffer. “I realized that when you add more people to the mix, you solve some problems but you add different ones.” As the team grew, the staff’s retention rate and morale started to slip; after hiring an operations manager, Schaffer realized that she didn’t have the revenue to support the firm’s headcount, either. To right the ship, she went looking for expert help. Her first call was to business coach Gail Doby, who helped Schaffer find a formula for the number of employees she needed to generate a baseline of revenue that would ensure the business was benefiting from the larger team. Her second was to an HR specialist, who introduced new protocols around training and onboarding—including regular check-ins, performance reviews and team bonding activities—to keep employees engaged and on a path to growth. Nearly a decade later, those tools are still serving her well. “I’m the principal of the firm—the visionary. Employees need consistency, accountability and implementation, but that is not my strength,” says Schaffer. “I built out those new guardrails so that I don’t sabotage the success of my team.”
ATTRACTING TOP TALENT
After about two years without bringing on any new team members, New York–based designer Elissa Grayer decided it was time to enter the hiring market again in 2021. Once she’d conducted a few interviews, it was clear that some- thing in the industry had changed: The salaries she’d planned to offer were far below what candidates now expected. “I realized that if I wanted to hire good people, I had to offer more,” she says. Instead of persisting with her offer, Grayer decided to reinvent the entire salary structure within her firm and bumped up the pay of her existing staff to match the going market rates. Then, with the help of an HR firm and a talent agency, she went back into search mode with new offers for incoming candidates. “It’s kind of a scary thing, but if you have the work, you will be able to make back that money,” says Grayer. “I had to pay more than I expected to get good people, but we need to make sure designers are compensated for their work. I want my team to be happy and earn a wage they can live on and grow from.”