Though Nikki Chu is a seasoned interior designer — with celebrity clients, a television show, and multiple product lines under her belt — when COVID turned turned the world upside-down earlier this year, she says she felt like an entry-level designer again.
“I was in the same position as a beginner designer when COVID happened,” she says. “Everybody kind of just came to a stop. All my clients said, ‘let’s just put a hold on all these jobs.’” Chu knew it was time to pivot strategically—and that’s when TeleDesign Pro, her virtual interior design platform, was conceived.
“One day woke up and I said, ‘That’s it. I have to bring my business online in a way that I haven’t been doing before. I have to offer services in a way that is going to resonate with more than just people who have a super high budget,” she says. “I was shocked that I became more busy than I had ever been by offering my services online. If you’re able to wrap your design business around an online experience, that is the best way to go.”
Launching TeleDesign Pro shed light on a niche Chu hadn’t consciously considered before: clients who couldn’t commit to a retainer fee or the budget of a full-home transformation— but who did have plenty of design questions, or who were only redesigning a single room, and wanted an expert opinion.
“When we’re thinking about designing and developing a home, I think the mindset has really changed now. Sure, we have those high end clients, I love them. But now, everybody, whether they have huge budgets or not, they are looking to upgrade their space. I think as a designer, and as buyers and retailers, we should not overlook that the masses who are also staying at home and need to bring love, life and energy to their space.”
TeleDesign Pro allows clients access to Chu even just for the simplest of questions— “whether they should go with blue paint, or they should go with, pink paint in a space,” for instance. This kind of accessibility has changed the game both for the clients—who can access an interior designer’s advice with the click of a mouse—and for Chu as a designer.
The New Landscape of Design
2020 has also shifted the way clients live in their homes, and subsequently the way designers must decorate them, Chu says. “A lot of times people are looking for things that are now going to operate and function for a whole family being at home. No room is off limits when you’re spending an entire year being quarantined. As designers, we now have to start investing into high-performance fabrics, indoor/outdoor rugs and pillows, things that can be washed off. And we also have to convert any outdoor space that we might have to look and feel like an indoor space.”
Her advice for fellow designers looking to master the art of the pivot? “If you are a designer, don’t leave money on the table. Find a way to bring your business online. That is the one lesson that I learned in 2020.”
Good news for those intimidated by the idea of building an online platform from the ground up: TeleDesign pro will soon open up to the trade, allowing designers to create their own TeleDesign Pro profiles and serve clients virtually right from the platform.
“Whatever money you have invested into pivoting your business is not going by the wayside, it is actually a great investment. I think the pandemic really taught me as a designer, as an entrepreneur that having your business online is the most important thing, because in the event of anything like this, you can continue to work, and you can continue to take your clients.”