We recently held a panel at the Minka Group showroom where we focused on facing challenging times. We heard three industry veteran perspectives on past events and keeping business solid today. Our panelists: interior designer, product designer Robin Baron, Robin Baron Design; digital marketing expert Leslie Carothers, Savour Partnership; and Michael Bauer, Director of Trade Relations for Feizy Rugs.
How did past events, such as 9/11 and the 2008 recession, impact your business?
Robin Baron: I didn’t feel the 2008 recession right away. I was in the middle of projects. I started feeling it about a year, year and a half later, and that allowed me to prepare.
Leslie Carothers: After 9/11, I stopped working as an interior designer after 16 years. If I was ever going to start my own business, that was the time. I wrote a 32-page workbook and started a sales training business. It was internet-based. In 2008, Twitter came about. Twitter allowed us to talk B-to-B and B-to-C for free. I worked hard to get designers on Twitter between 2008 and 2012. I started doing a lot of speaking. That was the shift for me then, and I’ve shifted several times since.
Michael Bauer: I didn’t get into this industry until 2000. I had been a caterer. No one wanted to have parties after 9/11. I became the “showroom boy” in In Detail (in Dallas) and I was the first person to sell home furnishings to a designer. In 2008-2010, we saw hospitality designers shift focus to residential design. Working with designers allowed me to keep my business going. When you look at high design, that doesn’t really slow.
Share some changes you made or saw in the industry that kept things going?
RB: I had a newsletter just when blogs were starting (2008). I had been doing a lot of print marketing, which was expensive, so I changed to digital at that time. I started doing blogs, twitter and other social media. I reduced my staff by half, which allowed me to reduce costs. It’s important to keep marketing. You have to find smart ways to do that.
LC: Ecommerce was becoming important during 2008-2013, and retailers were competing with ecommerce. Manufacturers were starting to work with designers during those times, so that became a focus.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned in past crises that you can use today to protect your business?
RB: With economic stress, take a step back, take a deep breath and don’t panic. Figure out how you can be leaner and meaner. Make sure you are not only attracting what you want in business but keeping your structure set up to survive in lean times. Find the white spaces. Where in marketing can you think differently? In those early days, I became a spokesperson or brand ambassador for companies. You have to do things that make sense in your business. There are other marketing avenues today, and we have to be ahead of the curve.
MB: We take ideas from the designers and retailers we work with. We’ve also streamlined, and gone from Feizy to Feizy Rugs. We are strictly rugs now. We’re also rebuilding our website and reorganizing our marketing, growing that along with the website. Now is the time to prepare. Even when business drops off, you need to stay visible in front of your audience for when things rebound.
How do you keep your business in front of customers during leaner times?
LC: Create a business-to-consumer Facebook group. It allows you to have a free community to stay connected with potential customers during uncertain times. You can advertise through your Facebook page. Get local consumers into your community. After COVID, community was missing, and people want to be around other people. Start having conversations. How can we help you with…? It is a time commitment. To get people to engage, be real. Let people get to know you. Keep in mind that no one wants to be sold to constantly.
RB: You’re establishing yourself as a community leader. You can go from doing the community on Facebook to doing talks like this one in front of potential customers. Establish yourself as an expert.
In our current economic climate, what steps should you take to ensure your business weathers the challenges?
RB: Know your goals. Set those and then determine how you attain those goals. There are long-term and short-term goals. Focus on the long-term goals first, and then set the short-term goals toward those long-term goals. Things shift along the way, so you have to be flexible.
In these times, too, go back to doing talks for consumers and finding new ways to connect. Be out there in whatever way you are comfortable and be building those relationships and trust.
What are some unique steps you are taking now to ensure you send the right message to your customers?
MB: Communication within the company is super important, as important as communication outside of the company. How do we communicate with customers that now’s the time to move forward, not to pull back? That word goes out to the reps, and they go out to the retailers. The message is let us partner with you and collaborate to keep you moving forward.
RB: It’s not always as simple as encouraging a design client to continue. It’s important to stay front and center so when your clients are ready, they think of you. The message is that they can trust you to do right by them. They’re nervous about the economy. We can help each other. It’s about collaboration. Handwritten notes are way underrated. Write a note to your top 10 customers. Send little gifts. It’s old fashioned but it’s unusual now so it can pay off. Maintain a positive attitude.
LC: Create experiences for your customers. Offer candle-making classes or other in-person events that attract young consumers into your store. Create that community aspect.
Do what you can virtually too. Create a white-label Metaverse activation on your website where customers can join an event with avatars and shop if you have an ecommerce site. Set it up as a game. This is the next evolution of digital marketing.