How do you pivot a high-touch, in-person business during a time of social distancing? Lots of technology.
Deborah DiMare is an interior designer whose clients include high-end executives and business leaders, celebrities, and conscious homeowners. Previously, she executed her services by visiting clients’ homes and then presenting her designs. Now, she’s doing the same through digital means, a process that ends with new furniture and decor moved into clients’ homes and staged according to her designs. DiMare explains her transition in the Q&A below.
Who are you and what do you do?
I'm an award-winning interior designer and conscious entrepreneur recognized for creating the top vegan, non-toxic, sustainable interior design firm in the country (DiMare Design) and, subsequently, the Vegan Design Organization that educates and certifies both consumers and designers worldwide. I'm incredibly passionate about animal rights and the environment, and speak on both topics at stages and conferences worldwide. I'm also a proud brand ambassador and speaker for PETA, ASPCA, The Humane Society, and most recently joined the leadership board for Farm Sanctuary. With more than 30 years of experience, I'm one of the pioneers of the healthy home movement and have been featured in countless media outlets like Today Show, Los Angeles Times, Hollywood Reporter, Business of Home, Real Simple, and many more.
How have you conducted business in the past?
I conducted business similar to many design firms. I would meet clients in their homes, offices, or at my office. If they were from out of town, we would conduct meetings at their hotel. We would then have follow-up meetings face to face for the duration of the project.
What immediate effects did stay-at-home orders have on you and your business?
Like most businesses, we had to ensure that our systems for virtual meetings, presentations, feedback, and client communication were perfect. Design is a very detailed business and making sure nothing could fall through the cracks during this period was key to our organization.
What changes did you make to adapt to our current situation?
Virtual design services became our main offer and the one we promoted above all others. Since my focus is on cruelty-free design with a strong emphasis on nontoxic, sensory spaces designed for optimal health and development, we emphasized this focus in presenting our services. There is no other virtual design service that covers ethical and humane room makeovers. We are very proud of that.
The virtual design services work in four parts. We start with an awesome questionnaire that not only asks clients details about their room, budget and inspiration — we go deeper. We want to know about any health issues and the goal of the space. For us, it's not just about creating a pretty space. It's about that space having positive energy by carefully choosing items that work for the personal needs of the space. Next, we collaborate with clients on ideas, inspiration, likes, and dislikes. Then we meet virtually, take a tour of the space, review any existing furniture and finalize ideas. Finally, we send a layout of where everything goes along with a detailed list of healthy, cruelty-free furniture and decor that can be purchased with the click of a button.
What were the challenges in implementing the changes?
The challenges for us were mostly about implementing different technology. In my nearly 20 years running a design business, we have always used technology. However, now it’s at a whole new level with the massive growth of digital course consumption. We use at least a dozen or more different platforms for client communication, our courses, webinars, etc. But I must say, I love it! It allows us to reach people from all over the world and bring more awareness to showing consumers that living creatures and our planet need not suffer for beautiful, durable, and affordable furniture.
What have been the results?
We have booked numerous virtual design projects and are in the process of doing a full home makeover. We have created systems that will allow us to launch a nursery course followed by other conscious design courses. I never imagined that when I went vegan and nontoxic in my business, I would receive the reaction I did. I believe that people, more so than ever, are rethinking the effect their environments have on their physical and mental health. Healthy and humane design is how all spaces should be designed, especially for fragile populations: babies, the elderly, people with illnesses, those with autism, etc.
What have you learned through adapting to a remote environment?
We definitely are more efficient. It’s about weekly goals being met. It’s not so much that a drawing has to be done by 5 p.m.; it's more that it needs to be done by Wednesday. Working remotely creates more freedom with when and what hours you work. For example, I love working on Sunday mornings. I am laser focused and get a lot done. As my mama says, “A goal without a date is just a dream.” This is our mantra. It’s a very involved process and we do our best to stick to our time frames.
What advice do you have for others who are trying to figure out this way of working?
Don't beat yourself up if you find you’ve adapted to different working hours. A lot of night owls have been forced to work 9 to 5 and when they are alone they realize they have more energy during the late hours. Allow yourself to be and the freedom to adapt and work at odd hours if that's when you're most productive and inspired.
For business owners, you must have a basic understanding of your needs before you spend money and time. For example, if you want to do Facebook ads, don’t just hire someone immediately. Listen to a few free tutorials and learn. Guess what? You might not need Facebook Ads. You might do best with Pinterest. Be patient and talk to as many experts as you can. Then create a basic systems sheet and work off of that. It will change a lot.