Decorating Den

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Camaraderie by Design
Decorating Den achieves franchise growth with steady support


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The interior decorating/design business can seem like an isolated enterprise.

But one of the advantages of the Decorating Den Interiors franchise concept – according to its president and chief executive officer, Jim Bugg Jr. – is the strength that sheer numbers provide.

“This can be a very lonely business,” he said, “and a big part of our culture is the camaraderie and team spirit that we have among our franchisees.”

Toward that end, the Maryland-based company fills its annual calendar with events specifically intended to enhance the idea that none of the nearly 300 franchise operators across the United States and Canada are in it by themselves. Numerous area-specific training events are scheduled throughout the year, and all franchisees are invited to attend the annual Lifestyle Conference, whose 45th edition is set this year for April 27 through May 2 in San Diego.

The supportive approach is further buffeted by in-house systems such as DecoNet, a private online information and communications system that was created by Virginia-based FranConnect and is made available for exclusive use by Decorating Den franchisees, regional offices and preferred suppliers.

It allows franchisees to communicate with the corporate office and each other, to set up their individual customer-management systems and to participate in chat forums to share design or customer ideas. Additionally, a one-stop element of the system was recently launched to allow users, if they choose, to develop, design and implement an annual local marketing program with a single button push.

“Our goal is always to make our business as easy as possible on the back end, so that they can spend the majority of their time on the front end of their business, which is dealing with their clients and designing beautiful rooms,” Bugg said.

“Our business allows you to be in business for yourself, but not by yourself.”

The company was founded in 1969 by an Indianapolis-based fabric salesman whose goal was to provide affordable custom window treatments directly to homeowners, a niche he believed was not being filled in the marketplace. Bugg’s parents – his mother was an interior designer and his father had a background in real-estate franchising with Century 21 – purchased the business in 1984.

Bugg joined the company out of college and helped evolve the endeavor from a shop-at-home window treatment business to more of a full-service interior decorating operation. Expansion into carpeting, area rugs and wallpaper was the first move in that direction. Furniture and accessories were added a few years later – and now make up 35 percent of the overall product mix.

Also playing a large part: The tidal wave of design shows on cable television.

“Throughout the ’90s and from 2000 on, the interest by the masses in home furnishings and decoration has been incredible, and a lot of that was certainly sparked by HGTV and the decorating magazines,” Bugg said. “Decorating, prior to that, was believed to be something accessible only to the very, very elite and wealthy. My mother always believed – in her own business before we joined the company – that interior design is a service, and being a service, it should be made affordable to those that desire that service, and not just for the top 3 percent of the income bracket.”

Decorating Den’s corporate model is supported by agreements it’s entered into with national brand-name vendors, from whom individual franchisees can buy products directly at a company negotiated wholesale price. The franchisees are able to sell the products to clients at a competitive retail price and able to maintain a profit margin without the need for showrooms or other associated overhead costs.

Design services are complimentary as part of the individual client projects, which sets the franchises apart from traditional retail competitors. “Our goal is to develop a relationship with a client, so that we become their decorator for life,” Bugg said.

The organization is comprised exclusively of franchises, except for one corporate-run operation that’s maintained for testing purposes. Most of the franchises begin as home-based operations, though some have grown into large enough entities to warrant having a commercial studio space in a light industrial or light retail facility. Some of the larger operators also have a team of decorators and administrative support staff, while many have remained a one-person, owner-operated entity by design

“We still have many franchisees that choose to keep it as a one-person show and operate out of their home and do it very efficiently and enjoy a good business and a good quality of life,” Bugg said. “And others have chosen to grow the business. It’s one of the beautiful parts about our franchise system, not being tied to a retail location, you have the ability to grow the business as large as you like.”

Twenty-three franchises were added in 2013 and Bugg said the goal for 2014 is to double that number. Some of the growth is organic, he said, and comes either by referral from other franchisees or from employees of franchisees who decide to strike out on their own.

In addition, the company markets the franchise opportunity in “places where people who have a love for design and a flair for color” would normally look, he said, including design-centric magazines, social media and appropriate trade publications.

The longer-range intent is to double the size of the entire franchise roster over the next three years, an optimism that’s fueled by steady recovery from several years of nationwide fiscal uncertainty.

“We believe that the timing is right for us,” Bugg said. “Over the last four or five years with the economic climate and the housing market, we were able to sustain better than most competitors out there. Today there are fewer competitors than there were five years ago. There’s a tremendous amount of pent-up demand with people who put the brakes on projects four or five years ago, and now that living room is four or five years more out of date and more in need of re-do.

“We’ve seen a tremendous uptick in business over the last 18 months and we’re looking at this as an opportunity to grow our market share while the larger competitors and other competitors have a slower reaction time to building stores and re-entering the market.”



WHO: Decorating Den Interiors

WHAT: Home furnishing company that offers window treatments, bedding ensembles, carpets, area rugs, wall covering, accessories, lighting and furniture

WHERE: Headquarters in Easton, Md.; Franchise operators across United States and Canada

Short URL: http://www.businessworld-magazine.com/?p=3393

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