Window Designs, Etc. – Small Biz Stories, Episode 3

Join us for episode 3, where we share the story of Marie Mouradian, owner of Window Designs Etc.

Small Biz Stories tells the story of some of the bravest people you’ll ever meet — small business owners.

You’ll hear how they got started, their biggest challenges, and their dreams for the future.

Find us on Stitcher

You can also read the transcript below:

Small Biz Stories is brought to you by Constant Contact. Constant Contact is committed to helping small businesses and nonprofits connect to new and existing customers with email marketing. Find out more at ConstantContact.com.

Marie: How I determine success? Jeez, I don’t know. To leave everything more beautiful than it started with. And everything is different; each job has a little different twist on it.

Dave: What is it about success that makes it so hard for us to pin down?  Maybe the biggest reason is that success looks and feels different for each person.

For Marie Mouradian, owner of Window Designs Etc., success is not something to be accomplished, but something to constantly strive for. As her own boss for over 33 years, Marie has pushed herself to stay at the top of her craft within a changing industry.

Today she’ll share where she gets her inspiration, her biggest challenges, and advice you can apply to your business.

More than fifty percent of small businesses fail within the first five years. These are the stories of those who beat the odds. My name is Dave Charest and I’ll be your host as we share the stories of some of the bravest people you’ll ever meet, small business owners. You’ll hear how they got started, their biggest challenges, and their dreams for the future.

Dave: Stepping into our office, it’s clear that Marie’s passion for design and aesthetic are not only part of her business, but something she lives and breathes each day. There’s an attention to detail in the way that she presents herself. I started our interview by asking Marie where her love of fashion and design comes from and how it translated to starting her own business.

Marie:  Ever since I was really small my mother and my grandmother taught me how to sew. And so I started sewing clothing when I was probably about seven. And that’s what I have my degree in, is clothing and textiles. And then I went into fashion merchandising, into the retail end. And that was when stores started opening on Sunday, and I was working way too much for schlepping all kinds of clothing all over a store.

And so I started doing things on the side. And it was through encouragement of my family, my friends, my then-fiancé who said, “You really just need to start a business.” And so at the ripe old age of 22 I went into business. Did I have a business plan? No. Was I crazy? Yes. But I was very fortunate that I had people who believed in me.

Dave: For Marie, the doubts and uncertainties of starting a business were overpowered by a desire to pursue something personal and meaningful.

Marie: Fabric makes my heart sing, and color and texture and all the types of style and design.

Dave: Tell me a bit more about that. What about it makes you so excited?

Marie: That you can take something flat, a flat bolt of fabric, and you can create anything, anything. Anything that gives you a feeling. And, of course, as it transfers onto windows, it absorbs sound, it creates all other functions. Whether you’re going to block out light or add some style, hide some architectural faults that many clients don’t seem to realize that their house has until you point them out. And it just creates magic.

Dave: This magic is what attracts clients to work with Marie. They’re comfortable inviting her into their home because of the passion and energy she brings as she walks through the space.

So tell me a bit about your customers then, and your clients. Why do they come to Window Designs?

Marie: Because they want to feel special at home. They take value in their home, whether it is a 7,000 square foot house or it’s a little 600 square foot condo. They work hard all day, they’re uncertain in the world, and they want a place to call their sanctuary and welcome guests into their house.

Dave: So what’s it like when you meet with a client then? How does that process go?

Marie: When I initially do a consultation, I have the client walk me through the whole property because I want to know what the other rooms are like; I want to know what’s important to them. And also, it’s very important to ask what they dislike. They might tell me that they strongly dislike this lamp, but they have to keep it because it’s their great aunt’s or their husband’s great-aunt’s that was handed down, but they really dislike it. So we’ll work with that.

And what I really like is when the client will show me a piece of artwork and then she’ll start telling me about her and her husband’s trip to Sedona when they picked it out. And they can remember the little gallery, and then they went out to lunch after. And those are the things that are important to have in your house. So maybe we’ll use that as a jumping off point as to what the feeling is for the room, and that’s a good thing. And then I ask them lots of questions, lots of questions, “Who uses the room? How do you want it to feel? Are you in here during the day or in the evening?” I observe which direction the sun comes in, is it a north-facing room or is it saturated with sunshine at 9 o’clock in the morning. And yeah, I get to know them.

Dave: All of Marie’s enthusiasm makes it easy to forget the hard work that has gone into building her business. It’s not until she starts to explain the challenges of balancing her business and family, that you start to realize the huge commitment and dedication her business has required over the years.

Marie: I had people tell me, “Don’t worry, honey. You’ll get a real job someday,” which made me laugh. And yeah, people wondered what I did all day as I was developing my business. And even as I was well into business, one of the best things about being in business for yourself is flexibility. And I should say I work from home, I do not have retail space.

Dave: Okay.

Marie: So my flexibility. And so I have two children and when they were young, I would work after they went to bed. And then I’d get up really early in the morning and work before they got up for the day. And a couple of people, friends, our children’s friends’ parents would say, “Oh, so what do you do? Work 10, 12 hours a week?” And I said, “No, I really work about 60.” But the facade was there, I was always there. I was always the mom, and so that what it looked like. And so people really didn’t realize what I did.

Dave: Yeah. How did that fuel any of the things that you did? Did that do anything for you?

Marie: Oh gosh, determination. Yes, determination.

Dave: Yeah.

Marie: And then with the onset of the Internet, I’m a very early adopter. And so it was a very easy way to set myself up on the Internet as an expert.

Dave: Yeah.

Marie: And so I think it wasn’t until after that that people really saw what I could do.

Dave:  Looking back to the early years of her business, before the Internet came into play, Marie remembers struggling to find information related to her industry.

Dave: What did you find was most challenging for you in those beginning years?

Marie: Information, getting information, getting vendors and all to trust in me. And yeah, lots of information as to how to do things, what the industry standards were.

Dave: Okay.

Marie: And what I quickly learned was the industry standards were not my standards. I wanted something more.

Dave: Where did you go for that information? Where did you go for advice, just either within the industry or just in running your business in general?

Marie: Within the industry, magazines that were initially coming out. And, of course, I giggle at them now because they were so archaic. And again, some of my fabric vendors would have things. There was very little information out there. I did, obviously, go to the library, study some history of different things, but there wasn’t much how-to. So it was a lot of trial and error and learn my way.

Dave: Right, right. Was there ever a time where you felt like, “All right, maybe this isn’t going to work”?

Marie: Yeah. I still think I feel that way. I still think I feel, “Well, maybe I should go work for somebody else,” for about 15 seconds, and then I say, “No way, I’m not doing that. That would be awful, that would be awful.” Yeah, I don’t think there was really a down, down time. Of course the economy has taken some peaks and dips, but in the dips that’s when I learn. That’s when I try to invest in myself and figure some other things out, or just grow my business or grow my marketing. And that’s when I have a little bit of time to do some other things.

But did I ever think that I wasn’t going to succeed? No. Because it’s up to me, not anybody else.

Dave:  With more information now readily available online, Marie relies on a combination of traditional advertising methods, as well as new marketing channels, to stand out and reach her audience.

Marie: I live in a small town and there is a local newspaper, weekly newspaper — which you may think newspapers are dead, they are not. This local newspaper goes to five, six towns. And I do advertise every week and I always get clients, always. People will cut my ad out, place it on the refrigerator. And because I’m a sole proprietor, I do have the advantage of asking every phone call, every new potential client that I get, “Jeez, how did you hear about me?” And they will say, “Oh, I’ve had your ad on the refrigerator for such and such amount of time.” I would say probably a good 60% of my clients come from that. Yeah.

Dave: Okay. So yeah, let’s talk a little bit more about that. So how do you go about just marketing your business in general?

Marie: I’m very big on social media. I think that’s where people go, people pick up their phone and they Google it. And I want to be found. I do have a blog. I’m very big into SEO. And I’m on Facebook, I’m on Pinterest, I’m on Twitter a little bit. But we’re real visual, so Instagram is one of my favorites. Because everyone wants to look at a pretty picture of a room that’s finished or color or something fun.

Dave: Yeah. So you talked a bit about, obviously, the newspaper ads. Aside from word of mouth, let’s say, would you say that that is your best channel that works best for you or?

Marie: It’s a very good channel, everything supports one another.

Dave: Okay.

Marie: Because on my newspaper ad my website is there. And so everything really interacts with one another. I do make a conscious decision if I’m going to put a photo into my newspaper ad, that photo will show up on social media the next day. Just so clients have recognition.

Another thing I did probably about 10, 15 years ago is in all of my print and social media is I use a photo of myself.

Dave: Okay.

Marie: Because people easily recognize me and they want to know. People are inviting me into their home, they want to know who this person is. “Is she a crazed lady or is she nice and sweet?” And so by adding my photo in there, that really has done well.

Dave: So what’s your view on the social media aspect of it?

Marie: It’s not going away, it’s not going away. It can control you, but you have to be on there, you have to have a presence, you have to have a large footprint on the Internet. It’s one thing to show up when someone Googles you, and then it’s another thing to show up the first 20 spaces, with different articles that you’ve written. If I’ve written for my blog or that have been published in some of the trade magazines or things like that, you can’t ignore it, you have to be on there.

Dave: At this point, I have to be honest, Marie is speaking my language. As a huge proponent of online marketing and how it can help small businesses, I loved hearing her talk about its value. I asked her a couple more questions about how using these marketing channels translates into real business results.

How do you make that connection or the move, let’s say, from social media to someone becoming a client or bringing them closer to you? How do you do that?

Marie:  Well, all of my social media stems back to my website, back to my blog. And that the ultimate is for them to, say if someone clicks on a pin from Pinterest that I have on there, if they click on that, that will drive them back to the article that I’ve written or the portfolio post or whatever onto my blog. And all URLs stem back to where I have my email sign-up. And that really is ultimately the goal, is to have them give me their email so that I can market directly to them. And I reward them because I don’t make my email newsletter public. It is specifically for those who have given me their email address. So those people get a little extra special deal, or they get some extra information. So I keep it exclusively to them.

Marie: Because I think that by getting into their inbox, it’s just a soft little tap on their door, “Hi. Remember me? I’m still here.”

Dave: Yeah.

Marie: And I’m not looking for anything major from them, it’s just a reminder that I’m thinking of them.

Dave: And what types of things do you send in that newsletter?

Marie: Trends, some of the new products. Before and afters are very popular. Everyone likes to see how “ugly” something looked before I completed the job. And it’s funny because I’ll go in and photograph a room, and sometimes I won’t because I don’t feel as though we’re completely finished. And the client will ask, “Well, when am I going to be in the newsletter?” or, “When are you going to write a blog post on?” And I’ll say, “Well, when we replace that area rug and when we do some more pillows, and then it will be finished.” And so that kind of encourages them to get to that point. But clients are very, very honored when I use their room in any type of media.

Dave: As Marie gains more marketing knowledge, she knows it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Staying in business for 33 years requires confidence in her talent, and also a drive to learn new skills and make improvements.

What’s the thing that keeps you going and your business successful?

Marie: Always changing. Always, always changing. The trends change, styles change, and you never know when that next client is going to call or email, or some clients text. And you don’t know what that next project is going to be. It’s always new and exciting. Right now motorization is hot, automated window treatments.

Marie: Everything is automated now, and it can all be integrated into the home. So on an app you can put your shades up before you arrive home. And so all these things are changing really fast, and so it’s all new and exciting. And who knows where it’s going?

Dave: Yeah. How does that impact just your process really?

Marie: Well, I have to know a lot about electrical things, which I literally was thrown into it back in, gosh, 1999.

Dave: Yeah.

Marie: That was the first time I ever did a motorized, actually I did a board room for a large corporation.

Dave: Yeah.

Marie: And I had no idea what I was doing, but I said, “Oh, sure, I can do that.”

Dave: Yeah.

Marie: And I made it my business to learn.

Dave: Yeah.

Marie: And so yeah, you just have to keep up.

Dave: Yeah.

Marie: Product knowledge. And clients love it when you tell them, “Well, jeez. Yes, you can have this shade, but did you know that we could motorize it? And then when the sun comes at a certain angle and it heats up to a certain temperature, then the shade can come down to keep it a little cooler in here.” And clients appreciate the new information.

Dave: Of course, part developing new skills involves making mistakes along the way. I asked Marie if anything stuck out as her biggest business mistake.

Marie: Gosh, there definitely are mistakes. Maybe I should have said “no”. I try to please everybody. And just because a client calls me and tells me that they need me, sometimes you get the vibe that they’re just not your client, and you shouldn’t work with everybody. You don’t have to be a people pleaser all the time, it’s better to work with fewer clients that are of good quality than to work with many clients who just have you doing crazy things.

Because sometimes clients think that you can create something out of nothing. And if you’re not giving me anything to start with, it’s not going to happen. I won’t do bad design, I won’t compromise. And say if someone says, “Well, let’s save money by not lining this drape.” No, I’m sorry, I will not do that because that’s my name, those are my drapes. Even though you’re paying for them, that’s my work.

Dave: Marie presents a great deal of pride and confidence Marie in her work. This isn’t something that develops overnight, but comes from experience. Here’s her best piece of advice for business owners just getting started:

Marie: Make a commitment to education, to learning as much as you can, an ongoing education. Just because you learned something once at the beginning of your business doesn’t mean you’re done. Just stay up, keep going. Get involved. Get involved with the community, help somebody else. I’m very involved in my Chamber of Commerce, I sit on the board, and there’s always new businesses coming out. And so even though they’re not my exact business, but you can still offer them advice. And yeah, just get yourself out there and get a strong presence on the Internet.

Dave: No matter what success looks like for you and your business, Marie offers a few lessons to keep in mind. The first is to listen to your customers and get to know them as well as possible. Secondly, let them get to know you by sharing what you know in the local and online community. The last, and maybe most important lesson, is to deliver an experience they’ll never forget.

Here’s Marie with one last quote on the power this kind of interaction:

Marie: So many times I finish with a project and the client will say, sometimes with tears in her eyes, “This is better than anything I ever could have imagined.” And they have a photo, they have a drawing of it, they know what they’re getting. But then to make that into a reality, they just think that’s wonderful.

So I set them up, that they’re getting something good, but then to create and make something even better than they thought.

Dave: We appreciate you listening and would love to hear what you think of the show. Your feedback is important to us, so please go to iTunes or Stitcher right now and leave us a review.

Small Biz Stories is produced by myself, Dave Charest Shaun Cronin and Miranda Paquet. You can contact us at podcast@constantcontact.com

Small Biz Stories is brought to you by Constant Contact. Constant Contact is committed to helping small businesses and nonprofits connect to new and existing customers with email marketing. Find out more at ConstantContact.com.

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