At Design Manager, we talk a lot about the importance of strong operations for interior design businesses, because they have so many details and moving parts that have to be managed efficiently and without fail. Without a standard process for handling business and a diligent eye to make sure nothing is forgotten, it’s too easy to fall behind on bookkeeping, forgetting to invoice a client, or missing a major deadline.
Decorators Unlimited Designer: Lisette Kennedy
That’s why we jumped at the opportunity to interview Tina Murray, VP of Operations for Decorators Unlimited, an end-to-end luxury design firm that employs 80 and has projects around the world. Here, Tina shares some key tips that she’s learned along the way, and what it takes to become a large, internationally respected design firm.
How Tina Got Her Start in Interior Design
Tina started her career in business working in the interior design industry. She started out working in a furniture showroom that offered interior design services, but was built primarily on a retail business model. She quickly became enamored with design and knew she wanted to continue on this path. When she had the opportunity to join Decorators Unlimited, she knew it would be a great place to learn a broader skill set, because the company works across construction and remodeling, all aspects of the interior design process, and even retail, managing a boutique in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (where Decorators Unlimited is headquartered).
Tina joined the company as a Purchasing Manager and over 16 years worked her way up to VP of Operations, learning and growing at each step of the journey. She continues to be fascinated by her work every day. She says,
“No two days are ever the same. Every day is challenging, so I’m never bored. It drives me to be in an environment where things change and while the business model stays the same, new things come up constantly.”
The ability to react quickly yet intelligently is one of the keys to her success.
Decorators Unlimited Designer: Jennifer Clark
Changing With the Times
Decorators Unlimited was founded by Bob Martin in 1985 and has grown steadily over the last 35 years. Tina has witnessed how technology has revolutionized their business over the years. She says,
“When I started, websites were not a thing. The internet didn't dominate business. Now, thanks to the internet, clients are able to get presentations digitally. They can really imagine what their space will become through 3-D renderings and other computer-aided presentation techniques. Twenty years ago we would have relied on physical catalogs, but with everything available online, our design process has been able to improve greatly.”
Of course, technology has also facilitated shorter project timelines through improved logistics and communication channels. Tina explains,
“Now clients can reach you 24/7. Emails are exchanged all day and night. We can send an entire presentation through online channels and things can move faster. Clients can sign documents with e-sign instead of faxing or sending them overnight. These changes have really allowed us to become more successful as we can move faster and turn things around more quickly. We are always looking to the forefront to see what's next.”
The introduction of social media has also had a huge impact for Decorators Unlimited and their ability to reach clientele outside of South Florida. Tina says, “whether it's a client, a vendor or supplier, or even a design student, people are able to find us and we are able to find people and sources we wouldn't have necessarily known about.” She also appreciates the inspirational quality of social media, and sees the positive impact it can have on people just coming into the industry.
Decorators Unlimited Home Collection, along with Habitat for Humanity of Palm Beach County,
had the opportunity to present the Williams family with their brand NEW home.
Like many other businesses, the coronavirus pandemic has recently prompted changes in the way Decorators Unlimited works. Tina has modified how they operate at every level, whether its designers doing virtual meetings instead of in person, reverting to the old days of mailing overnight samples to clients, and having their installers wear masks. The company already had a policy of installers wearing other personal protection equipment, like gloves and booties. Construction and installations also now have to be handled differently, with fewer people on the job site at one time. While Tina feels many of these changes will be temporary, the virtual elements will probably continue. Thankfully, they converted from DM desktop to Pro Cloud last year so their main business software was already cloud tested and ready for remote working. While nothing can replace in-person interaction and physically experiencing materials, some meetings can be done over videoconferencing to move projects along faster, and Decorators Unlimited has invested in high-quality cameras and other supporting technology for its conference rooms in preparation.
Hard Work Recognizes Hard Work
The one challenge Tina faces every day is the ability to finish everything on that day’s to-do list. She assists so many people in the organization with immediate-term problems that need to be solved, so she can’t always complete everything she had set out to do at the beginning of the day. That’s where Design Manager – which Decorators Unlimited has been using since 1998 – comes in to give Tina the support she needs.
Decorators Unlimited Designer: Lisa Lalaounis
“When I’m logged into Design Manager, I have access to so much information that I can omit three conversations I would have otherwise need to schedule just by looking it up on my own,” she says.
Design Manager lets her easily answer a wide variety of questions, such as:
- Simple questions like, ‘Has that deposit been sent?’
- More complex questions like ‘We have a lighting order for a client and they just moved up the date for delivery; what's here in our warehouse? Are we ready to make the full delivery to them?’
With time being so precious, anything she can streamline helps. There was a time when Tina would have to go to a file room to pull physical files to answer such questions. Now, she can do a simple search in Design Manager.
As someone who constantly pushes herself to meet her own aggressive goals, she recognizes the same work ethic in the Design Manager team, which is always responsive and available to help her through any questions she has about using the program.
“I always tell the Design Manager team I'm their biggest fan!,” she says. “ When you work with someone on the ball, and they are trying to be the best they can be, it means a lot.”
With so much on her plate and so little spare time, Tina does not forget to appreciate the people who make up the bigger picture of what she does. Her favorite part of working at Decorators Unlimited is the great relationships she has with the people she works with. She says, “We don't have a lot of turnover at Decorators Unlimited. Working together for so many years creates a strong tie with my colleagues.”