It’s not easy to balance artistic passion with a business-oriented mindset, but it works for Valerie Steil. The President and Owner of Marc t. Nielsen Interiors, Steil took over the 76-year-old firm based in Valparaiso, Ind. in 2000, and while she is passionate about art and culture, she takes an astute, studied approach to running her business operations. Her approach is a good one, as evidenced by the success of her business, which works across the Midwest and Southwest, and brings Steil’s aesthetic of Old World, European flair to every space she touches. And on top of it all, Valerie also runs an antique showroom out of their design studio.
Born with Creative Intuition
“At about age 4, I embellished a plaster wall in my childhood home’s living room with a crayon ‘mural’. My mom later told me that there was a mural on that wall when they bought the home!” Valerie tells us. Throughout her childhood, she would sift through her mother’s Better Homes and Gardens magazines and save her favorite inspiration images in stacks of clippings under her bed. When she went to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, her interests in art and homes pointed her towards obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Interior Design, and during her time there she became a member of the ASID Student Chapter.
After graduating, she pursued traveling when possible, and was particularly intrigued by people’s homes across different cultures. Her experiences globetrotting have heavily shaped her design aesthetic and love for detailed antique pieces. Valerie also draws inspiration from her constant reading and her friendships with other artists, musicians, and chefs.
Becoming a Business Leader
Valerie joined Marc t. Nielsen Interiors early in her career, joining the firm in 1980. She began as an assistant interior designer, but worked hard to develop her own clientele over the years. When the opportunity arose to buy the firm in 2000, Valerie made the great leap from full-time interior designer to Interior Designer/President. Now, as the head of operations, Valerie was in charge of overseeing all of the inner workings of the company, from project management to accounting.
She quickly found her way by implementing standardized operations that help her and her team stay on task. Building on that, she is constantly working to improve her process and adapt to the constantly changing demands of the market. She says,
“Our clients and our staff are absolutely the foundation of Marc t. Nielsen Interiors. We are constantly working on processes, marketing, and operations, to try to be more profitable. These are organic, evolving things that seem to always be changing and needing updating or upgrading.”
Valerie’s ability to evolve her business is one of the pillars of her consistent track record as a successful interior designer and business owner.
Valerie’s Process For Staying On Track
Valerie begins every day by walking her dog, Mia. This calming start to her routine helps Valerie mentally prepare for the workload she will tackle in the hours to come. Once she is ready to begin work, she sits down with her coffee and goes through her emails. Valerie uses a system to make sure she addresses all pertinent emails; she says,
“I identify the emails that require more time to respond too, along with other project related pending things. I try to address them in the order of urgent/important first, then urgent/less important, then not urgent/important, then not urgent/less important. It doesn’t always work that way, but it helps to have that direction.”
Valerie brings a similar approach to organizing her week, with staff meetings every Monday, where they cover everything from personal well-being, to project related updates, to accounts receivables. She says,
“We do touch a bit on how everyone is doing, then a bit on where we are with marketing plans/projects. We then go through active projects and discuss any issues, delays, loose ends, etc. and assign them to staff to expedite. We then discuss any new project inquiries, and determine who will follow up and how. We then go over receivables, and if any are past due, we initiate steps to rectify that. Fortunately that does not happen much, and is usually the result of an invoice getting lost or buried. I am given the payables report to review before checks are cut on Thursday. Then if there’s nothing else to discuss, we get to work!”
In order to manage multiple large-scale projects at once, Valerie relies on Design Manager, the integrated project management and accounting software solution built specifically for interior designers, to stay organized.
“Design Manager helps tremendously with project management. We are evolving to use it more and more. Tracking time has got to be everyone’s least favorite thing to do and we’re learning to use Design Manager’s many available tools to make that easier”.
Lastly, Valerie makes time to meet with vendors so she’s aware of everything her resources have to offer. While her monthly team outings to ChicagoMart were temporarily put on hold during COVID, they recently had a team outing to see the latest and greatest the Mart had to offer.
Good Humor is the Heart
While Valerie relies on organization and structure to make Marc t. Nielsen Interiors operate like a well-oiled machine, her personality is the true heart of the business. She prides herself on bringing her good sense of humor to work every day, helping ease the stress of what can be hectic days for her team and nervous energy of anticipatory clients. And as a calming reward at the end of each day, Valerie finishes things the way they started, enjoying a leisurely stroll with her dog, Mia.