Interior design sensation Matthew Patrick Smyth has what anyone would describe as a blockbuster career. With projects splashed across the posh enclaves of the Northeastern U.S. and European capitals such as Paris, London, and Geneva, Matthew has earned his place in the top echelon of internationally known interior designers. Renowned for his richly historied approach to traditional design, he is a prime example of how delivering authentic design and consistent client service helps you build a brand that is sought after across the world.
We were ecstatic to have the opportunity to speak with Matthew about his life as a designer and what he thinks makes his firm, which manages both Matthew’s design projects and product lines, so successful. The one thing he consistently emphasized throughout our conversation was the importance of focusing on business operations, and how the way you handle a project is just as important as the creative designs you deliver.
One of the most admirable qualities of Matthew’s business is the loyalty of his network. Many of his clients return to him again and again, despite some being located thousands of miles from where Matthew’s primary office is in Manhattan, New York City (he maintains an apartment in Paris, a retreat he uses for a creative recharge in-between projects).
Matthew and his team have developed a system that allows them to successfully connect with people remotely across languages, continents, and time zones. We were eager, to say the least, to hear about how they were able to achieve this system of operations that allows them to deliver reliable, consistently high-quality service, despite the obvious challenges.
A Day At Work With the Designer
Matthew says his attitude toward every day is to expect the unexpected. When he wakes up each morning, the first thing he does is go through his email, trying to respond to as many as possible. He knows that once he arrives at the office, his attention will likely be diverted to solving new problems that pop up throughout the day. Other daily activities include preparing for client presentations and other external meetings. Matthew takes the time ahead of these meetings to make sure his staff has all the information they need from him, like details about a particular order they will need to place.
Which tasks does he delegate, and which does he handle himself? He believes in starting every new project himself, saying, “I always do the initial shopping, I do the furniture plans, I do the concept, I do the drawings, I sketch out the rooms, I can render the rooms myself.” However, he’s always focused on empowering his staff with information to make sure they can pick up any task in their court of responsibility. For example, he shares notes with his employees about each and every past client, so that no matter who calls the office, everyone on his staff will be as informed as possible when speaking with external parties, as well as welcoming and friendly in their familiarity. Remaining in control of his business is important to Matthew, sharing his motto: “Never just assume it's going to be okay. You have to make sure it's going to be okay.”
At Matthew Patrick Smyth, the team of seven is heavily stacked on the business operations side of the scale, with only Matthew and his design assistant working on the creative side of his projects. “It’s 10% creative and the rest is paperwork,” explains Matthew of the overall workload. Despite carrying the lion’s share of the design work, he describes the split of his own time to be 60% design and 40% business operations. He purposely limits the amount of work the firm commits to at one time so that he can remain hands-on throughout the entire process of all of his projects, saying very little gets ordered that he doesn't know about.
Matthew recognizes the importance and time sensitivity of each step in the interior design project management process, saying, “We spend a lot of time dealing with schedules and making sure everybody is on schedule. When something goes wrong, it's like a domino effect. You just can't take one piece out, each vendor and each supplier, we rely on each one in a row to get a project done. It's a tedious process, but it's the most important process.”
He also stresses the importance of hiring business consultants, a good accountant, and a good bookkeeper, beginning with an accountant if you are at the beginning phase of building your team. A good bookkeeper will make sure money is being allocated properly, that obligations are paid, and that sales tax is correctly applied. Matthew admits tax is a complicated area that requires diligent attention, saying, “We're responsible for state sales tax, and there's a lot of components that go with this industry. So, it’s easy to get in trouble if you're not organized.”
How He Succeeds with the Right Support
In order to keep so many moving pieces organized and going according to plan, Matthew and his team rely on Design Manager for the robust project management and accounting support they need. After experimenting with several software options prior to Design Manager, he and his team agreed that it’s the best solution available.
They had an easy time transitioning to the software and love using it to manage their daily workflow, saying: “It's very user-friendly and very logical. Everything works in the order that it's supposed to, and I think that's the first time we've been able to use any software so efficiently. It makes tracking very easy and that's the hard part— the process. We don't just order a chair, we also order fabric and trim for the chair, and then we have to get it all picked up and delivered. A sofa could have three or four different purchase orders just to get the sofa made, and Design Manager organizes them into one entity so it's an easy process.”
At the end of the day, Matthew knows that interior design is a client service business, and if you don’t deliver high-quality service in a reliable and consistent manner, you won’t succeed in the long term. The longevity of his career has given him this wisdom he has kindly shared with us: “Clients don't want a headache. Even if a finished project is beautiful, if the process was riddled with problems, they won't really want to go through that process again, no matter how nice it was.”
If you want to put your interior design business on a path to international success like Matthew Patrick Smyth, invest the effort in organizing in your infrastructure with tools designed for the industry, like Design Manager.