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Alisha Garlie Pursues Her Design Passion

How technology smooths her business journey and brings homeowners' dreams to life.

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As a young girl, designer and stager Alisha Garlie used to hang out in her father’s paint store. On busy days, even before she was old enough to earn a paycheck, she would help customers pick out paint colors for their home projects. 

“I'd be like, ‘So what's in your home? What are you trying to match?’ They would come in with photographs…of either their rug or artwork or the room scope,” she says. “It was just so much fun to, at an early age, do things like that with homeowners.”

Then, when she was in high school, the show Trading Spaces started airing on HGTV. Watching it, she knew that being an interior designer was what she wanted to do. When the hosts were interviewing homeowners about their dream renovation, she started imagining a career in design. “ I would just dream about what I would want to do. I knew then that that's the career path that was for me.”

She attended design school, and landed her first job at Ethan Allen, where she soon learned she could really make a profession out of it. "Within one year they were like, ‘Alisha, I know you're going to school, but baby bird, you need to become a design consultant.’ As nervous as I was to do so, my first client that came through the door, I sold an entire room in three hours,” she says. “It was one of the largest “walk in” sales to date in the store."

Garlie started her design and staging business in 2010, and has been doing interior design, off and on ever since. In 2021, after doing a stint in event planning in Hawaii, she moved back to Maryland and relaunched her company Welcome Home Staging, that serves clients in Maryland, Delaware and beyond.  

In this article, she shares her journey as a designer, her secret sauce for working with clients, how technology supplements the business skills she lacks, and offers advice to those just starting out in the field.

[Photo credit: Jackson Row Photography]

Extracting Her Clients Dreams

Garlie realizes that some designers have one design style that they do well and focus on that style, but her approach is different. “I love it all,” she says. “My design aesthetic is your design aesthetic. It's whatever you want.” She sees her role as being the one who extracts the dreams of her clients and then makes them a reality. “My job is to push the envelope and get inside of your brain, figure out what it is that you really want, pull that out and blow it up,” she says. “We just did an installation over the weekend and the reveal was amazing,” she says. Even as the taste was not hers, the end result fit her clients perfectly and they loved it.

She also does not hesitate to send clients to other designers if they are not a good fit for the services she offers. “I have all different kinds of clients but my client doesn't mind spending $40,000 to $50,000 for a living room. If you are not, that's okay because I have coffee with other professionals in my area that do that. I can refer them.” 

Get Visual

Figuring out what her clients want and then helping them see what their future space will look like is a key step in Garlie’s design process. She has several ways of walking homeowners through those early stages. It starts with learning more about them.

“I have a lifestyle questionnaire that I send out prior to our first consultation,” she says.  “It's their job to do a little homework. If it’s a couple, each person in the party that's going to be a decision-maker needs to fill it out,” she says. She asks about the colors and patterns they prefer as well as their lifestyle. Then, she discusses the answers, preferably while walking through their home with them. “Being in this space is so instrumental in knowing who they are, and how they live,” Garlie says. “Do they have children? Are they retired? What do they like to do?”

Once she has the answers, Garlie uses Houzz Pro visualization tools to bring the design vision to life. 

“I love walking into my client's home and being like, ‘Hold on a second, there is my measuring tool. Let me just walk through the entire space,’”she says. “I create their entire space with their existing furniture on the 3D Dollhouse View. Which highlights and affirms I am a pro.”

The Houzz Pro Clipper helps her quickly create Mood Boards of the colors, textures, furnishings and other ingredients of the design. “Clip, clip, clip. It takes seconds for me to be able to put the cost, the MSRP, all the specs in it and create the Mood Board,” she says. “ I can do a few different options, send it over, send it in the Dollhouse View and walk my client through it,” she says.

Reduce the Paperwork Burden 

Even though she was a skilled designer, Garlie lacked business acumen when she first started in the industry. “I'm a creative brain,” she says. “I am not a numbers person,” she says. “I had no real business training. I knew how to write a check and balance a checkbook and that's as far as it went,” she says. 

Nor did design school help on that end. “Even in school, you're there to learn your trade. You are not necessarily there to learn life skills and business,” she says. 

When she started her business she was doing everything on an Excel spreadsheet, which was tedious and time consuming. “You're inserting your logo. You are trying to keep track of your financing and your budget,” she says. 

When she started using Houzz Pro it was a “godsend,”  she says. At first, she used Houzz Pro solely for marketing. But she quickly realized the all-in-one business software could help her with every aspect of her business, including those areas that were a mystery to her. “Now, I have all of these back-office tools to keep me on task to handle all of my purchase orders, to do my tasks for my follow-up purchase orders and invoices,” she says. 

“I will tell you that the lifesaver is in the back office,” she says. Houzz Pro saves her time and angst in creating invoices, proposals and contracts. In one project alone, she figures that Houzz Pro business software saves her at least two hours of work per week. 

Today, design students who learn business skills and how to use the latest technology tools are ahead of the game in getting work in the field, she says. “It would definitely be a plus,” she says. “They would be the someone that I would be looking to hire, and if they knew Houzz Pro and  therefore I didn't have to train them, that would certainly save me time and money,” she says. “Then I can focus on the design, the clients needs and what I'm really good at doing.”

Keep Clients in the Loop

Providing transparency and clear communication with your clients helps to smooth the bumps in the design journey, she says. This is especially important in the post-pandemic supply chain climate where extended waits for furniture and other products can be common. “We have upholstery manufacturers that still have a 28-week lead time,” she says. 

She is upfront with her clients about those anticipated waits so that they know what to expect as the project progresses, and can opt out if they want. 

When someone has invested so much money into you, they deserve to know what they're getting back in return,” she says. “You have to be so open and honest with your clients.”

Gain ROI with Tech Tools 

Garlie understands that some design pros might be reluctant to invest in business software especially if they are on a tight budget. But she says the return on investment comes quickly. “It will pay for itself with your first client,” she says. “I have seen that return,” she says. Not only does it help her run her business more efficiently, Houzz Pro helps her with lead generation. “I have five clients that I'm working with currently, four of them are from Houzz,” she says.

“I would say, think about it just for a moment, and then think about how easy your life is going to be especially if you're a one-woman show,” she says. “It’s a total must have.”  She knows from experience. “I don't think that I would be able to run the efficient and professional business that I have…without Houzz Pro. I can't say enough about it.,” Garlie says. Whether it's invoicing, or marketing or visualization, it's all in the software. “It’s one system.”

Balancing Online & Traditional Marketing

When Garlie took a break from her design business to go back to Hawaii where she grew up, she focused on event planning. Then, returning to her interior design business, she saw how crucial technology and online marketing  had become in the interim.

“We're in the mecca of this,” she says. “I put my interior design business on hold, and took a small break in Hawaii, I came back, and marketing had changed tremendously. Everything is online,” she says. While she embraces technology, she supplements her online marketing with more traditional, personal touches. “I have an assistant who's helping me hand write note cards to hand out to brand new homes that are being built in my area,” she says. 

“I feel like everybody feels like a number right now. I think a handwritten note card, just back to basics, is something tangible and meaningful that people just don't get anymore,” she says. 

“I don't know how these trends are going to go, but I know you need to stay ahead of it,” she says. “Embrace it and go with it.”

Explore how Houzz Pro can help you run your design business more efficiently with a free trial of Houzz Pro.  

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