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Etch Design Group Puts People First

See how this award-winning interior design firm reaps the rewards of focusing on relationships.

Houzz Pro

FEBRUARY 29, 2024

With 50+ projects at any given time, the 12-person team at luxury interior design firm Etch Design Group in Austin, Texas, has to stay on their toes. And with the right attitude, staff and software tools, that’s exactly what they do, generating results any company would be proud of. Aside from consistently earning high revenues, Etch has 11 Best of Houzz awards and scads of five-star reviews. The company has even branched out from magazine-worthy residential design projects to commercial and construction projects as well. Let’s see how co-founders and principal designers, Jessica Nelson and Stephanie Lindsey, have made it all happen.

On the photo above: Stephanie Lindsey (L) and Jessica Nelson (R)

Personal Connections Are Key

Keeping staffers happy, including by providing growth opportunities, is an essential part of Etch’s ethos. “Communicating that individuals are valued and respected is not just necessary, but it’s a founding pillar for Etch,” Nelson says. “Without our people, we have nothing.” In fact, Lindsey says, “they’re our clients just as much as our clients are. We’re constantly wondering, ‘How do we make things better for them?’”

This not only builds loyalty; it makes everyone more joyful in their work, which spills over to clients and creates better relationships with them. And great client relationships tend to lead to great reviews — a strong component of long-term success. 

It’s not just staff and clients who get care and consideration, however; vendors and even people outside the professional sphere do as well. “Emphasizing the importance of people goes beyond the physical walls of Etch,” Nelson says. “It extends into all our relationships, both personal and professional.”

One recent example of putting people first: “One of our designers is pretty passionate about commercial projects,” Lindsey says. “We are trying to bring on more commercial projects for her fulfillment.”

Own Your Value

Communicating to clients what makes your firm special doesn’t have to be bragging; it’s about sharing the unique benefits of working with you. “The initial step in securing any new client begins with effectively communicating what sets your firm apart,” Nelson says. “How can you provide potential clients with all the necessary information, leaving them with the impression that they must choose your firm because of its exceptional qualities?” Before the designers at Etch even meet with clients, “we send them this beautiful packet,” she says. “The packet introduces clients to the team and the company.” 

One benefit of working with Etch is that everyone on the team uses software that saves time, keeps clients and contractors in the loop, and provides the best professional experience for everyone involved. For example, “everyone, to a certain degree, uses the Houzz Pro Project Tracker,” Lindsey says. “We use it every day.”

Another benefit: Nelson’s construction experience, gained from working with her construction pro husband. “I love the construction side of things, and…have acted as the general contractor on several of my own personal projects” she says. And she doesn’t keep the knowledge gained to herself; instead she works to educate the rest of the team “on a lot of the things that I’ve learned or continue to learn in working with my husband,” she says.

Growth Without Pain

Etch has scaled significantly in the past eight years, thanks to thoughtful strategizing, refining processes and always forging ahead. “[We’re] always trying to figure out how we can expedite and propel forward faster versus diving into the weeds of things and letting that drag us down,” Nelson says.

One change that has helped with efficiency is shifting from using various spreadsheets to keeping project information all in one place. The company’s financial manager, Pam Rembowski, particularly loves Houzz Pro’s financial reports tool. She uses it quarterly at a minimum to track the company’s efforts and progress. “I like how you can easily change the filters; it’s easy to pull numbers,” she says. “Previously we had to download the report every time we wanted to change certain settings.” By the way, Rembowski had never even used the software before she started at Etch. Now, “I’m in Houzz Pro every single day,” she says.

“The whole reason that we moved to Houzz was because it felt intuitive,” Lindsey says. “It’s easy for anyone to pick up.”

Rembowski also greatly appreciates their Houzz Pro product manager, Shoshana Nacass, who handles product improvements. “She has really taken that customer service to a whole other level,” Rembowski says. “We feel heard.”

Let Tech Help

The team uses different features of Houzz Pro for different aspects of their business. In addition to the Project Tracker and Financial Reporting features, they also utilize the Houzz software to collaborate, manage leads, and document each project, saving their team valuable time through efficiency workflows. In fact, Houzz Pro saves their team “about 30 to 35 hours a week,” Lindsey says.  

From the initial stages of each project, they use it to organize and track communications. Houzz Pro “makes it easy, because if there’s a lead, we can track all of the messages and communications from the first contact all the way to them becoming a client, directly from the platform,” Lindsey says. 

Later on in the process, “we use it to assemble design boards [with the new Selections tool] and then have those items filter directly onto a proposal, so it’s all saved once instead of multiple times in various applications,” Lindsey says. Their team also presents these selection boards to clients during in-person meetings. “It’s super easy to create a proposal,” she continues. “The platform is very user friendly, and It looks professional on the client's side.  Whether someone has knowledge of using Houzz Pro or not, it’s very simple for them to go in and create a proposal without a lot of prior knowledge in using or navigating the software.”

Her favorite element of all? The time tracking tools. They’re “just really easy for us,” she says. “No matter where anyone is or what tasks they’re working on, they can enter their time, and it automatically allows us to pull reports, which help us strategize on our current workload as well as our future pipeline of projects.”

“We use Houzz Pro for everything–proposals, time-billing, invoicing–you name it! Financial manager Rembowski especially appreciates the invoicing feature, particularly “the automations tool, which sends clients reminders about unpaid invoices,” she says. “It’s such a time saver, and one less thing I have to worry about.”

Pivot When Needed

Etch's adaptability amidst economic fluctuations is commendable. Despite encountering smaller projects, they've leveraged their strengths by tapping into the commercial sector and capitalizing on existing and new connections in the Austin market. This pivot underscores their proactive approach to sustain growth while emphasizing the continued importance of their team in driving success. Flexibility and strategic shifts like these are often essential in navigating dynamic business environments.

“When the economy started to slow down early last year, the first thing that Stephanie and I did was reconnect–we needed that moment to ground ourselves and go back to the roots of what got us here in the first place–our love for people’” she says. “We reached out to our contacts, not only to reconnect, but also to ask for new connections that could help us foster relationships within both the residential and commercial worlds.  

“When someone you enjoy working with, who also enjoys working with you, hears that you might need something–they’re usually eager to lend a helping hand,” Nelson says.

Another smart move: revamping the website to better showcase photos of past projects, understanding that great project photography is essential to landing new clients.

Analyze Projects and Maximize Momentum

For Etch, A thorough end-of-project analysis is a key strategy in ensuring future growth and profitability.  “Our team has done an amazing job of documenting past projects, which provides valuable insights and analysis of each project scope in relation to project costs, timeline and overall processes.”  This practice not only aids in planning for future projects, but also enables them to anticipate costs more accurately, ultimately contributing to efficient project management and potentially higher profitability.  It’s a proactive approach that showcases their dedication to continuous improvement and strategic foresight. 

And don’t expect Etch to slow down anytime soon, no matter what’s happening with the economy. “I believe 2024 holds nothing but positive things ahead. I’m particularly excited about the growth on our commercial side — we’ve witnessed significant momentum there,” Nelson says. “Entering into 2024 with a fantastic team and staff, we have much to look forward to.”

Want to build momentum and grow your own business? Try Houzz Pro free today and see for yourself the huge impact it can make.

Houzz Pro is the all-in-one tool for marketing, project and client management built specifically for remodeling, build, and design professionals.

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