1. Houzz Pro Learn
  2. Pro Success Stories
  3. Designers

How Systems Help Vanessa Smith’s Flourish Interiors Firm Thrive

Read how the Indiana designer successfully scaled her white-glove concierge business

Houzz Pro

MARCH 14, 2024

With land developer parents and a background in art, fashion and retail, Vanessa Smith was poised for a smooth transition into interior design. So it was no surprise when she opened Flourish Interiors in Northern Indiana in 2017, or when she grew the business from two employees to eleven since then, bringing in high-end clients. What might be surprising, however, is that she’s done it all while co-owning a real estate brokerage with her husband and raising four children to boot. Here she explains how she did it all and what she considers most important to advancing her business.

Skill Sharing

Although both the fashion-and-retail world and the interior design realm involve creativity, Smith has found that her business skills were not just transferable from the former to the latter but essential as well. “Probably the No. 1 thing that I credit as being completely transferable and a skill that I’ve continued to hone and refine over time is financial management —  understanding my metrics, knowing when we need to scale, knowing when we need to invest in technology or a new building or software,” she says.

Management skills, on the other hand, came over time. “When I started off in the fashion boutique, I was probably 24, and I had never managed a team before,” she says. “Originally, I almost intentionally didn’t want to help people grow, because I was worried they would grow past my business and leave me. Over time, I’ve learned that the more you pour into those relationships, the more loyal people are, and the more your team grows, and the more excellence you achieve.”

All Systems Go

While being skilled in financial management and offering incredible customer service are important, Smith says having a system is key. “I really am passionate about systems,” she says. “I think if you do not have the proper systems, you are reinventing the wheel every time for a client. You’re having to think so hard every time, like, ‘What should I be doing next? How should I present this? How should I aggregate this information for my client to best understand what I’m proposing?’”

Flourish Interiors offers white glove concierge services, handling myriad details beyond design so that clients can move right in and have everything they need already there — for example, linens, toiletries and cleaning supplies. This means that having a system is especially important, and Smith touts the benefits of using Houzz Pro software’s templates. For example, she has one with a list of items that her team can then customize for each client, and another for design proposals.

Using templates “brings over 80% of the work,” she says. “You’re capitalizing on your past work, and you’re repeating that over and over.… Every time we launch a new project, we launch a new checklist with a template. You can always cross off something that isn’t relevant to the client.” 

Another benefit of using templates is reducing the potential for human error, she says: “The busier we get, the more likely we are to make an error. If you can trust your systems, and specifically in this case that implies Houzz Pro…then your people are free to design better and to take better care of your clients.”

Making a Smart Switch

Although she relies on it now, Smith didn’t always use Houzz Pro. “We were using Google Sheets, which was essentially close to free at the time,” she says. But “I never looked back once when I made that investment [in Houzz Pro], because it completely revolutionized how we were able to do business.” On the administrative side, “what used to take maybe 30 hours of copying and pasting for a single proposal went down to probably six hours. On the purchasing side, I would say it’s probably fairly comparable. Maybe what used to take 60 hours now takes 12 or 15.”

Plus, “the clients were happier, because they had really clear, concise communication and an understanding of everything from the room boards — which we could use as tear sheets or send as presentations or whatnot — to the itemized proposals,” she says, “where they could accept or decline things or write feedback to me, and see the quantity and the price, and so forth.”

She also loves how the software makes it easier to keep track of everything project-related. “A detail of something that you need to order can’t slip through with the product tracker,” she says. “It goes on and on, the benefits that it has brought to our business.… We couldn’t have even scaled the way we did without it. What revenue would we be missing or what level of projects would we not be able to take on if we didn’t have this software? That’s how much power I think is in this type of software.”

Knowing When to Say No

As much as Smith has grown the business, it hasn’t been at the expense of things she considers important. “I actually scaled back down recently just a little bit, intentionally,” she says. “Early on in your business, you have to say yes to all sorts of projects just to gain experience and get your name out there, and keep busy and so forth. Over time, as business becomes more plentiful, you really have to start filtering and asking yourself what projects are worth your time and what projects will your clients be best served by your being a part of that project.”

She has recently said no even to a potentially lucrative, large-scale commercial project. While her firm frequently takes on commercial projects, they look for ones with room for creativity and beauty, and this one “just didn’t feel like the right fit,” Smith says. “Filtering helps preserve quality because you’re basically handpicking your opportunities to where you think that you can preserve that quality and give the right client experience and customer service.… If you really filter and you make sure you have the absolute best talented team alongside you, and you’re encouraging them and managing them well, and you’re using systems, then ideally you can preserve that quality.”

Advice Gems

Smith has developed plenty of insights that can benefit both new and experienced designers. Here are a few.

The key element for retaining customers: “Communication is probably the biggest one. We send weekly progress reports on all open projects. We use Houzz Pro email marketing and have a template for that. We include pictures and open invoices. It’s a summary, like, ‘Here’s what we’ve been working on. Here’s what we’re working on next. Here’s what we need from you.”

How to keep talented team members: “Believe in them and always assume the best of them. Try and challenge them and help them grow. Do not limit them. Do not try and put them in a box of what you think they need to do for the business. If they want to change roles, if they need to move on, you need to honor that and show your other staff that you are for them even when that happens.… Those things show that you support their overall success.”

Top key performance indicators (KPIs) for her business: “Billable hours is one of the best metrics, because that shows me, is my staff being utilized? Are they being maxed out, or is someone sitting idle?… Obviously, I’m looking at overall revenue too — probably the lifeblood of any business — and in marketing, I’m looking at KPIs on what kind of traffic we’re getting on our website and how many click-throughs and so forth.”

On artificial intelligence: “I think that it has the power to be a threat, but I also think it has the power to be a massive efficiency gain and tool.… It’s like anything powerful. There’s a double-edged sword there: If you don’t adopt it properly, you could be left behind. By the same token, it could have the ability to revolutionize how we do things in our industry and so forth. I’m trying not to be afraid of it, but more just have curiosity about it.”

To see how Houzz Pro can help you create systems that boost your own business success, the way it has for Vanessa Smith, start your free trial today.

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

Comments (0)

Join the conversation by commenting or asking a question below. The Houzz team reads every single comment, and we’ll get back to you by email if you need us!

Want advice delivered to your inbox?

Unlock industry insights and updates for contractors and design pros

By signing up, I agree to the Houzz Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and that Houzz may use my information to contact me about relevant content, products, and services.