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Seasoned Designer Alison Reuter on How to Thrive

Why successful home pros are innovators in both business & aesthetics

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As a design-build pro and the owner of a successful residential and commercial interior design firm, Alison Reuter has designed retail spaces for top brands such as The North Face. 

Call it a family tradition. “I grew up in a household of practical creatives who were very tech-oriented, very business savvy, but also loved creativity and crafting,” she says. Her mother designed stores and show homes, and her grandmother was a seamstress.  Reuter showed her talent for pleasing visual presentations early. “As a little kid, I was obsessed at the holidays with wrapping the presents, having the bows be perfect,” she says. 

An Unconventional Path

Instead of attending art school, Reuter double majored in international business and digital media studies for graphic arts and design at the University of Denver. “It was my way of getting art in, but still focusing on business,” she says.

Combining creativity and business acumen as the founder of A/Revelation designs in Denver & the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Reuter shares what she has learned on her journey with advice for industry newcomers, managing supply chain uncertainty, and how to make technology, such as Houzz Pro management software, a business partner in your success. 

See the Full Picture

Besides running her own business, Reuter recently joined a design-build firm. "There's always more to learn in the industry,” she says.  “This was an opportunity, so I jumped on it.”

The experience helps her speak the language of architects, builders and other tradespeople, a helpful skill for designers, especially when reviewing renovation plans and specs. “When the electrician's calling and is inquiring, ‘What did you want with this? Why is this in that location?’ You want to be able to answer clearly,” she says.

Meet Today’s Challenges

Reuter’s creative thinking extends beyond designing retail, residential and commercial spaces. She also seeks innovative ways to overcome today’s supply chain issues. 

During one recent kitchen project, for example, Reuter improvised to keep the renovation on track. “We couldn't start construction because the cooktop, which is going in an island and has its own specific cutout, isn't slated to arrive until June next year. Thinking, ‘Oh, what do we do?’”

She reached out to the appliance vendor and asked for a loaner - a different model with the right dimensions to fit the space that the client could use in the meantime. The vendor agreed to provide a complimentary substitute and the project marched on.  

Partner with Clients

Reuter advocates being transparent with clients and asking plenty of questions to learn their priorities and where they are willing to compromise, so she can offer alternatives as needed. 

If a refrigerator is on backorder, she might suggest they temporarily keep their current unit instead of significantly delaying their dream makeover. “It might be a little mismatched, disjointed until your new fridge comes in, but we can hold onto it and you can sell it later. It can at least be a functional placeholder.”

Explaining up front that prices may rise over the life of a project can brace clients for possible budget revisions, says Reuter who seeks every opportunity to save them from unnecessary expenses. “If my plumbing consultant tells me that the price increase is going to happen in two weeks, if it's a small enough plumbing order, I'll see if we can order it early, and hold onto it, rather than waiting for when it's truly time to install.”

A High-Tech Workflow

Reuter discovered early in her career the benefits of leveraging technology at every step of the design journey and picked Houzz Pro as her management software. "When it comes to the time saving factor of using Houzz Pro, I’d easily say it gives a day - even two - back to the fun-side of design,” she says.

Her clients love that they can review and approve proposals online with Houzz Pro which nudges them when their input is needed so Reuter does not have to. The Project Timeline keeps everyone in the loop as the project progresses. “The red light-green light, as one of my clients calls it, feature makes it so easy for clients to know, "Oh, I still need to make a decision." 

Getting paid is also easier through Houzz Pro Online Payments, she says. “I love how all of the proposals and invoices, and POs are linked together, so you can track where the financials are going.”

Build Relationships with Competitors 

After spending nearly three decades in the industry, Reuter, the winner of a 2022 Houzz Best of Service Award, knows when a client’s project is not the right fit, and stresses the importance of  referring those customers to peers. A/Revelation designs leans toward “transitional modern & mountain casual design” so if a client is seeking a North African, Moroccan motif, and she knows a designer who totally rocks that vibe, “it would behoove me to do an introduction,” she says.

“There's more than enough business out there and just because you've met a client, that doesn't mean that person has to be yours,” she says.

3 Tips for Nascent Designers from Alison Reuter

For those just starting out, Reuter offers these three suggestions for succeeding fast and well: 

Understand the Business

“Do not go into a business willy-nilly,” she advises.“You have to understand the numbers even if you hire a bookkeeper, which I think is the second most important thing that one can do in a business.” 

The first is to take care of yourself. “I always like to say outsource first by getting a housekeeper, it'll free up more time for you to focus on your business.” Then, sit down with a bookkeeper and learn about the profit and loss statement, balance sheet and other crucial financials.  “Truly understanding how all of that works is hands down one of the best things somebody can do from day one,” she says. 

Lean on Others

“I've got 20 plus almost 30 years of business experience under my belt. I have an international business degree, and I've worked for Fortune 500 companies as well as for myself. I still hired a business coach,” she says.

“Something that she (Reuter’s business coach) does say a fair amount - and I totally agree with - is that ‘a rising tide lifts all ships,’” she says. “The interior design business does not need to be secret. The more we help each other, and the more we mentor, lift one another up, and share our best practices for business, at the end of the day, we are lifting up our industry, and helping all of us succeed - ‘community over competition’.”

Technology is Your Friend

Reuter learned the ways designers, architects, builders and other home pros harness the power of software to manage their business while studying for a master’s degree in interior architecture and design at the Heritage School of Interior Design.

 “It was something I researched and found on my own because I was thinking, ‘This is insane. I'm not going to sleep for the next six weeks if I don't have something to help me be more efficient,’” she says. “I started rooting around online and talking to other designers in the industry asking, ‘What software do you use?’” She created a spreadsheet comparing the options. 

 “Ultimately I landed on Houzz Pro. I did the 30-day trial while I was in school and used that to help me get my final projects done. She still uses it today. “Being process & efficiency oriented I don't like touching stuff (documenting) more than once and the way the software's been developed, it's very intuitive and very linked.” 

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