Interior decorating has always been a mobile business, in the sense that designers typically visit and survey customers’ homes as part of the job. Now some professionals are taking the concept a step further, like Lara Fishman, owner of Storm Interiors, a traditional design firm, and Designers Call, a full-fledged mobile design business. Fishman’s fully loaded, customized van carries everything to clients and provides a place to work. According to Fishman, the more materials she can take to customer’s home — fabric and paint samples, rugs, etc. — the more efficient and cost-effective the job is.
Here are seven tips for starting a mobile interior design business.
- Understand the licensing requirements. Some states require interior designers to obtain a license, which requires certain education and experience. Some people get around the rules by calling themselves “interior decorators.” A decorator can’t alter the architecture of a building and works mostly with color, fabrics, and furniture, but a designer can tear down walls or oversee additions to a building. Contact your state licensing board to find out the rules in your area. The American Society of Interior Designers, International Interior Design Association, and Certified Interior Decorators International also provide excellent sources of information.
- Get legal. Establish your business’s identity by registering the name with your county and decide how you’ll set up your business structure (sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation). Next, get a sales tax ID number or tax permit so you can legally collect taxes.
- Buy and convert a van. When you work as a mobile interior decorator, you’ll take everything to the client, which means you’ll need a vehicle that serves as a showroom. You’ll need shelves to organize fabric swatches, paint samples, rugs, and furniture and lighting catalogs. Fishman’s van also provides a desk and workspace, so customers can sit comfortably while selecting samples. If you don’t want to start from scratch, consider buying a franchise that includes a van, such as Decorating Den.
- Hook up with suppliers. Suppliers are the lifeblood of any design service, and you’ll have thousands to choose from. Some offer sample books for free; others charge a monthly fee. You’ll receive up to 50 percent off the retail prices once you establish yourself as a member of the trade by filling out an application and giving them your tax ID number. You’ll want samples of fabric, carpet, drapery rods, and hard window coverings (shutters and blinds). You’ll also need sources for furniture, lighting, bedding, and cabinets. The trade websites mentioned above have extensive listings of suppliers.
- Find a workroom. Interior decorators often work with custom products. If you design drapery, bedding, or slipcovers, you’ll need to have everything professionally made. Most decorators use drapery workrooms that work exclusively for the trade. Look for one in your area. Once you establish that you’re working as a decorator, usually by producing your tax ID number, you’ll receive trade pricing.
- Choose an installer. The draperies, carpets, and other products that you sell will have to be installed, and you’ll need to hire someone to do the work. Ask your drapery workroom for referrals.
- Market yourself. Fishman says that it’s important to know who you are when marketing your services. For instance, if you want to cater to new homeowners, you might visit real estate agents and builders in your area and ask for referrals. If you want to concentrate on higher end clientele, approach architects and let them know that you’re available to work with them. You can also create partnerships with other people who sell services to homeowners, such as landscapers. Renting display booths at home shows and other events can also help to spread the word about your mobile interior design business.