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Taking Advantage of Going Virtual

Season 1: Episode 45

111121 House Meraki podcast

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What happens when two interior designers from opposite coasts merge somewhere in the middle? Adriele Graham and Elizabeth Berry, the duo behind interior design firm House Meraki, have been serving the Denver area since 2018. Over the years, they’ve established themselves as a client-driven firm and have adapted their practices to weather the pandemic. In this episode, hear about how Adriele and Elizabeth helped reviewer Jéssica make the most out of her rental bedroom… entirely virtually.

On the Yelp Blog: Read more about the pair’s “client-driven-design” strategy that has helped them earn repeat business time and time again.

EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Every episode I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur and the reviewer about the story and business lessons behind their interaction. This week we’ll hear from Elizabeth and Adriele who own an interior design business in Denver. Reviewer Jéssica first started working with the business virtually, and then hired them again after making a cross country move and expanding her living space.

Lets see what’s behind this week’s review.

JÉSSICA: So my search really just started out me trying to do it on my own. And then knowing that Adriele had a company I reached out and I’m like, ‘Hey, I know you’re in Colorado. Like, can you help me?’ And in that process, I’m looking at their work. I am looking at, just kind of like the background of their company. Making sure, you know, like, am I overreaching? I’m not a millionaire getting my whole house remodelled. Is this something I can even afford or attain?

And I was pleasantly surprised to see how many options that they had, both for like small home owners or just apartment renters to, you know, like full home remodels. So it was good to know, you know, after I did a little bit of digging on their website, that there were options for me.

EMILY: That’s Jéssica, telling me about the interior design firm House Meraki that owner Adriele operates out of Denver with her business partner, Elizabeth. We’ll meet them both in a bit, but first, let’s take a listen to Jéssica’s review.

JÉSSICA: House Meraki helped me make the most out of my rental bedroom in the city. I had just moved into a house in Washington, D.C. (they offer virtual services) with some roommates and was struggling to find the right layout for my small bedroom. I wanted to include an additional seating area, but also be able to fit a dresser and TV.

After sending the measurements in my bedroom to Adriele, she was able to create a custom model with four different layout options. I was so amazed at the variety of layouts I could work with. And after trying a couple of layouts, I chose one that really maximized my space. My roommates were also so impressed with how my room turned out.

Adriele also gave me recommendations on which furniture pieces to purchase within my budget, which made the furnishing process so much easier for me. Now that I have moved out and will be getting my own apartment, I can’t wait to have House Meraki help me make my new space a home.

I would highly recommend them to anyone who’s looking to maximize their space and make it their own.

And now I am in my new apartment! Haha.

EMILY: Things have really come full circle for Jéssica from when she first reached out to House Meraki to functionally maximize her bedroom space to present day. She’s since moved halfway across the country and much closer to House Meraki, which helped her design and furnish her current apartment in Denver. We’ll dig in more to what kept Jéssica connected to the business and interested in working with them again in a bit, but first, let’s meet owners Adrielle and Elizabeth and hear more about who they are and what they do.

ADRIELE: So we specialize in full home remodels and new builds. But like Jessica mentioned, we’ve always wanted to have a package that is beneficial to kind of anybody with smaller budgets or not really sure how much they want to do or dipping their toes into the water of the interior design world for the first time.

So we also have another package that Jessica had mentioned. That’s called “designer for a day,” where we come out and can spend a day with a client in their home or shopping, you know. Sometimes people are doing renovations themselves and they really just want that, you know, a final look to make sure they’re doing things right. Because our expertise lies in navigating these remodels and new builds. They’re so overwhelming and there’s so much to do and plan out and a lot of room for error that costs a lot of money. And that’s what we specialize in: helping our clients navigate that and create function in their home and beauty.

And there are really a lot of details that go into it. And most people don’t realize that until you’re in the middle of it. And those details really make the difference of, you know, that look that you see in magazines—that really well-thought out and finished space. It’s about all of those details and how everything came together, the different layers that come together to create a beautiful space. And, when you see it all together at once, you don’t realize how much is really layered into a room and it takes all of it to bring it together.

EMILY: And both Adriele and Elizabeth have tons of experience in the industry. Elizabeth comes from a family of engineers, and she had her first internship with an architect when she was 15 years old.

ELIZABETH: I was put on this path at a very young age, you know. I was always around job sites and I just, there was an energy about it that I just loved. So I went to school out in Southern California and I worked a couple years down there, internships.

My first job right out of school was in Beverly Hills. And I was working in Bel Air and just the craziness that that brings. And then my husband was born actually out here in Denver. So then we committed to moving back out here to Denver, which is one of his lifelong dreams. So we did that and I worked around Denver with a lot of prestigious designers here and then I met Adriele and then we decided to start our own business.

ADRIELE: And I’m from the opposite coast—I’m from the east coast. So we think that that’s really interesting. It’s west coast and I’m east coast, and we’re merging together in the middle of the country.

But my background is similar. I’ve always been very artistic and kind of into engineering and wondering how things work and their function and what not from a really young age. It was my sisters who had actually pointed out to me that they thought interior design would be a really good fit. Because there’s a lot of kinds of components that you have to bring to the table with interior design.

And they felt like my love of different things, you know, would come together in that profession. And I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of amazing designers around the country. A lot of wonderful mentors who have passed down such priceless knowledge. I actually started thinking that I wanted to go into commercial design and I didn’t want to do residential. It just so happens my first kind of internship in college was residential and I got a job continuing on with her. And then that was just kind of the path that formed. And then I started falling in love with the details and everything about it.

EMILY: Elizabeth and Adriele are incredibly impressive. They both have a foundation of experience and expertise that has been built over time. When it comes to interior design, they can provide their clients with options: in Jéssica’s case, layouts. But they are both masters of their craft. They’re helping clients through a detailed and challenging process by keeping things organized, considering everything, and also taking into account who their clients are and what they want.

ELIZABETH: We don’t necessarily have a very specific style. If you take a look at our portfolio, it’s kind of all over the place and that’s because it’s very important to us to be a client-driven design firm.

So we designed for our clients and not for ourselves or for any particular awards or anything like that. This is a space that our client is going to live in. It’s what they’re paying for, you know, it’s theirs. So we want to design it for them. And so we make sure that we’re all on the same page, style-wise. We have a style questionnaire that we send to them and they fill out. Do some style boards and get some of their feedback and just really align. And a lot of the time too, they’ll send us Pinterest boards and just images that are inspiring them.

And the key thing with that, that plays into helping guide them through their style is learning to recognize the signs in those images. To be able to interpret what they’re liking and what they’re gravitating towards and the feeling that they are picking up from all of these images and not just copying a design because when you copy a design, you know, every home is different. It’s not gonna apply well to that space. It only applies well to that image. So it’s very important for us to be able to pick up and read between the lines. Essentially what in essence is their style, not a cookie cutter style.

ADRIELE: And usually their style isn’t just one thing. It’s a merging of a lot of things. We all have, you know, various styles. And that’s where it gets really difficult with couples where they’re trying to merge each of their styles that are multiple, to come together in a way that’s cohesive. So we help them navigate that. And I think another thing that’s important too—and in that whole client-driven way—is a lot of people think with interior design and a lot of other things, there’s a right and there’s a wrong. And it’s not necessarily that way.

It’s about what’s right for your family. What’s right for your lifestyle and what’s right for your home. So it’s merging all of those things and then also enhancing what you want your style and your personality to showcase. So like Elizabeth said, the architecture of your home might not—  imagine that you fell in love with a certain detail, but we try to get to the core of what they liking about that detail.

And maybe we can’t do it exactly like this, but here’s another way we can incorporate what you’re liking about that, that makes more sense for you in your home. It gives you that same sense of feeling and look that you are gravitating towards. So in the end result, you’re happy with how it’s functioning, how it fits in the home, and how it looks to you. We should all feel like our homes should be revitalizing us, not draining us.

EMILY: Elizabeth and Adriele do the leg work to discover their clients taste and style. Not every industry has such a close and deep relationship with their customers, but if you do, consider how you currently work with clients and if there’s a way to make that process more of a connection. You have expertise and probably a service to provide or offer. Can you apply your knowledge, while also customizing the experience to make it unique to your client? Creating  connections like that can help keep customers coming back and also makes them a more loyal and dedicated fan of your business.

We’re going to take a quick break, but when we come back we’ll hear how going virtual has changed the game of client interaction and also learn a bit more about reviews: what motivates Jéssica to write them and things the House Meraki team have learned from their experience with online reviews…

EMILY: And we’re back! When Jéssica first reached out to Adriele, she was thinking it would be more so for advice. With Jéssica in D.C., and Adriele in Denver, the initial thought wasn’t that they’d work together, but maybe see if her hopes for her small space were possible. That’s when the virtual consultations came into play.

ELIZABETH: Our questionnaire, of course, is virtual. A lot of our documentation is virtual. We’re already working off of drawings on the computer. You know, we actually discovered Zoom right before the pandemic. And so like now it’s got like all of these extra capabilities and it works a little bit better. So that works very well. So we’re able to have this face-to-face conversation, so that we don’t lose that personal touch. You know, you’re on a call with someone, you kind of feel like there’s a wall there. You talk differently, you know?

So when you’re face-to-face through a Zoom call, you still have that personal touch and then everything else that we do on the computer. It’s easy to shoot an email over. Pictures can be sent via email. So there’s a lot of connection points throughout the process that make it very easy and doable.

ADRIELE: And I think one of the other things too: People get curious about things like samples and whatnot. So especially with COVID, a lot of this stuff, I think in so many industries has just—everyone’s just come to the table, because we had to. To figure out: How do we make this work, you know, the best way possible so that nobody’s compromising?

And in the end, our clients still are getting gorgeous, finished results. And one of those things is our vendors have really shown up to the table. So we can have samples sent to us. We have them sent to the client. We’re all looking at the same thing in real life because, you know, that is another thing that we talk about. In terms of your interiors, you can’t just look at everything online. You have to see it in the space. You have to see the subtleties because the lighting is different. No matter where you are, your home, where you are right now is going to be different from our home. You know, Jessica, when she was on the east coast, whatever she had over there is going to look different than whatever she brought over here in Denver.

So we really help them be able to see those things in person so that they can see those subtle tones—okay, from there, we can match things up. And another thing too is, like with all of this, it’s really helped us continue with our business. Because at the end of the day, a lot of our clients, we’re working with busy families, busy professionals, they’re trying to squeeze this in. This is a joy for them. But they’ve got to squeeze it into their day or their night. You know, sometimes they can’t take a moment in the day. So we’ve also utilized other things like recorded presentations where if we can’t come up with a time where we’re meeting, we might have a whole presentation together or we’ll just record it and we send it over to them and they’re able to say: ‘I love everything. Just wondering about this one chair. Could I have a couple more options on this?’ And we’re like, ‘yes,’ and then we send over a few more options on that. So it’s really helped them in their busy lives as well.

EMILY: The pandemic had many negative effects. But something positive for many businesses was the necessary acceleration and use of technology. House Meraki was doing a lot of things digitally pre-March 2020, but they realized they could do even more.

Now, in a time when they can safely see and work with most clients in person, virtual and digital is still the better and more convenient option for many.

In my personal life, one of the best operational changes to come out of the pandemic has been how my local vet cares for my 74-pound boxer. The waiting room is a nightmare for my 3-year-old dog, but now they come get him from the car and call me during his consultation. It’s way more convenient for me—pure bliss.

Are there any service or operational changes—big or small—you can make to ‘wow’ your customer?

For Jéssica, the process started virtually when she lived in a different state and moved locally when she relocated to Denver. But both ways felt connected and personal for her.

JÉSSICA: I think COVID definitely made everyone adjust to having virtual relationships, even with your friends. I found myself in a lot of Zoom meetings, and this was like the peak of COVID.  So I moved into my space in February and COVID happened right around that time. So, you know, communication was very easy because I was able to just kind of send an email and say, ‘Hey, this is exactly what I’m looking for.’ And instead of messages back and forth, I got a whole spreadsheet of: These are your furniture options. These are your four plan options. This is going to be based on your budget. If you want to go a little outside of your budget, this is what you can get. So just communication with them was very, very seamless throughout the whole process.

EMILY: And that continued transparent communication has called Jéssica to refer others to House Meraki, as well as write her online review.

JÉSSICA: I actually reached out to Adriele as soon as I got here, because the building that I’m in right now is a relatively new building. So everyone who’s living here recently moved in like in the past two months. So I was like, you need to send me information so I could share with my building. So I’ve already shared her info with the front office so they can share it with residents.

EMILY: Jéssica is the kind of client who continues to send customers your way for years. And she’ll continue to use House Meraki for all of her design needs as well. The connection that Elizabeth and Adriele are able to make with clients is close. When you’re investing in a service as opposed to choosing a place for pasta or to grab a taco, there’s a bit more weight in the process. But that also means that things sometimes go wrong when the stakes are high. For House Meraki, it’s not often, but there is one story in particular that came to mind.

ELIZABETH: We’ve been actually pretty fortunate to have great reviews across many platforms.  I believe there’s only one review that kind of stands out as a negative one. And that was, I believe it was a Thumbtack review. And it was, we had a call scheduled with a lead—someone who was inquiring about our services. And we had, we were in the mountains on an install day.

We were trying to get to the phone and we had no service. It was kind of a perfect storm of not being able to get the call through to her. So by the time we finally got down the mountains, we had made contact with her. At that point, she had already left a negative review. So we’re talking like maybe an hour after we had scheduled a call with her, saying how she thought it was very unprofessional and everything like that.

And so that kind of hit us hard. You know, we care about our clients and their experience. And we made it a point to really kind of reassess how we were taking these calls and when we were scheduling them.

ADRIELE: We thought because it’s a new experience, new clients, with certain—one of those calls, we thought that we could incorporate them. Like Elizabeth said, like that we could take a break in this install. But it didn’t work. So we had to block off kind of if there’s something like that. It wasn’t worth it, to be in a situation like that and have a client that was upset.

ELIZABETH: And we had taken calls like this before. It wasn’t like out-of-norm in our schedule, but, you know, it just hadn’t worked out at this point.

EMILY: That story is such a classic example of when an off-day mixed with a perfect storm of an unhappy customer turns into a critical review in under an hour. I’ll be honest—I often say you can’t allow a single review to turn your whole operation upside down, but reviews can provide insights. And in the case of the missed call, while in the mountains, during an install, it was an eye-opening experience that maybe booking that many things in one day wasn’t good for ANYONE. So they adjusted. They also take pride in listening to their clients.

ELIZABETH: That’s another thing that we, you know, take pride in is that we really listened to our clients and we focus on what is working and what’s not working. And we try to fix what’s not working. So at the end of the day, we’re only going to get better and better in serving our clients.

ADRIELE: And I’d say in general, like what you’re saying about just people in general, myself or anything—I mean, we’ve all heard, like you kind of read the reviews, and you can see when something or certain things stand out as like, wow, this is really like, this isn’t like the right energy or approach or something that I’d like.

And that’s why it’s so important, especially as the business, to be responding to the reviews, which is something we didn’t do before or like realize. And we are absolutely doing now. So that’s something we’re implementing going forward. But yeah, a lot of times, sometimes it’s small things, and you may think, ‘Oh, like it would be so much better if they could just do this.’ Like, you know, just let them know.

Like Elizabeth said, we want to make those changes. If there is something that’s kind of felt like a hiccup or would have made the experience better, we want to make those changes and we try to do that by giving, you know, kind of exit questionnaires for our clients and giving them an opportunity to let us know and give us that feedback so that we can make whatever changes to our process and systems. So it’s even more enjoyable for them.

EMILY: I really admire that approach. The constant desire to be better and create a more enjoyable experience for their clients. That’s what House Meraki is all about. No matter what size project, all clients are valuable, and their personality and preferences are the most important in the project’s end result. To close us out, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate Elizabeth and Adriele’s background and heritage. They are both Latinx-identifying entrepreneurs and they shared a great bit of perspective that can help anyone working to achieve their dreams.

ELIZABETH: Every perspective is beautiful. So us being proud to show where we come from and who we are just adds to the value of people recognizing those different perspectives and the beauty that we can bring, especially in a home.

ADRIELE: And it’s such a beautiful community that is vibrant and loud and full of hope and strife. And we bring that to our business. Like we’ve learned from our parents and our family who, you know, have their small businesses and have just gone after big dreams.

ELIZABETH: Our work ethic in the community is just what fuels us to strive for those amazing things.

ADRIELE: Yeah. I used to have that on my cover letter. That was like one of my strengths, this work ethic that I learned from my parents, you know. Showing that the things that require hard work are worth putting that effort in. And you get a payoff in the end and that you shouldn’t limit yourself, like, you know, just because of the setbacks that you might have. Dream big and go after it.

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