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  • Susan Dickenson

Retail Profile: Decorating Den Interiors

New accessories program and ownership options fuel franchisor's growth

Since its founding in 1969, Decorating Den Interiors has enabled hundreds of people to enjoy the benefits of owning and operating their own decorating and design business. Today's franchisees, in 323 locations throughout the Decorating Den InteriorsUnited States and Canada, range from small home offices to multi-decorator studios. Carol and Jim Bugg, Decorating Den's franchisor co-owners for about the past 20 years, say the company's mission is to create beautiful rooms that fit the client's lifestyle, taste and - thanks to a low-overhead business model - budget.

"We provide in-home design services and bring thousands of samples of draperies, blinds, wall and floor coverings, as well as furniture and accents, right to the client's home or office," Carol Bugg said. "Our business owners (franchisees) buy products direct from more than 80 manufacturers and distributors at negotiated wholesale pricing. In turn, they sell the products to their clients at a competitive retail price point."

Decorating Den Interiors franchises, which are independently owned, are awarded to candidates after a multi-step interview and qualifying process. Training begins locally and is followed by a two-week professional design and sales program at the company's Easton, Md., headquarters and training center. Continuing education in business operations and product knowledge occurs in the local regions and at the annual national conference and market.

Last fall, the company launched Livv! Home Accessories, a new direct sales home-party shopping business. Livv!'s 2012 spring catalog features more than 200 products and ensembles for accessorizing every room of the home, including the garden and patio.

"After successfully testing this concept last year, we have established a totally new opportunity for people to have a part-time or full-time business as a Livv! Stylist, selling a specially selected line of home accessories," Bugg said of the venture. "Presented in a home environment, it's a fun way to host a group of friends, shop for fabulous accessories and share tips for adding personality to the home through accessorizing."

Decorating Den Interiors was founded on the philosophy that custom interior decorating should be accessible to more people, with homes and offices furnished and accented to fit the style and budget of the individual. The founders also believed that with the right training and support, individuals with a passion and talent for decorating couldCarol Bugg be successful in their own home furnishings and design business, regardless of whether or not they had attended design school. The Buggs learned about Decorating Den in 1984, when Jim, then a successful entrepreneur and franchisor, shared an article about the company with Carol, an accomplished interior designer.

"After working for design studios and furniture stores, and having my own business, I knew there were many women who had the talent and desire, but didn't have the means, to get into their own business," she said. "I had suggested to Jim many times that with his experience, we ought to be able to franchise interior decorating, but he always said he couldn't quite figure out what he called the ‘cookie cutter,' a format that would enable us to franchise interior decorating. When he saw the article on Decorating Den, with its ‘Color Van' full of samples, shop-at-home service, excellent training and national network of suppliers, he knew that was it."

After researching the company and visiting with franchise owners, the couple decided to invest. A few years later they became sole owners along with their son, Jim Bugg Jr., who now serves as president and CEO. Jim Bugg Sr., at age 85, is the company's chairman, writes a weekly "Monday Morning with the Chairman" inspirational message to all franchise owners and staff, and still personally recruits franchise owners.

Carol DonayreCarol Donayre Bugg, ASID, is the author of five books, her most recent being Decorating, The Professional Touch.

Carol Bugg, vice president and director of design, writes a newsletter and blog, and has authored five books, the most recent being Decorating, The Professional Touch. She also oversees the company's annual "Dream Room Makeover" awards program in which an average 200 room makeovers are submitted for judging by interior design editors and bloggers. Winners, along with a "Decorator of the Year" are recognized and honored at the company's annual conference.

How has business been over the past year? Openings of new Decorating Den franchises have continued, with 22 last year. The closing of many traditional home furnishings stores, due to the economic climate, has brought increased opportunities for our business model. Many of our owners say they've found themselves "in the right place at the right time" as consumers have had fewer choices and others are restarting the home decorating projects they'd put on hold. Also, we've been awarding more franchises to candidates who have previous experience in home furnishings and interior design. Our system, training and network of suppliers has been validated by experienced designers, but we also realize that some of them would rather work in a larger studio or design center concept than a home studio/office. For that type of designer, we are introducing a new franchise level that will operate from a standalone facility and include a studio, sample library, offices, receiving area and other amenities. We will have complete details available on our website by early May.

The Livv! accessories and product
The Livv! Home Boutique’s spring catalog features more than 200 home accessories and product groupings, photographed individually and as accents in makeovers and decorating projects.

Describe your average customer: Approximately 70% are dual-income married couples who find little time to shop for interior decorating products.

How do the DDI businesses reach their customers? Flyers, direct mail, grand opening events, seminars and programs at meetings of women's organizations and other venues. Many of our owners are using social media, blogs and online marketing, and each has their own website modeled after our corporate site. We also maintain a corporate Facebook page, as do many of our owners, and we have two corporate blogs. Nationally, Decorating Den Interiors supports its franchises with full-page color advertising in leading shelter and home magazines. Each year, the franchise owners select a national charity for support, for which they raise donations, usually in conjunction with presenting decorating seminars. Currently, the national cause is the Yellow Ribbon Fund, which assists injured service members and their families and was co-founded by Jim Bugg, Sr., who also serves as the fund's chairman.

About what percentage of your merchandise are home accents? About 10%. We expect our accent sales to grow, however, with our new Livv! Home Accessories boutique.

What categories of home accents do you carry? Accent furniture, lamps, wall décor, decorative pillows, throws, permanent botanicals, tabletop, rugs, mirrors and decorative accessories.

Who are some of your key home accent vendors? Uttermost, Elk Lighting, Feiss, Imax, Currey & Company, Palecek, Eastern Accents, Surya, Nourison, Capel

Markets/tradeshows you shop? High Point and Atlanta


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