While it might be painful, we often grow during challenging times. Personal skills. Business savvy. How can we create successwhile under stress? Commit to Change!
In this podcast, retail florist Todd Bussey AIFD shares insights for how he 'met challenge with change' for positive growth in his post-pandemic flower shops. He offers practical and profitable steps as easy as 1-2-3 you can use for growing your business. We .. listen .. learn .. plant seeds .. grow ideas .. and that's How We Bloom!
Drew McGukin (00:12):
That's how you end up with a happy client. You heard what they had to say, you delivered what they needed, and you surprised them that it was better than average.
Sharon McGukin (00:32):
Welcome to How We Bloom an oasis of flower ideas. I'm your host, Sharon McGukin. And I believe that every great success story starts with one simple idea, a challenge that requires change. On How We Bloom, we interview guests who dare to do things differently. People who plant seeds, grow ideas and bloom to their full potential. Our guests share those ideas in steps as easy as 1, 2, 3, we listen, learn, grow, and that's How We Bloom.
Today's guest is Drew McGukin, principal designer of Drew McGukin Interiors based in New York City. Drew has a high impact design style that is all his own. And FYI, a beautiful Aussie doodle named Patina. Known as one of the leading contemporary designers in today's market, Drew gains much of his inspiration from meeting new people and traveling to off-the-beaten-path locations. Drew delivers customized spaces with a sophisticated vibe combined with a touch of the unexpected. His greatest strength is the powerful way he connects on a personal level with his clients. I hope you will enjoy this opportunity to hear Drew share his ideas for growing your business by partnering with your customers. Drew lives an industrious, life of positive energy and creative spirit. I would know, Drew is my first born. My oldest son. Welcome to How We Bloom, Drew.
Thank you for being with us today, Drew. We are so excited to have you on the podcast. When I first started making a list of people that we wanted to have on the podcast, Laura Rich and Kelly Mace said, “The person we'd like you to interview is your own son.” So here we are.
Hello. Nice to see again, Mom.
I know that you have been extremely successful. I'm very proud of you for how hard you’ve worked and how much you've accomplished. If you were sharing with our audience one really big idea that you think inspires success - what would that be, Drew?
I think today with so much access to information, you know, so much access and availability of resources to all people across all channels. We really do live in a very open and communicative and social and mobile world. This idea of partnering with clients, I think, has become very important in the world. And those of us who go at design projects from the point of view of partnership and collaboration, I think are excelling and accelerating more so than some of the others that are still trying to maintain and hang on to like – “I'm the professional and this is the way we're going to do it!” I think there's really something beautiful about allowing clients to bring their own expertise and their own value and their own experiences into the design process.
I think that when you do incorporate the partnership with your client, they feel that collaboration. This results in greater trust for yourself. Do you agree?
I totally agree. I think it's, uh, it also inspires that feeling that we all love, which is being heard.
Do you think that your customer then feels that the end result is more of their particular taste rather than just a cookie-cutter type of design based on trend?
A hundred percent and in many ways, that is my goal. I often tell my clients that I can give them my time, my energy, my expertise, my willingness, my hard work, but I cannot give them my soul. And, that is the part of what I am expecting from them and what I need to pull out of them in order to achieve a home that's going to feel like them. And, a space that's going to wrap its arms around them and make them feel comfortable. So, this sense of what is your soul quality - that you're bringing to your own home, I can't build that for you. I can't give that to you. I can't create that for you. That's what I need to client for.
A perfect example of that I personally saw in one of the spaces that you created. I noticed that on the bookshelf, all of the books were covered in brown paper. All the book covers were brown paper. And I asked you, “why are the books covered in brown paper?” And you explained exactly that - you could not give them yourself. You said, I cannot tell you what you should or could be reading. I cannot tell you what artwork to choose. And so I just take old books, cover the covers. And, as they find books that speak to them, they add them to the shelf. Replacing the ones that I have as placeholders. The same with artwork, they have to pick their own artwork. So, when you walk into a space, it is not a Drew McGukin space, but is the home of my client.” I thought that was pretty great.
Yep. And that's the point of the books. I like - orchestrate them on the shelves. I've showed them how it should be accessorized. I helped them with shapes and sizes. Often, I leave, you know, blue tape on walls to help them dimension out shapes of artwork that I think would be correct. And then they measure them out and they keep a little notebook and months-and-months go by and clients are texting images from travels and all over. And I, I genuinely believe it creates a more soulful, you know, home for people who are living there.
Coming out of the pandemic. Did you find that people were less satisfied with their homes, once they had spent time in them? And did that bring on a new revolution of customers looking for help in establishing what maybe they didn't know they were missing on such a hectic schedule? But day after day, it was more noticeable to them.
It is pretty shocking, but an absolute total and complete – yes! I think many people came out either in love with their home in a whole new way and wanting to add more to it. Maybe it's past clients that had held back on budget items and thought, oh, that's … I don't want to make that investment. Or, I don't want to make that additional investment. So, they just …you know … gunned it. Right into it and said yes to those things.
Or, clients that just absolutely thought they got design. They went to, you know, these days - big box retail establishments, or design shops all around. Everyone's got the design help desk that, you know, for two and a half dollars an hour, they'll, you know, design your space. You get there and you think you bought design. You know - you bought it. You did the whole thing. The girl behind the counter told you - you got design. There was a line item on your receipt.
But, when you realized that your home office actually didn't work and you had to work out of it for nine months, that that was a shock for real people. A real shock. So, I think we've had a lot of people that are just starting at zero that are willing to dump it and start over. Willing to acknowledge mistakes and are willing to spend on real things that are real solutions that create, you know, a very comfortable life. It's been exciting because it's, it's wide open. Suddenly there's less reluctance. People … it's almost like you sit in your home for four or five, six, or eight months, and you realize, wow, I'm the one holding this back.
Which is excellent for your business. I know that yours (like all businesses) took a hit during the pandemic, and you have rebounded - double and triple, because there is that need for your services. Now, your dad always likes to point out to everyone that you not only just go in and create the interior space from the top coverings, the fabrics and the wall coverings, the artwork and such, but you actually take it down to bare bones. You re-envision the entire space and utilize their ideas in recreating it. You oversee the subs who actually put that work in place. Do you find any great challenges there in finding people to work now?
I think the workforce has definitely shifted. It is, you know, being in New York when so many people have flown the coop. You know there've been a lot of people who have moved out of New York. There are now a lot of people suddenly moving back to New York very quickly. But, we definitely are experiencing some struggles in finding just the right caliber and quality of, you know, support staff and team members. Part of it is, that I've built a very strong business. It's, you know, it is a lot about an elevated design sensibility. It is a lot about getting something that's more unique and a little bit different and better than average. And so, those unique and little bit different and better than average birds are also a little hard to come by. If you suddenly have fewer of those unique birds, you know, it’s just a trickle-down effect. But I'm hustling, I'm working through it.
And working long hours. I know that you’ve really had a tough schedule lately trying to answer all the needs. Speak to us about the fact that you also are building furnishings. Your furniture line is one of comfort and practicality, but really good looking too.
That's one of the exciting things. I spent a lot of the downtime - in the early pandemic, working with a firm that specializes in private label furnishings and licensing agreements. And it's one of these things that's been in the periphery of my work for a while. I just hadn't, to be honest, had the consolidated time to sit down and focus. So, for many months, I've been pursuing what will ultimately in 2022 be twenty-five pieces of furniture that will release and be available. A lot of it is born out of things that we've made custom for clients that kind-of took a life of their own through social media channels. Instagram has been a huge window into the kind of work we do. It's not unusual to receive direct messages or inquiries about individual pieces. New clients that come, quite often come with a printout or a note about an Instagram post and say “Whatever that chair is, I've got to have it.”
I recently had a client that hired me and she said “I have three pieces of furniture that can't seem to figure out where they've come from.” And she's like, “They're in three different projects of yours.” And she showed them to me. I said, “Oh, I designed each one of those. I mean, I made those, there's only one. There's only one of each of it that was out there in the world.” And she's like, “I want all three of them!” So, it's been a big, exciting part of what's coming next. And also the pandemic was kind of an interesting thing because it marked my 10th year 2020. It was my 10th year in interior design and having my own business interior design. So, I kind of was like, wow, what a what a 10-year anniversary. But in many ways, I think I've gotten to think about it as that was chapter one.
And this is now chapter two. I don't think my business will ever be the same again as it was in the first 10 years. And I think the dynamic shift is really about product and brand and what it's kind of morphed. Almost all of our projects now actively sought out Drew McGukin for the furnishings. And then it turned into a lot of design on top of that. So, I think it's just kind of an interesting dynamic of my next twenty, my next ten years, which is probably what it will be. That window will have a lot to do with product.
You’ve identified the challenge of dealing with people not satisfied with their homes once they lived through the pandemic. Finding the need to be in the area of furnishings. What do you find in terms of challenges there?
Well, I think one of the biggest challenges that we touched on it a bit earlier that people came out of the pandemic looking to elevate their design experience. Whether, it's was just the place looks terrible and I can't stare at these walls anymore. Whether it was, you know, my example from earlier - my home office that I thought was designed is actually terribly uncomfortable and not efficient and not made for anyone to sit in for eight, ten hours a day, all day long. Or just, I didn't buy great stuff. Like my sofa is not comfortable. My chairs that I've now been sitting in are not comfortable. My … the seat height on something is not correct. And, so really one of the challenges that we've been working with a lot of clients through - is elevating those experiences. Elevating the overall quality and function of design with a capital D in their home. And, I think that leads into the next challenge. Maybe helping those clients resolve and understand and overcome the value of that. In terms of what maybe they had done before versus what it might actually cost to achieve something greater. So far, most of the clients have come out of the pandemic, ready, willing, you know, understanding that, you know, you got to spend a little more to get something a little bit better. But I think those two challenges are the things are the little stones that we've walked over in the last many months.
So, this leads us to changes you’ve made in your business. Educating your customers through the pricing needed in order to reach the quality of life that they're looking for. I've always thought of you as a lifestyle designer rather than an interior designer. Because I know that you approach your customers and your clients with “How can I best fit your lifestyle? How can we best elevate your lifestyle? What makes you comfortable? What makes you happy?” So through that, I think possibly through the years, you've learned how important pricing is. What could you suggest to our listeners in terms of how to educate the customer about the necessity of pricing?
Well, I think it's about value. You know, I think my customers actually are not afraid to spend money on value. And so, the first step is listening to understand where the value to the client is, and then tailoring that need. You know, it could be - I just installed a very expensive sofa that I designed for a client and the client is like “This sofa costs me two and a half times any sofa that I've ever paid in my life. And I went with you on it, because you said it was going to answer all the questions.” Because, he came to me and said “I've never had a comfortable sofa. I've worked with four interior designers. And every single time they screwed the sofa up.” And I said “Well, I'm going to tell you, I'm not going to screw it up. Because one of the things I specialize in is sofas. I design my own furniture. I think that means we need to do it this way. I'm going to spring the seat. I'm going to do all these things.” And he's like, all right, I'll buy that. And he did. And he's thrilled.
So, I think it's the first key is that listening stuff to where is the value. And then it's tailoring what it is you're selling to meet the need of that value. And then it's elevating the experience overall. That's how you end up with a happy client. You heard what they had to say, you delivered what they needed, and you surprised them that it was better than average.
You had a client who was not very happy about the cost of his comfortable chair, that you were putting into his renovation. And he said, “I'm not going to spend that much on this particular chair.” And you said “you gave me an overall budget. I am within the budget. So I get to choose what goes into that budget. So, we are having the chair.” And, you said so very laughingly, then proceeded to make the chair. And at the end, he was like, “Okay, I love everything. But my favorite, I hate to admit is the chair.” Do you find that that's a good way to approach customers - give me an overall budget and let me dispense the funds.
Yeah, and sometimes you have to, you know, be willing to put your money where your mouth is. Sometimes with the client, you say, look, let's not get lost, you know, in isolation. I try to … often that's a statement I say regularly, like “Let's not look at this project in isolation.” Meaning don't look at every individual item in isolation. Think about it globally as a single budget, and are we on track. Sometimes in order to reduce your budget, you have to focus on individual projects and say, “Where could we cut?” But I think it's pretty successful way to think about a design project. And then another way to think about that is we often split things between design and what we refer to as capital expenditures, because people think I want to spend a hundred thousand dollars on design and then they come at you and go, oh, and we've got also to replace the gutters.
And then I need you to please do new stones on the patio. And suddenly like $40,000 of your $100,000 for design is on capital expenditures that will never leave the property. Will never leave the house. Will never leave the condo, whatever it is. And, so when you can educate a client that - do you really have a hundred thousand dollars to spend on actual design, cause that will hit your list. But if you take these capital expenditures out of it, you're not going meet your needs over here. So that's been another successful way. So again, listening and then zeroing in, not in isolation, but from a big picture.
Do you feel like the time you've invested in social media has helped to set you apart from others? You carefully curate what goes there. You live in New York, it's an exciting city. You do a lot of really interesting things with your travel. Your work is exceptional. Do you think that that's helped you to connect with future clients?
I really do. It's been, it's such a channel and a window and an opportunity. I actually have kind of taken some steps back from it the last many months, really the last year. And, in a lot of ways just thinking that the world was needing a break … the world was on a break. The pandemic was a shutdown and a slowdown and a break for everyone. Myself personally, decided to just take that time and to not flail about on Instagram and not, you know, run around in circles, trying to catch everyone's attention. Look at me, look at me, design, design, design, pay me, pay me because I felt in many ways it was disrespectful in a time when so many people were struggling and hurting. And now, I'm excited to kind of come back and have a new voice and be refreshed in a new environment.
And I think that we are living in a new world and there will be a new need for voice. And I, a hundred percent think that social media is a great channel when it's used elegantly, when it's used in a curated manner. When it's not so flashy and so over done, but it's just real. And, I think that's probably the biggest compliment I've received over the course of the years is that people really did get a sense that I was being real. And, so, uh, that's … I kind of try to maintain that in my social media.
I will have to attest to that. Obviously, having watched you grow up, you've always been a creative spirit. You have a great sense of humor. And a lot of times that carries you through some rough patches (and the expression on his face was like … you think so?) One of the challenges of your life, one of the times that most broke my heart, was that someone in an apartment below you - with a welding torch, set the six apartments above on fire and that included yours. Thankfully, your dogs were not at home at the time, but that ‘start over moment’. As heartbreaking as it was for all of us to know what you were going through and most heartbreaking for you to lose everything at once. What do you think perhaps you'd learned from that ‘start over moment’.
Well, that you just … you can start over, you know. You do. Suddenly you are starting over. Suddenly you just keep going, and you know, you don't fall down, you just stand up and are … well you do fall down rather, but you stand up and you dust yourself off. You don't just stay laying down moaning and crying that your apartment burned down. And you know, you will. You remember. Remember all the weekends. Every weekend. I would have to go and try to clean more stuff out that I could figure out if it was salvageable, or not. And, uh, took me a long time, but it moved me to the next step. What I kind-of think is that is really always the answer. When those things happen, you look back and you realize later, you know why something happened. And after that, I got to live work loft space and it was much bigger and much cooler.
And, you know, it allowed me to combine my office and my home rent in New York City, which is, you know, if you can do anything to lower or reduce your rental expenses in New York City, you're doing a great thing. And then from there I realized that I loved that environment so much. It allowed me to buy my first home in New York City that was exactly that same thing, a live work loft space. So I think it's just the path. That's all part of the journey and not getting stuck.
You know, I think the same of the pandemic, you know, having an opportunity, in March, we went from eight active projects to zero in 10 days. And, you know, we largely were locked out of buildings and homes and neighborhoods, for months. You can do a lot remotely, but you know, the good old, physical getting the job done, installing design is not a remote opportunity. And so again, to have that pause and reset, I think it's meant the world and back with a whole different view and stronger voice. And I think any business that has that opportunity is probably in pretty good shape.
And I think one of your strengths is that you took that time as opposed to saying, oh no, I don't have business. Let's watch TV. Instead of that, you took that and said, okay, what would be my next step in business. You began honing that particular project so that when you came out, you were ready to roll forward. And I think that's a valuable thing for all business people to realize that every opportunity can be found at the base of a challenge. So look at your challenges and say, what opportunity is there here? And I've watched you do that many times.
You've given us some really great ideas. But, if you had to sum up in one sentence your best advice, what would that be, Drew?
I think it has to do with not trying to win all the time. It's rather than trying to be the best, I think, to try to do your best. So, like, don't try to win. Don't try to be the one that becomes famous. Don't try to be the one that coined the phrase, just be the guy that actually gets the job done right. And gets it done well. And then, I think the other things start to happen. Then suddenly, you wake up and you are the famous one. Or, suddenly you wake up and you are the guy that got it right. Or, suddenly you wake up and you are the one that coined the phrase. Because, your whole focus was not … self. I want this for me. I want to be number one. I want to win. I want to beat the other guy. It was, I want to get the job done. I want to honor the client. I want to meet the expectation of what I signed up for. I want to fulfill my contract. You know, I want to do all those things. And I think the more and more I grow in my own business, that's it. It's like don't focus on winning. Focus on killing it.
Excellent advice. And I can attest that you truly do that on a daily basis. And so I'm very proud of you for that. We thank you so much for being with us today. Thank you for sharing your ideas. People are always asking me what you're doing, and it's always a pleasure to let them know how well you are doing. And, um, we just really respect the way you invest in your clientele and invest in your business, but most just specially invest in yourself.
Well, thank you for having me. Did you tell them all how shy I was as a little boy, this is not my - this is not my forte.
He actually was very shy. But most people didn't realize you were very shy. Because of what he uses as his superpower, and I was about to ask you for your superpower. What he used as a superpower, as a child, was his sense of humor. He was always hilarious. And so, he has always used that humor as a way to both protect himself and draw people to him. Humor has been his strength. But today, as an adult Drew, what would you say is your superpower?
Uh, my speed. I'm fast. I have a lot of energy. I can go faster, longer, and harder than the average person. So I think that's probably a literal superpower. I just think I can outpace most people. I can outpace most people in my office. I can outpace most of my clients. And so, I think just driving hard, probably.
Interestingly, that has always been what I thought was my super power. My energy. Let me warn you in advance it starts to wane. So, use it while you’ve got it.
I'll tell a cute story about Drew that alludes to the energy. And that was, when he was in second grade and his teacher called me in. She said, this kid is so fast. He finishes everything before all of the other students. And then he's kind of been at a loss. There are actually five of them that are completely through before the other students. Drew is the fastest one. I need to do something to keep him from getting into trouble because his energy is so abundant. She said, “I'm going to have him do my bulletin boards. He'll have a table. When he finishes his work, he'll go to it. And he'll do all the artistic things for the bulletin board. Because I've seen that he's a very creative child. That way I can keep him out of trouble.” So, I came home and I shared that with your dad. And he was like, “No, she's using him to do her work.” And I said, “No, she's trying to keep him out of the principal's office. Good for her.” Then, Drew went through school as the artist. Everything that needed an artist, the teachers were like “Get Drew McGukin.” It ended up giving you a lot of fun projects through the years, didn’t it, Drew?
It did. That’s true.
So, he went to college and one of his professors said, Drew, “Why are you not majoring in art?” And he said, “Because my mom says she only pays for marketable skills.”
That is also, true.
Congratulations on the great use of your marketable skills. Thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate and are happy to share you with our listeners.
Okay. Each podcast we offer Sharon’s Shout Out to someone inspiring. Today’s Shout Out goes to Beth O'Reilly AIFD for her dramatic designs. Beth shared with us some fresh and fabulous ideas for weddings or events. Check out the photos and inspo in our Oasis blog, Citrus Colors - A Fresh Wedding Flower Vibe at oasisfloralproducts.com. If you have someone you would like to recommend for a shout out, please DM Sharon McGukin that's MC G U K I N. Or, email [email protected]
In a brief recap. Let's remember that Drew gave us a lot of great tips on how to ‘Partner with your Customer’. Listening to where the value is. Tailoring the product to meet the needs of the value. Elevating the overall experience. In Drew's own words – “That's how you end up with a happy client. You heard what they had to say, you delivered what they needed, and you surprised them that it was better than average.” Drew advises that we adapt to our client's vision rather than insisting on our own personal experience. He suggests that it's not about winning. It's about winning the customer.
I want to thank Smithers-Oasis North America for sponsoring our podcast today. Smithers-Oasis understands that you need fresh ideas to inspire new growth for you or your floral business. Oasis carefully plants the seeds of your success by offering a balance of traditional and on-trend products to enhance your designs, visit your wholesale supplier for your favorite Oasis products or view the online selection of direct-delivered products and seasonal inspiration now available from oasisfloralproducts.com.
If you've enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend and be sure to hit subscribe. You don't want to miss the inspired solutions our upcoming guests will share with you for your personal or business growth. Until next time, I'm Sharon McGukin reminding you that like the unfurling petals of a flower, we grow by changing form. Soaking in inspiration like raindrops. Absorbing energy from others, like warmth from the sun. This growth opens us up to new ideas and that's How We Bloom.