FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Karyn Elliott
August 1, 2017
Home-staging is a niche-business. In every ‘niche’ there are standouts with a difference – this is the story of one of those …
I get a lot of mail – some the old-fashioned ‘junk-mail’, and increasingly the opt-in permission based newsletter variety. One I look forward to every time it comes is the one I get on home staging that Karyn Elliott puts out. I enjoy its tips – but more than that, I like it’s freshness (look and approach), it’s content (really valuable ideas) and it’s perspective (humour, irreverence, directness) and the sense it isn’t filtered by people who soften, stylize and massage it into something I would never want to see. Each time I get Crazy House Home Staging newsletter I’ve thought, “I should meet her”, and now I have.
Her service is marketed both directly to home-sellers and their agents – because ‘staging’ has become so much more important in marketing properties, especially when virtual tours have become the norm rather than the exception …
And her primary marketing method is to give information away, for free, with a regular publication. I can relate to that. And she’s written a book on home staging. Between appointments and her regular workouts at the Repsol Centre, she ‘fit me in’ for this interview …
Born on a farm near Athabasca. Mom and dad came to Canada as children – mom from Poland, dad from Ukraine; mom went to University of Alberta, taught and stayed home raising children. Dad farmed. Karyn is first-born of five children. She was bused to school in Athabasca (1-12). Her ‘extra-curricular’ life was ‘farm chores’. Off to U of A in Edmonton she got her social life going (she admits to party-girl label but protests she was ‘getting a social outlet’. And she obtained her B.Sc. in Home Economics. “I took home economics without any particular career in mind, but I got a great education”. Upon convocation – she got a job the next day, from a piece of paper on the bulletin board – Qualico was looking for an interior designer for their show homes. She applied, got the job, and began working on 35 show homes a year …
In 1979 Karyn relocated to Calgary – feeling the need for her services was greater here and found lots of work, lots of projects and, like so many Calgarians, in the wake of NEP (Nov./81), was laid off. “I took every and any job I could get – like everyone else I need to pay the mortgage. She married (now divorced) and spent 15 years as a stay-at-home mom to four daughters. Her post-divorce work prospecting in 1999/2000 involved checking out the competition in home staging and she wasn’t impressed. Her research in the U.S. showed home staging as a growing trend, she picked up a project in Hawaii – became convinced she could succeed, that it would be simple. She talked to realtors, some ‘other moms’ in her Britannia neighbourhood she’d met through school volunteering – and started her business (organizing, interior design and home staging) on a shoe string with “no margin for error" – I had children to feed”. With the help of a tech-savvy friend, it appeared there were no operators in Canada in this business. Research in California is where she actually found the term ‘home staging’ for the first time and found the route to customers was via real estate agents. Sometimes realtors hired her, sometimes their clients. Her first job was to work on a condo that had been languishing on the market for five months – re-carpeting and cosmetic changes ($5K budget) it sold. “Well, this works!”. In short order a one-person operation with a great roster of trades. She credits the method as being two principle focuses: ‘big things’ which involve consulting, developing a budget and execution of the work ‘before staging’; and that staging is primarily ‘blue jeans work’ – having ‘an eye’ and phsically doing the work. For several years she worked with a colleague providing rental furniture but that proved not financially viable. She has since, since that partner's sudden death, limited her work to ‘consulting’ and ‘blue jean work’ – billing her clients (a 50/50 mix of realtors and owners) on an hourly rate basis. How is business? … “It’s counter-intuitive. You might think, when the market is tough – that agents and owners would spend a little on staging to help sell homes faster and to make them look better – but historically they spend more and do more staging when the market is hot.”
Karyn’s practice, currently, divides along two lines – staging to help clients sell their homes and design/planning work, helping clients in their present home..
Why are you successful? “I know what I’m doing and I make quick decisions. Because I’m efficient and organized. I don’t waste people’s time. I get the job done.”
What has held you back? “Nothing really. I’ve found that difficult situations have propelled me forward – not held me back – and have given me more incentive to work harder, work smarter.”
How do you see your business – decorating/consulting/stylist & home staging – going forward over the next quarter?
… slow. When the economy is crazy, our work is crazy-busy. It’s strange, when times are tougher in the resale market, people are reluctant to spend money even though it will boost their selling price.
And over the next five years?
… growth in ‘wired staging’ – inserting virtual photos into a virtual floor plan … this seems to be growing trend – which is great on the web, but when you walk into the home it is empty. Buying a home involves emotion, and that is why staging can be so important – and as we’ve known for decades, ‘show home furniture works’.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… beauty. You need to have a discerning eye for beauty. And good design. I’m more collage-er than designer. Better design for the money translates to value – in quality of work, integrity and communication skills. I look for rapport. Whether buying for myself or for clients, I’ll pay more for quality and good design.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Karyn Elliott, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I know my stuff, I’m very efficient and well organized. High energy. I develop a flow – from room to room to room …
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
... I don’t babysit my trades. We work out a plan – we help each other. They NEED to be great with clients …
… now I do.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… not any more.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my aunt – she was my home economics teacher – influenced my choice of education. On the day I got hired by Qualico in Edmonton I visited Le Belle Arti – to order show home furniture. There I met Orlando and Pedro. They became friends, mentors – lots of education and fun times.
… working out. Hiking. Quilting. The arts scene. Collaging, spening time with friends. My work. Traveling 12-15 weeks a year. Had the best time of my life in Spain (three months).
What do you read?
… anything and everything – I’ve always been a voracious reader. Books mostly, fiction mostly, iPad when I travel.
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