Last winter, the most interesting thing happened to me when I was sourcing a home furnishings partner for our growing chain of studios.
After walking the home show in NYC last summer, I made appointments with two of my favorite brands to see what kinds of wholesale offerings they have.
The first was with a home furnishings provider I just love. Not only do I adore the brand but I find the owner incredibly inspirational both as a person and entrepreneur. When we met last summer, her warm and engaging personality drew me in and left me thrilled about getting together and establishing a partnership. It was my dream collaboration with an incredibly inspirational leader.
After getting up for an early train, I arrived to a frigid, rainy New York City prepared with extensive notes and slideshows. When I first arrived, I wasn’t sure if I was in the right place – and had to read the labels on shipment boxes piled in the concrete reception area to make sure. There were no voices, and for a while I was concerned that the office space I was sitting in was unoccupied. About fifteen minutes after our appointment was set to begin, I wandered past empty offices to find a person to meet with, only to be grilled for about 20 minutes on my financials, told to send in a written proposal and sent out into NYC two hours before my next appointment.
After drowning my sorrows in entire pizza and two cupcakes, I went back out for round two.
The next meeting at Jonathan Adler was a dramatic shift from the morning’s. I arrived wet and cold about a half hour before the appointment was to begin to a beautiful little sitting room. The office was buzzing with activity as a cute little doggie came up to greet me while the receptionist immediately brought me hot tea. I could see team members working hard in open offices, but at the same time also laughing about an office video going around. The space was bright and cheerful, with statements like “manifesto” and “our commandments” graphically displayed on the wall.
At my appointment time, a cheerful wholesale rep brought me into a comfortable sitting area and congratulated me on my pregnancy (never mentioned in the first appointment!). She talked to me about my business growth history and future timeline. Her boss joined the conversation for any decisions she wasn’t sure she could make on her own, and we left with a solid plan on how to outfit future studios with Jonathan Adler home furnishings for a cohesive look across all Little Nest Portraits locations. During my time there, Jonathan was buzzing around the office having fun with team members and planing his next video.
Me, Jonathan, and my “drowned rat” look
So where did things get lost? Both founders are amazing entrepreneurs I’d consider myself lucky to be in a room with. But somehow Jonathan, despite having taking on private funding and hiring a President to run his operations, clearly never delegated company culture. Every inch of that studio, from the furnishings to the manifestos on the wall, is a reflection of him.
It was an unforgettable lesson that as we grow I can delegate finance, accounting, operations, management, training and customer service. But I can never ask someone else to take ownership for creative culture or let it fall to the wayside if I want to grow a great organization.
Have you ever walked into a space or environment with a certain expectation based on what you knew of the owner or brand, and have it be WAY different than you anticipated? How do you think that happened?
Even if you are a one-person company, do you think culture matters? I’d love to hear!