The past few years have been among the toughest ever for interior designers, but Lynne Catron chooses to view the downturn as an opportunity, not a hardship.
“I think the places that have closed have been the ones that refused to change,” said Catron, a 30-year veteran of the Memphis design industry and co-owner of Fresh Perspective, a new interior design shop and resource room in Germantown.
Fresh Perspective, which opened in March in the Exeter Village Shopping Center at Exeter Road and Poplar Avenue, offers to-the-trade furniture, fabric, wallpaper and accessories to the public and to other design professionals.
“Our name says everything,” Catron said. “We are a hybrid to the business. We took a hard look at the economy, at where our customers are going with their designs, and adapted to meet their needs. And we’re designer-friendly at the same time.”
When the burst of the housing bubble brought residential construction to a standstill and caused consumers to tighten their grips on their pocketbooks, designers already were facing increased competition from Internet retailers and online design resources. To thrive in the new economy, design firms have had to adjust their business models, said Valerie Woodend, designer and Fresh Perspective co-owner.
In her firm’s case, she said, that meant opening the shop and its catalog of resources not only to clients of the firm’s five in-house designers, but to other designers, their clients and do-it-yourselfers who want access to products typically only available through an interior designer.
“We want the DIYers and the designers to come into one place in a comfortable environment and either look through everything themselves or use the guided assistance of one of the designers here,” Woodend said. “We don’t want anybody to feel intimidated when they come in here.”
“I think the places that have closed have been the ones that refused to change.”
Co-owner, Fresh Perspective
The laid-back atmosphere of the shop, she said, was a big factor in the creation of its business model.
“In the past, design firms have felt very intimidating,” Woodend said. “You had to be accompanied by a designer, and resources were practically under lock and key. Here, we’re here to assist. We realize people love design as much as we do, and we want people to know that we’re down to earth in here.”
Fresh Perspective isn’t the first interior design business to open or expand in Germantown since the economy began its slide. In recent years, Millennium Home Furnishings opened a 12,000-square-foot showroom off Forest Hill-Irene Road. Other nearby interior design businesses include Jolie Maison, Post 31 Interiors and Vignettes Furniture and Accessories.
“We have certainly been pleased that over the last few years we have continued to have design groups and furniture stores open up,” said Pat Scroggs, president of the Germantown Chamber of Commerce. “Regardless of the economy, people still want their homes to look the best they can. Rather than purchasing new homes, they’re investing in their current homes.”
She said Germantown’s central location has played a key role in attracting new home-related businesses despite the slowdown in the housing industry.
“East Memphis and Southeast Memphis and Collierville – Germantown is a convenient location for all these surrounding areas,” Scroggs said.
Fresh Perspective chose Germantown after conducting extensive market research, said Catron, who worked for Virginia Rippee & Associates Interior Design for more than 25 years before Rippee decided to retire and close the firm in 2011.
“I was still having fun,” Catron said. “I wasn’t ready to retire.”
For a time, Catron, Woodend and designer Jane Sacharczyk operated Midtown Design Center of Memphis, a small design shop inside Market Central on Central Avenue, but they quickly outgrew the space.
“There have been a lot of design firms that have gone out of business, and it sort of left a lot of designers homeless,” Catron said. “We found that more and more people were wanting to work through us, but because we were so crowded in there, it wasn’t easy to work the sample room. Here, it’s easy.”
Sacharczyk, now an in-house designer with Fresh Perspective, Woodend and business manager Freda Lovitt also worked with Virginia Rippee & Associates before forming the new shop’s team. Other staff members include designers Victoria Saig and Morgan Armstrong.
Fresh Perspective offers complimentary in-store interior design services, and the design team works independently with clients, as well.
“We’ll do anything from helping you pick out a paint chip to designing a whole house,” Woodend said.
Scroggs said she thinks the store’s concept is a good match for its Exeter Village location.
“We’re really excited about having Fresh Perspective there,” she said. “Those designers have had vast experience with the group they were with prior to coming here. We think it will be a good fit. They’re in a good location.”