Nikki Watson is the founder of The Design Quad, based in Dallas Texas. The Design Quad is the largest Home Staging company in the nation with over 300 properties staged at one time. The company also does flooring sales and installation, interior design, and remodeling.
Nikki’s entrepreneurial journey began in 2014. At the time, she was working as a flooring sales rep for a chain of flooring stores in DFW. For years she had helped her family and friends with their homes for free and never thought of it as something that could become a real business. She was passionate about interior design and loved to help others.
Then, she met Jason Maxwell who was a Home Stager and had a large Staging business. Nikki went to visit the business’ warehouse and was amazed by the aisles and aisles of pillows, artwork, and furniture.
“It looked like a department store,” said Nikki. “So I started thinking about how to get into this as a career.”
Then Maxwell had a major life event happen that prompted him to sell his business and move away.
“He was gone within two weeks time. Realtors panicked. They needed someone to fill this position. I took this opportunity and started advertising that I was a Stager. I hadn’t done it formally but thought I could figure it out as it happened.”
Overcoming obstacles as an industry newcomer
From the start, Nikki encountered obstacles in launching her new career. The day she got her first call to do an estimate for a Staging, she almost missed the opportunity.
“[At the time] my ex husband was in charge of our money at home and my check went direct deposit to his account. [The appointment] was 8 miles away from my house. I asked my husband for $10 gas money to go on the appointment. He said no,” Nikki shared.
Her then-husband was skeptical about this new venture and believed it would not be successful. But Nikki believed in her dream and knew she could make it a success. Not backing down from the opportunity, she called her mom for the gas money and went to her first appointment where she was instantly hired.
As she continued to build a name for herself in the industry, Nikki faced other challenges, brought on by the fact that she was not only a newcomer but the first Black Stager in the Dallas Staging industry.
“My biggest struggle was support in this newer industry. Staging was founded in the 70s by a Realtor/Interior Designer so it is still a fairly new business. I was the first Black Stager in Dallas and none of the other Stagers would answer any of my questions when I reached out.”
“There are two major associations in Staging. RESA-Real Estate Staging Association and IAHSP- International Association of Home Staging Professionals. I couldn’t join either group in the beginning because I didn’t have the money to pay for training. I was treated like a hobbyist because I wasn’t trained by these associations,” Nikki explained.
But Nikki would not let these barriers hold her back from rising to success. She decided to learn as much as she could on her own, starting with a book by the founder of Staging, Barb Schwarz.
“I just researched everything I could about how to run the business. Any systems or processes, I had to make up by trial and error.”
All that research and dedication paid off her business is now the largest Home Staging company in the nation. Additionally in 2023, she will be a speaker at the IAHSP convention in New Orleans.
Building connections and going for your dreams
Reflecting on some of her strengths, Nikki believes her creative marketing and passion for connecting with others is what has helped her grow her business to what it is today.
“I grew my business by taking every opportunity to make raving fans out of our clients. If I heard a Realtor was having a new grandbaby, I would send over a box of diapers to their office with a cute note from our team,” she said.
“Building relationships is what we do best as minorities. Making people feel loved. That is what I did to grow our client base and when they feel loved, they spread the word about you.”
One story that stands out for Nikki is from a client who was going through a divorce. The client’s husband was making her sell the house and split the proceeds. She reached out to Nikki because she needed the house to sell at a certain price so she could pay off her car with the proceeds because she knew her soon-to-be-ex would not help her with any bills after the divorce.
“A Staged house sells faster and for more money than an unstaged house. [The client] said, ‘I need my house to look like a model home and people to fall in love with it when they walk in.’ We staged the house and it sold in one day. After the proceed-split she was able to pay off her car in full and she sent our team a picture that said, ‘Women helping Women come out ahead.’ This was a great moment for me,” said Nikki. “It was much more than Staging the house, we helped her through a major change in her life.”
To other minority women thinking of starting a business or getting into a new industry, Nikki says not to let anyone tell you ‘NO’. If Nikki had listened to her ex-husband, she would not have become the founder of the largest Home Staging company in the nation.
“I had been with him for 20 years and he was at the time the closest person to me. But I knew in my heart that this is something I would enjoy and I was determined to at least try it,” she said. “I am not saying to betray your partner, but I am saying there should be nothing standing between you and your dreams. Moving past the NO is imperative.”
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