The Remodel

Jul 13, 2010 No Comments

When the opportunity to remodel or redesign an area in the house arises, it’s no easy undertaking. You, as the homeowner, usually have to make some sacrifices and we don’t just mean in your bank account.alena-capra
This “remodel” is somewhat the situation that Alena Capra found herself in when the large design company she was working for went under. She had to make the decision to undergo some sacrifices and redesign her career path by starting her own interior design company. And just like the satisfaction a newly build kitchen brings, so has been the satisfaction and rewards of Alena Capra Designs to her life.

What were you doing before opening up your own company?

AC: Before I started my business, I was working as a designer for another company. I had always planned on one day starting my own business, but was never sure when the ‘right time’ was to take the chance. I spent the last few years preparing for it, by obtaining certain design certifications, and learning as much as possible about all facets of the business, so when it was time, I was as ready as possible.

Tell us the story behind the reason you decided to open up Alena Capra Designs.

AC: Back in January of 2009, the company I was working for announced they were closing nationwide. It was shocking news for everyone, it happened so suddenly. Instead of getting upset about it, I chose to see it in the most positive light possible. I thought, what a chance to finally try and start up my own business… the opportunity was there for the taking. If there was ever a time to try this, I felt like this was the time.

How long after being laid off did you decide that opening up your own company was the way to go?

AC: It was an immediate reaction. I almost didn’t even think… I knew this was the right time. Within days of that happening, I started planning and thinking about how I could make it all work.

What was the biggest cost in opening up your company?

AC: I took it easy in the start-up, to keep my over-head as low as possible the first year, so I work from home. Setting up my home office was a big expense… purchasing furniture to organize and hold all of my samples and books, a new mac, etc. Also, I spent a lot of the past year traveling to various trade shows throughout the country to learn as much as possible about what’s current in my industry, so travel costs as well. My business cards are also a big expense… believe it or not!! They are costly to order, but absolutely worth it! People always comment on the fact that they love my card, and it makes me feel proud. In the design business, I feel your ‘card’ should be an extension of your style. I would pay any amount of money to express that!

Did you feel forced to open up your own company, or did you know it was going to work?

AC: I didn’t feel forced, since it was something I always wanted to do. I didn’t want to apply for jobs elsewhere because something told me this was the time.

How did you find your first client for your brand new company?

AC: Fortunately, due to the situation of my former company I worked for closing, a lot of my clients for the past few years had begun to contact me. So, my very first client was a former client who was remodeling her Miami condo. The first few clients were mostly former clients of mine.

In the beginning, did you do any free work or market any great promotions to gain more exposure/clients?

AC: I believe in doing as much as possible to get your name out there in a positive light. I am a certified member of the National Kitchen and Bath Association, and volunteer to speak on various design topics on behalf of the organization at numerous Home Shows throughout the year.  I find it rewarding in so many ways, not only does it bring me a client or two, but it is a great forum for educating people about design – which I love to do. I also have begun participating in Designer Showcases. In April, I was one of 5 designers chosen to design a bathroom space for the Coverings show in Orlando (a national trade show for the tile and stone industry). It was an honor to be part of the show and an incredible experience. I will be doing another showcase at the Miami Home Design and Remodeling Show in September.

How did you first start getting the word out? How do people find you now?

AC: Initially, I emailed all of my former clients that I had started my own business. I never advertised, and most of my initial clients came from friends, and former clients. Since I am a Certified Kitchen and Bath Designer with the NKBA, people also find me through their website, which has a ‘search for local professionals’ page. In December, I launched my own website, and that has brought in clients as well. I also try to use social media as much as possible, it’s free, and is a great forum to get the word out. I have a business page on Facebook, and a Twitter account as well, which I update often. All of those are linked to my website as well. I also spend a lot of time attending industry related events. I go to as many as I can possibly fit into my schedule.

In detail please tell us all about your company, Alena Capra Designs.

AC: The range of the projects my company takes on is forever expanding. Primarily, my business is residential kitchen and bath design, and now, furnishings for the whole home as well. I take clients through the entire design process. I measure the space, select the products, create the drawings and plans, and work with contractors to ensure proper installation of the design. I also work with architects on commercial spaces. I designed a wine bar for Vino DeSantis, and am currently in the process of designing a Nail Spa in Fort Lauderdale.

Describe your personality.

AC: I am very much a ‘people person’ and love meeting new personalities, which is why my line of work is so perfect for me! I am also a former Dolphins Cheerleader (2001-03) so I think that is in my nature. I am also very driven. I will keep working at something until I get it, and once I do, I’ll find something new to work at! It’s a never-ending cycle, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

From beginning to end, describe the experience that a future client will receive from hiring you.

AC: If someone hired me for a project for example, a remodel of his or her master bathroom, the process would be as follows:

I’d meet with them to discuss what they like/don’t like about their current space, and what they would like to incorporate in the new design. I measure the space and create a floor plan so I can work on the space planning of the new design. We would then meet at different showrooms to select the tiles, cabinets, countertops, lighting, plumbing fixtures, etc. I price everything out for them, and create a set of drawings of these items in their space. We review that, make any changes, and commit to a final plan. I will then meet with their contractor before the construction begins to go through the scope of work, and the plans. I am available throughout the installation for questions and will make visits to the jobsite to ensure all is going well. Basically, I help make the process easier for them!

Typically, how long does the shortest project take?

AC: It depends. If it’s a remodel project for a kitchen or bath, then it can be 4-6 weeks to completion depending on many variables (lead time of merchandise, inspections, unforeseen conditions once the existing fixtures have been removed etc.) Furniture has long lead times as well, so we are always at the mercy of the manufacturer. However, if a client is on a time crunch, I will always find alternative ways to suit their timeline.

Tell us about your pricing.

AC: For most projects, I will visit the site first, and then come up with a design fee based on the size of the room(s) and scope of the project. For smaller projects, or design consultation, I also offer the option of an hourly rate to my clients.

Do you have a studio or do you meet people at their locations?

AC: I don’t have a studio yet, though that is something I am hoping to open in the near future. I generally meet clients at their homes and we also utilize many showrooms as well. Most showrooms have areas for designers to meet with clients, so it makes it easier.

Looking back, what has been the biggest challenge that you have had to overcome and how did you overcome it?

AC: I think the biggest challenge for me was adjusting to working alone, and not having an office to report to every day. I’m a people person, so I always miss that aspect of having co-workers. To overcome it I began frequenting the many showrooms I order from and becoming friendly with the people who work there. I’ve made a lot of new friends! What’s also nice is many of my former co-workers now work at places that I order from, so I still get to interact with them often.

Tell us an inspiring story that has come from your company…

AC: The most inspiring thing in this whole process for me is watching my business grow. It was started due to the loss of my job and blossomed into something so much greater. This past year has been so amazing. I have gotten to be part of Designer Showcases, meet so many wonderful people in my industry from all over the nation, speak on Panels, speak at Home Shows… the list goes on and on. I’ve gotten to meet great designers whom I respect and admire, and have them share advice with me. I NEVER thought I’d get to be a part of all of these things so early on, and am grateful for all of the opportunities. From the beginning, I was not afraid to put myself out there, and I think that is the key.

Do you ever think that you should have started your company way earlier?

AC: No, because although I have about 8 years design experience, the timing was not right back then. I believe things happen for a reason. Years ago I wouldn’t have had the same drive as I do now. Believe me, nothing pushes you as hard to survive on your own like losing your job.

Did you have help from anyone to start up this company?

AC: I pretty much have put this all together on my own which was a big task. I have made mistakes along the way and have learned from them.  I believe that is all part of the process. It makes you smarter in business and makes you stronger as a person. My parents were also a great help to me throughout the whole process, providing great advice and an ear to listen.

What would you like everyone to know about Alena Capra Designs?

AC: That I strive to make my clients happy, and design beautiful spaces for them. No job is too small for me to take and I’m open to taking on any type of design job if the fit is right.

Anything else?

AC: I am thankful for having great friends and family who allow me to bounce design ideas off of them. When I was designing for my first Showcase, I ran all of my designs and samples past them for advice. I trust them and I like to get a valued second opinion. I could not live without my camera, camera-phone, or scanner!

What do you LOVE the most about owning this company?

AC: I love watching my business grow… it is such a satisfying feeling.

Give us your best advice.

AC: My best advice is to get out there as much as possible. I constantly network and attend industry related events, and through that I’ve met many great people. Be involved in as many relevant organizations in your industry as possible. Enter the room with confidence and armed with a ‘well designed business card’!

Edited by: Bridgette

Alena Capra Designs, LLC
Create, Ft. Lauderdale
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