In an era where interior designers work alongside architects and property developers, and more designers are striving for professional independence by running their own studios, there is more focus than ever on the changing business of design. From the advent of the internet and the increasing online presence of accessible interiors brands, to the rapidly growing numbers of career-changers turning to education and retraining as designers, the finance and marketing dynamics of our industry are subject to constant realignment.

Taylor Howes was founded in 1993, and in its near quarter of a century in business co-founder Karen Howes has witnessed, championed and embraced significant changes in the way designers work and are recognised — all while building sister company TH2 Designs. On 8 June Karen will speak at BIID’s Inside Knowledge conference. Her session — Building a Great Interiors Brand — sits among a programme of talks focused on the business, finance and ethics of interior design. Ahead of her highly anticipated talk, we asked Karen to share her story with us and to find out why she believes that branding and business is as important as the design itself.

Karen, you were thrown into the world of interiors at the age of 18 when you rented a room from Martin Waller, founder of Andrew Martin. How has branding and its role in business changed for the interior design industry since then?

When I started in the business it was interior decorators, rather than designers, and it was considered that you only did the “pretty bits”. Now it is widely recognised as a profession and we sit alongside architects — often pre-planning — and work on hugely complex projects.

At 21 you had already launched your first interior design business. If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice about business and marketing, what would it be?

Invest in PR and marketing as much as you can as early as you can. A great website is your biggest window on the world and even billionaires Google!

Taylor Howes and TH2 Designs are businesses in the same industry, founded by the same people, working at different price points. How did you harness the power of branding to differentiate them?

They have very different logos and styles, also TH2 is purely a furnishing solution as opposed to the full build, which is where Taylor Howes sits. I would say that it probably was confusing in the early days when we sat under one roof for both clients and the team. Now they both have very clear direction and Gail Taylor sits as MD of TH2, along with Sheila El Hadery as design director, and they are doing an amazing job. My role is more the financials and networking.

You are driven, not only by interior design, but also by an entrepreneurial spirit. What advice would you give to budding business owners and interior designers who want to build a brand on their own terms?

You’re right, I love business as much as I do design, which is why I established and run The Business of Design — a networking forum within the industry. My advice would be to get a good management and practice structure in place early on. Instigate processes, systems and set KPIs for your team. Once established, you then have a solid foundation to build and grow. We have been working closely with a business coach for the past three years who has helped us to fine tune these practices. And I’m very pleased to say it paid off, as we were just awarded Best Overall Business by the Business Excellence Forum.

What is the most difficult decision you have had to make in a branding process?

Being brave enough to change our logo when it was out of date. Then chasing the new one was the most difficult thing, but we got there!

And what’s the best one you’ve made?

Really, for me, having our own in-house brand manager has put us on a whole new level.

Who do you look to for guidance and expertise on branding?

So Poppy, first off, who is our brand manager. We have an amazing website designer, and then just being aware of your competition and what is going on across super brands.

What is the most effective branding or marketing tool at your disposal?

Social media and your website — you don’t have to spend a fortune but it is a great way of getting brand awareness out to the market.

What do you hope people will take away from your session at BIID’s Inside Knowledge conference?

I am always happy to share my journey — the ups and the downs — as I am passionate about the interior design industry and if this helps someone move on up, that would be amazing.

Why is being a member of BIID important to you and your business?

BIID championed for us to be a recognised professionals, alongside architects, and that has meant a lot to me, both personally and professionally. I am very proud of my career.

Are there any projects our readers should be looking out for from you in 2017?

We have a busy year ahead, we have been asked to do a room set in Holiday House (different designers take a room in a house and it is the first time it has come to the UK) and we have been asked to dress the VIP areas at the Monaco Yacht show. We will be starting the work on our first book and putting the finishing touches to our first furniture collection, which will be officially launching on our 25th birthday. Alongside that we have a number of projects in Abu Dhabi that we can’t wait to get finished and we have just completed the amazing space optimisation phase for The War Office in Whitehall — the most extraordinary building I have ever worked on. So busy, but good busy!

Learn more about Karen’s session and book tickets for the BIID Inside Knowledge conference here.

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