Small Business

From a guest room to an LA showroom: A case study on Kate Lester Interiors

Remember how excited you’d get when your parents said they were going away for the weekend? Whether your goal was to throw a party, eat ice cream for dinner, or play video games until 3am, it was the perfect opportunity to do whatever you wanted without your parents telling you “no.”

Kate Lester also cherished these moments of “freedom” … but she’d use the time to redecorate. This is her story.

When Kate graduated with a business degree and began working in finance, she quickly found she wasn’t passionate about the work she was doing. “I was thinking more about how I could redesign my office than actually doing the work that I was supposed to be doing,” she explains.

“I told everyone that I was going to leave my amazing high paying job to go back to school and I was going to bartend at night while I did this.”

Not wanting to be stuck in a job she hated for 45 years, she decided to leave her high-paying job to go back to school and bartend at night. Then, she learned the ropes by working for another designer and began developing a vision of what she wanted to do.

Eight years later, when her husband was transferred to a new job location, she knew it was time to start her own firm. So she took $500 and their guest room and founded Kate Lester Interiors, a luxury interior design firm that helps custom design their clients’ homes from start to finish.

Originally intending to do “a few projects on the side,” business quickly exploded. The next thing I knew, I had too much work. I couldn’t stay in the guest room, I had to get an office space, and then from there on it just grew and grew and grew.”

Ever the cautious businesswoman, Kate was leary about taking on debt, instead preferring to wait until she had the money to run marketing campaigns and buy equipment. “I’m a firm believer that businesses should start slowly and grow slowly, and not bite off more than they can chew,” she explains.

However, she always knew that she wanted to open a retail space — a showroom that’d encourage people to buy the products she used in her designs. And so she put her dream for the retail space in her five-year plan.

But as many business owners know, things don’t always go according to plan. “When the perfect space became available on the Pacific Coast Highway, we didn’t have all that capital in the bank.”

Her bookkeeper explained that getting financing isn’t always a bad thing and assured Kate that she’d be able to pay the money back — she just needed a little help at the moment.

After warming up to the idea, getting some quotes, and making some spreadsheets to figure out how much she needed (you can take the businesswoman out of the finance world, but you can’t take the financial knowledge out of the businesswoman), she went to her bank, where her cash flow amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

They turned her down. Though her credit was excellent and she had no debt, the amount she was requesting wasn’t enough to make it interesting and profitable for the bank.

Fortunately, the very same day, she received a mailer from Funding Circle. After reading how it was founded by business owners who were rejected by their bank, she thought, “it was like fate. I’m totally calling these people.”

“We didn’t have to talk to ten different people — so that was a huge benefit for me. I didn’t have to explain our situation over and over again every time I got on the phone to ask a question.”

The Funding Circle process ended up being completely different from the one she had at her bank. We thought it would be a longer process because of what happened when we went to our bank. I spent 8 hours on the phone with my bank, just trying to get someone to talk to me. But I never had any issues with Funding Circle.”

This was invaluable to Kate, as she manages both the business and creative sides of her company, and her time is valuable. “For me to go to a bank and maybe get one or two points difference wasn’t worth all the back and forth it would have required. Funding Circle just had such a simple process.”

Since getting her loan in March 2017, Kate opened up her gorgeous new retail space — Kate Lester Home — on August 19, 2017, and business is booming. Sales are up 150%, and the store is expected to bring in $30,000-$40,000 each month.

“You have to figure out how to turn your passion into profit — that’s what we do on a daily basis.”

But Kate, ever the ambitious business owner, is not content with just a showroom. When asked about her 10-year plan, she responded — without hesitation — that she wanted her own show on Bravo (The Real Interior Designers of Hermosa Beach) and a line at Target. “I want to be making money when I’m sleeping,” she laughs.

In the end, even though Kate had to be talked into getting a loan, she’s glad she did it. “We had to really invest in the business in order to grow it. You should take the leap. If you’re not going to invest in yourself, then who is?”

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