Following her many successes, much-celebrated interior designer Courtney Sloane has opened a brick-and-mortar store in Jersey City, NJ, called Sloane Square, a lifestyle retail showroom. Sloane, creative and artistic director of 20-year-old Courtney Sloane
Design, is an award-winning interior designer whose roster of A-list
clients has included the likes of Queen Latifah, Diddy, Jay-Z as well
as BET, Essence, Sony Music, and Viacom. Sloane, who was educated at Rutgers University, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and Pratt Institute, made the House Beautiful Top 101 Designers list for several years among other numerous accolades.
Sloane talked to TNJ.com about the future of her designs and her new store.
TNJ.com: What prompted you to open Sloane Square?
Courtney Sloane: Opening a store in my hometown of Jersey City, New Jersey has been a lifelong dream. I have always been interested in local, community based businesses—specifically where I was raised. I always wanted to be a merchant and shop owner. With the opening of Sloane Square, it was my desire to have a new and different experience with design. In addition to being an interior designer, I thought it would be a great idea to operate in a different role. I wanted to create a place where we could gather and resale unique furniture designs and furnishings and get immediate feedback from the community. I like the idea of being a part of our customers and clients’ lives and providing an intimate and quality experience as it relates to their personal needs at home.
TNJ.com: What were some of the challenges in opening and how did you overcome them?
CS: As a designer, I am accustomed to ordering items geared towards a specific client or project. With the store, some of the challenges were selecting and ordering items without having first-hand knowledge of my new clientele. We decided to do a soft opening, prior to the official grand opening of Sloane Square. The pop up store was opened for six weeks. It gave us the opportunity to engage with our neighbors and learn more about their specifics needs.
TNJ.com: You have been in business for a long time now, what have been some of the growing pains you have had to deal with?
CS: I’ve had my interior design firm for nearly 20 years. The business is completely different now from when I started. We now have the Internet, DIY, and so much HGTV and a huge variety of television shows. For me, it has been less about growing pains than following the market and trends and doing work that interests my team and me. I have been very fortunate to work in many different areas of design, such as hospitality, contract, retail, and residential. Oftentimes, the interior design business is very segmented.
TNJ.com: How would you say the industry has changed?
CS: Many factors have played a role in the change of the interior design business: 1) Customers are more savvy now. There is so much information available via television, Internet, books, etc.; 2) If you are telegenic, you can become a design star without having any talent; 3) Our major U.S. cities are filled with ultra-wealthy multinationals who tend to bring their own designers from their native land; 4) The escalating cost of real estate and construction 5) And there’s a lack of seasoned labor.
TNJ.com: How were you affected by the financial crisis and how did your deal with it?
CS: The financial crisis really hit home since much of the disposable income used for our interior projects are on the residential side. Also, the commercial markets were not looking to do any capital improvement work; all of the improvement budgets were frozen. I was specifically affected, and as a result I downsized my studio, which turned out to be a blessing because it gave me an opportunity to develop and work on Sloane Square. Additionally, I was fortunate to be funded through the Pan American Development Foundation by way of Royal Caribbean to do a wonderful goodwill building project with a group of ceramic artisans located in Guaitil, Costa Rica.
TNJ.com: What are your goals for this year and next?
CS: Since the recession, I have focused on increasing the business by twenty five percent each year. Given the current size of our business, we require fewer projects since our operating costs are far less than in previous years.
TNJ.com: What has been the most important business lesson?
CS: There have been many important business lessons that I’ve learned. Here are five key lessons: 1) There is no such thing as a small project in interior design; 2) It is necessary to put operations systems in place so that time isn’t wasted and there are standards in place so that your business can run in your absence; 3) Be certain that you do a good job at being the filter and example of your brand or business. In other words, everyone must drink the Kool-Aid as it relates to your brand filter; 4) Lead by example and kindness, and be firm in your beliefs in implementing your brand filter. The creative business is tough and very ego-driven; and 5) You have to be objective and be able to offer criticism with both your team and clients in a positive and enlightening way.
TNJ.com: What do you enjoy the most about what you do?
CS: There are many things that I enjoy about my work as a designer and merchant. As an interior designer, I consider myself an interior author who helps people tell stories within and around the places they live and work. As a visual listener, I hear what is spoken and unspoken; I see what is seen and unseen. I also enjoy creating from nothing and developing branded interior design concepts which include name identity and graphics. As a merchant, I love sourcing and specifying new, innovative materials and furniture from around the world. I enjoy traveling to different places domestically or internationally in search of interesting items made by hand. I love learning about the origin of the materials and the people who make them.