When Dennese Guadeloupe Rojas was laid off from her production position at a direct mail company in the late ’80s, she was disappointed about losing a job but she viewed it as a “golden opportunity” to pursue her life’s passion. “Often when you lose a job, you have time to reflect. ‘What do I really want to do? What is my life’s purpose?’” she says. For Rojas, it turned out to be interior design.
Rojas earned a degree in interior design from Bauder College in Miami but never put it to good use. Unable to find work in her chosen field, she spent several years in advertising. Rojas relocated to Maryland with her daughter in 1988. While at the direct mail company, “I designed a friend’s home as a surprise for his wife. That was so rewarding,” she says.
Today, Rojas is the sole proprietor of Interiors By Design, which provides interior and exterior design as well as accessories. She is also the owner of a retail store, Interior Accents Etc., where she sells a broad selection of home décor. Last year, both businesses grossed $319,856; Rojas anticipates making $276,351 in the retail store with another $300,000 in design revenues in 2004.
Making the transition to self-employment in 1990, Rojas began working out of her home in Burtonsville, Maryland, relying on word of mouth and attending trade shows to drum up prospective clients. She eventually courted high-scale clients, namely NFL players, including Anthony McFarland and Shaun King. By 2001, Interiors By Design was solid. But each buying trip was limited by Rojas’ small-scale approach. She had nowhere to stock the quantities that allow designers to buy from the big players.
At that point, Rojas decided to set up shop. With her sights set on the high-income, middle-class suburban area of Silver Spring, Maryland, Rojas found a space to lease in October 2001. Lacking retail experience, she turned to a friend, someone who had a store selling home furnishings for 10 years. “I hired her as a consultant; we worked out a payment arrangement,” says Rojas, whose startup costs were $70,000 to $90,000. She managed to snare a $45,000 micro loan through the SBA. She also used about $20,000 of her personal savings.
For Rojas, adding a store to her existing design work was rocky at first. The construction of a loft to accommodate a design office separate from the 1,400-square-foot display floor was delayed, and Rojas had to have a friend fix what the original architect botched. Reliable employees were harder to find, although she now has a dependable crew of four full-time and two part-time workers.
Nationally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, interior design is growing at a faster pace than average, with a projected 22% increase in the number of working designers by 2012. Annual billings, calculated per state by Dun and Bradstreet, stood between $200,000 and $900,000 in 2003, with most between $400,000 and $600,000.
While the flurry of home makeover programs on television has made interior designers popular commodities, Rojas