Monday, October 15, 2012

Spotlight on Mom -- Robin Wilson of Robin Wilson Home

Company Name/Product/Service: ROBIN WILSON HOME, interior design & hypoallergenic bed & bath textiles
Company Location: NEW YORK, NY
Company Website:
Twitter Handle: @ rwhome
Age of Company:  12 years (founded in 2000; rebranded in 2006)
Favorite Inspirational Quotes: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”
Favorite Book: Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell

Tell us a little bit about yourself.  How many children do you have?  What are their ages? Your hobbies? Etc.

My husband and I welcomed our daughter, Lorraine, at the end of September. Our former hobbies of extensive last-minute travel, eating out at elegant restaurants and going to theater might require a revamp as we welcome our new little one.  The exciting thing about this is that we are older parents so that we have accomplished many things and will be able to have more involvement in our child’s upbringing due to our awareness and access to great friends, family and exposure to many resources.

Briefly explain your business.  How did it come about?

Robin Wilson Home is an eco-friendly interior design firm and a lifestyle brand with products sold at retail – currently at Bed Bath & Due to her personal experience with asthma & allergies, she was selected an ambassador to the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America and is a regular speaker on issues related to clean construction methods, healthy indoor spaces/products and how to lead a hypoallergenic lifestyle. Robin Wilson regularly appears on the speakers circuit, television and offers commentary in print on wellness, sustainability, asthma & allergy issues, and how to be a better entrepreneur with work/life balance.

The firm was founded in 2000 and was rebranded to the eponymous Robin Wilson Home in 2006. We started as project managers for high-net worth individuals with multiple homes, and then began to be asked to actually design spaces, both residential and commercial. We successfully made the transition and by 2009, we were adding our brand to products that are now sold to consumers – focused on sustainability, wellness and eco-friendly design.

What is a typical work day like?
We used to burn the midnight oil at both ends, but since I am expecting a baby soon, my work day is much shorter but more efficient. My team is all over and we use technology to stay connected, while I work from my home office. Sometimes the team comes to me, but most of the time, we accomplish things with external consultants (architects, CAD designers, bookkeeper) to ensure that we do not have a high overhead for payroll.

What has been a struggle while starting up your company? 

Hiring the right people has been a consistent struggle. As a small company, we have sometimes been forced to hire “available” people and later realized that the fit was not there…and it is really hard when you want to feel a sense of loyalty, but you realize that the person is either not up to the job or not willing to do the job. In one case, we had a young woman who I thought that I could trust implicitly…until I learned from our webmaster that she was sending emails during the workday for hours at a time and not doing her job, and she did not respect client confidentiality and was actually sending out private client information resulting in a serious breach of privacy for one high-profile client. When I confronted her about this situation, she lied about her actions until I showed her the printout of her emails. She was fired for both lying and breaking our high-profile client’s trust. Our firm lost the client.

At the end of the day, my name & brand is on the door. It is critical that all members of our team protect the brand. And I used to hesitate to terminate employees, but today, it is imperative to act immediately to protect the brand first…so lying, being deceptive or breaching client confidentiality is instant grounds for termination of team members.

What did you do in your past work life?

I was an executive recruiter working in NYC to hire Fortune 500 executives, and a management consultant in Boston working on strategic corporate issues for Fortune 100 companies. Both roles were similar due to the interaction with corporate executives and having to fit in and wear the corporate suite, but neither left me fulfilled on a personal level. It was great when the firm that I was working for in 1999 held an IPO and my stock options vested immediately, which provided a windfall which allows me to do what I want today…creating satisfaction in my personal and professional life.

What have been some of your major successes?

Robin Wilson Home has branded product sold at a major retail store and we are the first woman with a branded line of custom cabinetry sold by over 500 dealers nationwide – and made in the USA by Holiday Kitchens. And we also authored the book, Kennedy Green House (Greenleaf, 2010) with a foreword by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., which is a compendium of the renovation of his private residence. In addition, some of the projects we have done for high-profile clients and showhouses have been photographed for major magazines and this has been exciting and rewarding.

What have been some of your major challenges?
We had a cash flow situation due to the economic situation – when people started losing their banking jobs, we had several clients cancel projects in the middle of the work, and we also had limited access to small business loans or lines of credit. Banks create issues for small business owners because we often have financed our companies with our personal credit cards or used our social security information to secure lines of credit. If we are faced with situations where we are unable to pay ourselves (and we have all been there!) and instead we pay our team of employees, we can see our credit scores do a steady decline. This can create a vicious cycle where we are then unable to secure credit at a later time, when we really need it.

On those impossible days, what motivates you to keep going?

I believe that we are all here on this earth to fulfill a purpose…and if it were easy, everyone would do it…so, my focus is often based in the reality that if I stay on a path, there is always going to be someone else who might give up before me. I work really hard and believe that our ability to educate consumers is very important, so my mission is to ensure that more people are aware of the simple solutions that are available to them to live an eco-healthy lifestyle.

What is your balancing secret in managing a business and family?

We communicate our schedules weekly and ensure that we are in sync as much as possible since we both lead busy professional lives. Each day, I try to do something nice for myself as that helps remind me that I am an important cog in the wheel of our family – it could be as simple as having a popsicle, taking a bath or giving myself a manicure…just something that reminds me of my individuality and refills my well, so that I can give more.

What is next for your business?

We want to expand our line to mommy & baby licensed products so that we can provide more stylish and aesthetically pleasing options to families who live an eco-healthy and hypoallergenic lifestyle.

Do you have any advice for other mom entrepreneurs that are starting out and struggling, or are on the fence about starting a business?

I recommend that all mom entrepreneurs ask themselves about their ability to truly devote a significant amount of time to building a business. Sometimes partnering with someone is a better idea, because each of you will have certain strengths and can divide the work. As well, you can both limit your risk to capital. Many women who are starting out do not realize that the three c’s are very important: cash, credit, connections. Without all of them, you will need to ensure that you can build the network to gain awareness of your business, product and message – and through the increased use of social media, you may be able to do this with less investment than the past. Make sure to register a web domain, blog domain and twitter domain right away so that you can “own your brand” and have a one sentence response for those who ask you “what do you do?” in case that person is a potential investor or a connector who will lead you to someone who can help you build your business.

Finally, make sure that you understand that your goal after the first few years of micromanagement should be working “on your business, not in your business”. Hire a team of consultants, interns or others who can help you achieve your goal so that you can graduate from the micro- to macro- management of your business and your brand.

1 comment :

  1. as a business woman myself, do much of this rings true! Great article. And I have bought that line.Great products as well.