A Bigger Business, By Design

When Sara Noble started Noble Designs 15 years ago, it was a part-time, one-woman show.

These days Noble’s business has a wait list full of customers clamoring to have the interior design firm give their homes a custom look. Noble Designs’ work has been featured in magazines and newspapers, and she now employs two full-time and six part-time employees.

The business has expanded rapidly over the past five years. To keep growing, Noble knew she needed a sound strategic plan for the future.

It’s why she applied for ScaleUP! Kansas City. Noble was one of the entrepreneurs chosen to participate in the elite program designed for growth businesses. It offers specialized classes, peer mentoring, professional guidance and more.

ScaleUP! Kansas City is offered by the UMKC Innovation Center and the U.S. Small Business Administration. It’s available to those who have been in business at least two years, generate $150,000 to $750,000 in revenue and are in a market capable of supporting more than $1 million in sales.

ScaleUP! allowed Noble to step out of the day-to-day busywork of owning a small business and plan for the long term.

“Taking this time to take on a managerial role and a leadership role in it has been really important,” she said. “Some of the stuff is not necessarily rocket science, but you have to take the time to think about it, which I wasn’t necessarily doing before.”

A Better Way to Run the Business

Noble Designs is a full-service interior design business focused mainly on residences. Noble describes her sense of style as classic with a twist of modern.

“We put together design plans that are custom for our client and reflect their family,” she said.

Noble also operates an online shop to sell her favorite pieces directly to clients. The store allows clients to get a better value on several classic pieces while allowing Noble another way to make money.

ScaleUP! has already had a dramatic effect on the daily operations at Noble Designs. During a ScaleUP! classroom discussion, Noble learned about a software program developed specifically for interior designers. It was the answer to several challenges her company was experiencing with accounting and project management.

“I’m not sure I would have searched out this tool if I wasn’t discussing these things in class,” she said.

The software allows a designer to use one computer system to order pieces and bill clients. Before, her team had to go back and forth between several systems to make sure the exact piece was ordered and billed correctly. The old way worked when the business was smaller, but Noble and her team had outgrown it.

“It’s going to be a better tool for our clients, too,” Noble said. “The invoices will have pictures of a product in there with a description.”

The best part, Noble said, is that the program allows designers to make detailed notes about the order on the software program. That’s a small but significant detail given that no two orders are alike. Most furniture pieces are custom-ordered. Couch cushions are almost always upgraded, and fabrics are regularly swapped out based on the client’s tastes.

Keeping everything organized is essential in order to avoid costly mistakes that hurt the business’s bottom line and reputation. The software has been a huge help.

“It gives us one spot to hold everything,” Noble said. “And you literally push a button to create an order, push a button to create an invoice, and it’s all coming from one touch essentially.”

Teaching the House Style

ScaleUP! has led to several other “aha!” moments. For example, Noble came up with her own manual for hiring designers after ScaleUP! experts urged her and her classmates to document critical processes in their businesses. That way, everything doesn’t fall apart should something happen to the owner.

This advice has been especially helpful to Noble as she hires more designers who need to blend their creative instincts with the Noble Designs look and feel. It prompted Noble to create what she’s called her designer boot camp program and manual.

“I’m really excited about (our boot camp) and would not have come up with it without ScaleUP!” she said.

After Noble carefully selects designers to join her business, they will go through the boot camp to see how Noble designers operate. They will learn everything from best practices when it comes to serving clients to the best blogs to follow and preferred brands. The new hires will also be trained to create a plan for a client that fits within the standards of Noble Designs.

“I do think there is a look to Noble Designs. Even though it’s specific to each home, I think a lot of times you can look at a space and not be surprised when you find out that we did it,” Noble said. “I want to make sure that we’re able to pass that on as we continue to grow. And do that in a very organized, systematic way.”

‘I Want It to Have a Look’

Most importantly, the boot camp will teach designers how to make decisions on their own without Noble’s input at every turn. It will allow her to focus on growth rather than overseeing the minute details of projects.

“I’m not a micromanager. I don’t enjoy that,” she said. “But I want it to have a look. They’re coming to us because of what we’ve done.”

That ScaleUP! advice has already allowed Noble to get out and talk more with Realtors, residential developers and others to explore new markets for the business.

Noble plans to stay in touch with classmates who have proven to be valuable sounding boards.

“It’s been really interesting to hear their feedback and just have somebody who has taken a vested interest in my business for a moment but isn’t so tied in to the people or the politics,” she said.

It’s one of many hidden benefits of ScaleUP! that will continue long after the course is complete.

“I had no idea,” she said, “what a benefit (ScaleUP!) was going to be to me.”

Entrepreneur // Sara Noble

Company // Noble Designs | (913) 732-2403 | www.saranobledesigns.com

Noble Designs is an award-winning interior design firm serving residential customers.

Are you ready to ScaleUp?
ScaleUP! Kansas City—an elite program for KC small businesses—is looking for companies that want to supercharge their growth. Learn more at www.scaleupkc.com