The lobby area of the Norfolk Idea Center (NIC) looks like you walked into the pages of a home and style magazine – a cozy sitting room complete with a fireplace, warm wood, stone accents, and subtle lighting. The front desk is dressed in a similar fashion. The exposed brick walls behind the desk lead you around the perimeter of the showroom where displays of hardware, flooring, and inspiration for all things “dream space” abide. This is no surprise as the NIC is Coastal Virginia Magazine’s 2017 Best Interior Design Store and the Retail Alliance 2017 Retailer of the Year!
Today, we are sitting down with Jim Schneider, the owner of NIC, and Jaime Simpson, the principal designer. Jim has always been a contractor, an entrepreneur with a drive for good business. What began as a few people working together, grew into a business with 10 framing crews, and eventually into a general contractor/builder firm. When the national housing market took a downturn several years ago, Jim decided to diversify and expand the design element of his business and created the Norfolk Idea Center.
Jaime Simpson is an interior design graduate of Harrington College of Design in Chicago. She has worked with interior design firms, specialized in kitchen and bath design, and has also worked as a freelance designer. She enjoys the often complex challenge of helping clients design a space that is not only beautiful, but fulfills its primary function, too.
Tell us about your business and what makes it unique.
JIM: We live in a time where our commerce has navigated to point & click, do-it-yourself, cheap, cheap, cheap - that is not Norfolk Idea Center! We are service-orientated and have the experience and knowledge to make your design project easier whether you're a contractor or a home owner. We provide a high level of service that offers our clients the ability to hit the easy button rather than simply being a commodity.
JAIME: Currently, we have 3 designers on staff that work directly with contractors and home owners to blend safety, form, and function. We strive to make the whole process as seamless as possible for everyone, and fun as well!
What do you do to build trust with your clients? What best practices do you find effective?
JIM: Building trust is about doing the right thing so that’s our approach. Our ideal client is a contractor that wants a great experience for their client while they focus on managing their project. To stay productive and successful, we need more people to align ourselves with folks that "just do it right."
Working with the right contractors, builders, and design professionals and maintaining a high level of communication - sharing lots of detail with our clients - helps build that trust. Clients now want to see "how the soup is made; the secret sauce" before they are comfortable moving forward with each step in a project. Because of this we are continually working to identify the best ways to communicate and if we can find ways to communicate before they ask, it's even better.
JAIME: We try to make sure all the information the client may need or want is given upfront, to minimize any wondering or uncertainty on their part. I try to set the expectations in the beginning, so that the client can relax and enjoy the process. We don't want them to worry about what's next.
Sometimes things pop up during the process, such as uncovering a beam we weren't expecting, so we need to shift to account for that type of thing. We'll always try to make the experience such that the client goes into situations with everything they may need answers to.
It's often a dance of compromise. The client tells me what they want, and I try to find the best ways to make it happen.
What do you consider your biggest win this year?
JIM: People are finally learning what it is we do at the Norfolk Idea Center! The showroom has always been here, but the Norfolk Idea Center is only about 3 years old. I feel we are making the right decisions for the Norfolk Idea Center, to gather the people we want to work with.
As a business owner, taking care of all of the aspects of your business, when and why did you decide it was time to outsource your bookkeeping?
JIM: I have had a few in-house bookkeepers. One bookkeeper embezzled company funds, one bookkeeper had such a toxic personality that it affected others in the office and she didn't understand what I was trying to accomplish at the Norfolk Idea Center. As a result, I decided to outsource.
Erin quickly appreciated my vision. She understands what I want to do with my business and what my goals are. She takes the time to listen and provides the accounting support that I need.
Do you support any community outreach or organizations?
JIM: I sit on the Child Abuse Prevention Advisory Board for the Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters (CHKD).
You can read more about the Child Abuse Prevention Program and and the incredible work they do HERE.
JAIME: I have done some consulting for the Habitat for Humanity South Hampton Roads. I hope to increase my involvement in the coming year.
Read more about their mission HERE.
Do you want to know more about the Norfolk Idea Center ? Visit their showroom in the charming historic Ghent business district:
Bottom Line’s Bottom Line
Running a business means lots of opportunities to make decisions - good and bad. It can be overwhelming. Don't get discouraged! Learn from your mistakes, make adjustments, if necessary, and work with people who share your vision and edify, motivate, and inspire each other.
It is our pleasure to know Jim and his staff at the Norfolk Idea Center, helping them to keep their bottom line in alignment with their goals. We wish them prosperity and growth in 2018 and beyond!