As an active, connected and talented design student, Molly Switzer, AKBD, B.S., Interior Design and B.S., Housing Studies, was ecstatic to land her first job out of college with a reputable design firm in the Portland area. The year, however, was 2008, and Switzer watched wide-eyed as the established business – like many businesses large and small or wealth holdings worldwide – dissolved into ether impacted by the Great Recession.
“That was a lesson, my first lesson about running your own business. There are no guarantees,” said the proprietor of Molly N Switzer Designs LLC, specialized to full residential interiors and kitchen and bath design and remodel.
Mindful of what she saw as the economic condition of the industry and the need for survival, Switzer worked a few positions after that first job collapsed. All brought necessary tools to her toolbox to eventually build her own business. Such jobs involved representing and selling lighting, designing countertops, and deluxe kitchen faucets and fixtures, even out of necessity in those times restaurant customer service, which invited her into the world of extreme high-performance kitchens.
In time, the designer was ready for her own thing. Leaving the safety and security of a steady post; Switzer brought everything – and the luxury kitchen sink.
Switzer credits the years of sales experience, relationship building, trust and knowledge for her successes today.“I learned so much doing the sales job – I can’t stress how important that is, ultimately you have to build the trust and sell yourself and the product. I have product knowledge. I know and care about what I’m offering to my customers.”
She also credits her longtime relationship with the National Kitchen and Bath Association; Switzer started with the student chapter at OSU, and holds the NKBA certification for associate kitchen and bath designers (AKBD).
Switzer doesn’t offer a magic formula for when a designer is ready for business ownership, but she does has some advice about the early career path: “If I have advice to new graduates I’d say, don’t be wary of your first job that might not have the title of ‘designer,’” Switzer said. “You don't have to be an interior designer right out of school; you don’t have to have that label of design assistant. You’ll learn so much more by taking on a role in a showroom, working for a fabricator or tile manufacturer – anything that gives you the skills to be a better interior designer and sell yourself.
Switzer’s business decision allowed her to regain her creative edge and creative influence, but with a thorough customer focus and design-thinking approach. “I am an interior designer, obviously, but most of what I do is to educate my client on very specific things as we go through the process of selecting, for example, the kitchen products,” Switzer said. “It’s very rewarding when we have a finished product that is functional and beautiful. And we’ve created the best space together is truly going to benefit them.
She speaks, she says, “fluent contractor,” along with her fluency of keeping her clients informed of trends and the possibly unexpected downsides of their decisions. Marble, granite, unlacquered brass, whatever it is – clients must know what to expect ten years down the road.
“Much of my day is not directly about design, but learning about the products I might want to recommend and learning the specifics,” Switzer says ahead of a trip to Spain to visit the headquarters of a surfaces supplier, to tour their production facilities and visit their quarries and meet with their research and development teams.
As the president of the local chapter of the NKBA, Switzer also is focused on the elevation of business skills for the entire network – including competitors, tradespersons of all specialties necessary to the supply chain, and vendors of products. Many are small operations or sole proprietorships.
“In the end, the educated customer elevates the entire industry,” Switzer said. “I am a firm believer that if you educate the market, and you educate your fellow designers – even though, yes, they’re your competition, we can make a better industry.”
She seeks in her time as the NKBA president to strengthen the basic business skills all vendors in the supply chain need to maintain their business operations. This is a continuation of her experience with solid business skills as the perfect complement to aesthetic sensibilities and design thinking.
As an example, at a recent lunch and learn with the chapter, Switzer brought in a local NKBA member whose company specializes in fireplaces to teach a session about video-content creation. Switzer comments that Fireside Home Solutions has become a leader among fireplace vendors for creating digital content that educates the client before they even walk into the showroom. “We all need that, for the marketing we’re doing in digital channels.”
With her business just a little over a year old, and her obligations to the NKBA, Switzer hasn’t yet had the time to tackle her own dream kitchen and bathroom, but her materials and appliances, like her skills, are carefully culled: “You can’t imagine the things I’ve collected.”