Your “After-the-Storm” Strategies for the Houston Designer

Houston designer Diana Walker had a question last week, and you’ve provided answers. Lots of them.

Thank you! to the dozens  who responded to her question posted here about how she should market herself in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Following is a representative (and edited) sample of the responses you sent:

I am a native Houstonian, have lived through a house flood as a young kid, been through many hurricanes and know the devastation they bestow. My heart is broken for them. I started my interior decorating business there in 2009 and although I live in Minneapolis now, Houston is and will always be my home.

But I’m not sure if the question we need to ask in times of challenge is “How should I promote myself?” but instead ask “How am I of value to people? Because at the core of any product or service, it is about what value it is to the buyer. And the value changes when the needs change. In Houston there are probably not a lot of people needing high-end custom sofas right now but there are a lot of people who have to eventually get new flooring, paint walls, new lighting and furniture. There are contractors that are covered with too many jobs to handle all. How can you partner with them and take the load off of the homeowner to hep select things? Can you offer a package service for those in a different buying situation? I also believe that giving back to the community can only be an investment in your business, and in your heart, that in turn connects you deeper with your clients. Partner with a non-profit like The Houston Furniture Bank D.I.V.A.S. (I was their Lead Coordinator for quite some time). They are in great need of someone taking the lead, creating some PR for their cause and you could be on the forefront of this.

So, Diana, my hope for you is that you can be of great value to those wonderful Houstonians in their time of need, and at the same time discover new skills and fine tune your business. If you succeed through this adversity then you will be around long enough for the next one.

Bridget Chirigos- Minneapolis, MN.


If I were in an area affected by one of the hurricanes or fires, I would offer my services to any non-profit or childcare center, senior center, etc. and if appropriate and physically able, I would volunteer to get my hands dirty to help with clean-up.

Tricia Lincoln – Carson City, NV


My thought is that maybe services can be offer offered at a much deeper discount than would normally be done.

Brenda Corder– Flemington WV


I’d say use the same basic message but tone it down immensely, and target those who are still selling their homes that were unharmed.  life goes on despite disasters but a great deal of humbleness and no smack would be good at a time like this.  tread carefully but steadily.

Ellen Cardinal 


If I were a designer in the aftermath of disasters that created extreme loss and devastation; I would become the poster child for creating an donation based exchange between accessory suppliers offering soft & sensory appealing textiles used in pillowcases & other bedding, throws, towel sets, etc. and the public who have massive losses (while also offering tips on how to set up minimalist interiors to feel warm and homey or info on creating a private space when staying with relatives or friends). I would hand out the donated items in bags with labels having my business logo on them and a slogan underneath saying “We Care About Your Comfort!”

I would use the radio, newspapers, tv stations and social media to promote my humanitarian efforts to help with the message of how “Our Design Firm Keeps Families Needs As Our Priority”.

This is not just to get business, but to also educate the public on the value of working with Designers as we truly empower the human experience.

Julie Jelsma- Grand Junction. CO


I believe the key is to start with doing some good for the community without expecting an immediate return, simply because it’s the right thing to do in any dire situation like the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. If it were me, I’d consider taking on a “pro bono” assignment, perhaps talking with church leaders or other civic organization to find a family in dire need that Diana and other area professionals could “adopt”. By partnering with local painters, construction teams, and FF&E vendors, Diana may be able to solicit donations of time and materials to help their chosen family get one room of their home back to something livable — a haven amidst the chaos, if you will — while the reconstruction process continues. Since the holidays are coming, perhaps this effort could include providing the family with a turkey and other fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner, donated by a local supermarket.

Laurie Seubert, Rhode Island


Many people will be needing insurance restoration work. I would promote that aspect of the business. Be willing to work with people to replace items within a budget that can be reimbursed, etc Be willing to “handle everything”. These people have a lot to deal with and want “one stop” shopping to help solve their problems.I have had 2 very successful jobs from people whose homes flooded and needed someone to deal with everything and to keep good records that can be given to the insurance company. These jobs were expanded by the client to incorporate other areas of the home in both cases.

Anne Grice – Aspen, CO


I’d recommend that she get in touch with insurance and/or disaster relief/restoration companies. As part of the claims coming in, they’ll need to source new furniture to replace what was damaged. She can do that for those companies – for a fee. And for the homeowners who want to find something new, she can start with the insurance money and then obtain additional fees from clients to upgrade furnishings, cabinetry, etc., per their specifications.

Christina Mogk, Burlington, Ontario  


A few years ago here in Calgary, we had a very bad flood of our river system.  Nothing quite like a hurricane mind you, but it flooded vast residential areas of the city, most of those areas were inner city and considered to be affluent.

We found that in the immediate aftermath following the event, people went into ‘survival’ mode and were only focusing on remediation work to get them functioning again;  so we were NOT able to promote interior design services at all during that period.  You have to remember that people have been through a trauma and simply to promote your design services can be seen as tasteless; is all about timing.

If Houston is in any way like Calgary, I can gaurantee these flooded homeowners will soon have many “fly by night cowboy” handymen popping up out of nowhere expecting to make a fast buck……thats what happens when natural disasters strike – there is always the chancer who thinks they can capialize on someone else’s misfortune.  So, one thing that CAN set you apart is to show empathy.  Dont force a sale – but DO show that you are available when they need you.

About 6 months after the event, people began to slowly think about putting things back to the way they were

At about the 6 month mark, we offered free on-site interior design consultations to any homeowner who had been flooded, and the way we were able to ensure that they really had been flooded was simply by taking their address – we knew exactly which areas had been flooded so it was easy to ensure we were not being taken advantage of…..BUT even in doing this, we really did not get much business out of it. Again, you have to be careful, because at that point, we found that the homeowners were now in the drivers seat because they had so many people giving them ‘deals’  and offers that they could pick and choose.

Overall, you need to stick to your original marketing and business development plans, and dont get too sidetracked into creating schemes and ‘deals’ for flooded homeowners unless that ties directly into your reason for being in business in the first place.

Kevin Gray – Calgary, Alberta


I only design hotels (no residential work) but living in Miami I have dealt with this situation a few times with Clients.

My approach has always been:

  • 1st- Sympathetic- You must say your are so sorry about the unfortunate situation
  • 2nd – Make an offer to help people get their lives back together if they need your assistance- show you are available  The truth is after these situations everyone must deal with Insurance companies and file claims and that is a strenuous process itself. You have to meet an with an adjuster and, hopefully, get a reasonable person that assesses your home and possessions at the same value that you place on them.

Then you receive the a check for their agreed amount- and if it isn’t the same amount you think you deserve the frustration escalates putting the victim in a bad state of mind.

All of this can take weeks, or sometimes months, to work out so to hit someone up for business too soon could be insulting and be taken as being greedy.  Also this process is so taxing that it does not leave a lot of people in very good moods so phone contact is not advised.

Then there is the Internet/email situation.  We have been in situations where we have not had the Internet/email for weeks so it isn’t that we aren’t replying to an inquiry, we can’t reply if we don’t have any way of knowing we received an question.  (most people think -well they can look at their phone if their computer or I-Pad isn’t connected but hey- the phone is on the same network and doesn’t work either.

Kathy Kesler, Miami, FL.

Fred Berns is a business coach and promotional copy writer for interior design professionals worldwide.



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