Garrison Hullinger Write Up Not all of you may have known (I just found out), but Garrison Hullinger is from Wellington, Kansas - not necessarily the interior design mecca. Tracy McCue, who co-owns Sumner News Cow, a Wellington, KS website, interviewed Garrison and published the interview on his website, which takes a closer look at his journey to becoming a successful small business owner, marketing expert and top notch interior designer.
1983 WHS Grad Garrison Hullinger is now a nationally renown interior designer in Portland, Oregon
It has been quite a year for Garrison Hullinger, the son of Ruth Hare and the late Farrell Hullinger of Wellington. The 1983 Wellington High School graduate is an owner of a Portland, Ore. interior design company. The company at 12 employees strong helps people furnish and design their homes. His work has been recently featured in Lowe’s marketing materials for a $50,000 dream kitchen give away.
Hullinger is also known as a social marketing expert in the design/build industry with over 40,000 twitter followers. He also just won the Jackson Design and Remodeling best blogger of the year for Interior Design. So how did Hullinger, who grew up in Wellington – not exactly the mecca of interior design – make such a name for himself on a national stage? Well it’s an interesting story. Here are a few questions we asked him about his ascension to success.
1. Tell us a little bit about your Interior Design business and how you got into that chosen field of work?
After attending Oklahoma Christian University for a couple of years, I started working in retail in Oklahoma City with Dillard’s and then moved to Dallas and worked for Neiman Marcus and then had a long career with The Gap, Inc. I started managing stores in the Dallas area before relocating to many different locations opening high volume Old Navy stores in the mid 1990′s eventually ending up at Headquarters in San Francisco and developed technology and store systems for Old Navy.
My story is slightly nontraditional in the way I came to developing my business. I was involved in a work-related accident in 1999 and suffered a traumatic brain injury. I was in therapy and rehab for just over four years learning to read, speak, write and walk again after the accident. I had 20+ hours of therapy a week the first year and a half of my recovery and slowly my short-term memory got better and the therapists developed a program for me to remodel a bathroom as part of my recovery.
Growing up my father was an avid do it yourself guy, always working with my uncle to remodel our home and work on other family member’s homes and it was an easy transition to get me back to handling tools and improving my home in San Francisco.
After buying and remodeling different homes in San Francisco, it became apparent to others that my new found talent was to remodel homes..doing it in a budget mindful manner but also in a way that was very pleasing to others. After selling the second home that was remodeled the realtor turned to me and said “Garrison you know you can do this with other people’s money, right?”
It was a great idea but I still had a big move to make to really restart my life and that was moving to Portland, Ore. Portland had a slower pace and was much more affordable for buying properties and remodeling them. I spent over a year of remodeling a newly purchased 1909 Foursquare craftsman home and in the process my new realtor dropped by and couldn’t believe the transformation. He tipped off a location scout that I had recently remodeled the house and after the photographers checked out the home they started pitching it to different magazines and I think it has been published seven different times since 2006.
After getting published a few times new opportunities opened up and I briefly worked part-time for a designer as an assistant and I help with the creative development of a large lighting manufacturer that was trying to create a new magazine styled catalog. I started taking on friend’s jobs and then in the fall of 2009 I was approached to design and select all the finishes for a 6,800 square foot Parade of Homes show home in the spring of 2009.
2. A lot of things have happened with your business, just over the last year. Tell us a little about what the business has been able to achieve over the past 12 months.
At the end of 2011 I had five employees and we were mostly working on a few new home builds and remodels but mostly helping people furnish their existing homes. The real estate market wasn’t making a come-back and families were making the decisions to stay in their home and finish spaces that would make their life more comfortable. As we’re coming into 2013 consumer confidence is back up and we are extremely busy with projects in Oregon and Washington.
Our company now has 12 employees and we have many projects in a variety of stages of design/build and four of those homes are over 12,000 square feet and each have over nine bathrooms. I am also known in the design/build industry as a social marketing expert with over 40,000 twitter followers and recent articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal highlighting my use of the internet and social media to promote my business. One of the kitchen’s I designed was recently used on Lowe’s marketing materials for a $50,000 dream kitchen give away with Houzz.com.
3. What would you say has been the key to your success?
We’re very fortunate to work with wonderful clients that appreciate the practicality and beauty that we bring to their home and many of those clients add to our success by giving us wonderful referrals to others. I’m told very often that my personality doesn’t always match the serious and meticulous image that is created on my website or in the magazine articles…I think people are surprised to learn how amiable I am, and that I am looking out for their best interest on their project.
4. Do you feel the true ingredient to success in business, is to have passion for a specific talent, or to have a keen business mind and common sense?
It’s great for a person to have a passion about a business but sometimes that passion can be ill-placed if there is no business plan. My years at The Gap headquarters has had an influence on how I run my business. I am very aware of what my strengths and at the same time I am quick to make changes, if I try something and it doesn’t work, I move on and try a different strategy. I have been told that I am probably an “early adapter” otherwise, I will change course quickly and hold steady when appropriate. I don’t have a college degree and all my employees hold degrees and have years and years of experience in their profession. It is so important to hire the right people with the skills that I don’t have and not to hire someone because they are a friend or you want to ‘help them out’. I am able to take my experience and opinion on home design and formulate a big picture idea then I hand that idea off to one of my associate or junior designers and they have the technical skill to implement and follow through with the plan.
5. Obviously, Wellington and Portland, Oregon are worlds apart. Do you think your experiences in Wellington has made you successful in Oregon? Why?
I feel fortunate that I grew up in Wellington with a family that believed in working hard and enjoying a simple life of family activities. I was involved in scouting at an early age and many school activities and then went on to work at Dillon’s when I was in high school. I think the personal interaction we had to have with our customers was a great training ground for engaging with clients in an honest but friendly manner. I also think the work ethic I learned as a young adult has made me not only a successful person but also a great employer.
6. What advice to you have for people wishing to start business in interior design?
It’s not for the weary…if you make a mistake it can be expensive. I think partnering with someone you trust and that likes your aesthetics is a great way to start. Many times contractors are asked by their clients to pick out flooring, tile, countertops and even paint for a project and they’re not comfortable doing this…if you could partner with a contractor and help with surface and material selections you have a great way of making the project look so much better and making the client happy that you’re sure to get referrals to help others. I also think working at a furniture store is a great way to gain experience in home design.
I travel to Las Vegas, Hight Point, NC and NYC several times a year to shop for furnishings and get new ideas…a person wanting to start a design business might find a lot of opportunity at a furniture store.
7. What advice do you have for the youth of Sumner County and what they must have to be successful in life?
We have dozens of college and high school students that come to my firm each year wanting to learn more about our business and we also rotate through 8-10 post graduate interns a year for those looking for experience in our field and the people we see being successful have a few similar traits.
Figure out what makes you happy or what types of things make you happy. I also say you have to be involved in your community, push yourself to volunteer with people that are outside of your small circle of friends/family. I think you also have to be honest with yourself and follow your dreams, if you have an artistic ability I think it’s really important to explore it even when others may not see the opportunity in the future.
I hear many people say that the Millennial Generation group is too plugged in to technology but I think you just have to have some balance in your life and take the change and disengage with your ipod and get out and experience something totally different in your community.
I hope you enjoyed reading this great interview with Garrison as much as I did!