On this week’s podcast, Marcus sits down with Randi Wilson. Randi began a life of moving around the country after meeting her Coast Guard husband in her home state of Oregon during a break from college. After 25 years of moving, Randi is finally planting roots in her final home here in Alabama along with her business Wilson Interiors, LLC. Tune in and listen or read right along with Randi's story!
Randi: Hi, my name is Randi Wilson. I'm the owner of Wilson Interiors and I'm an interior designer.
Marcus: Very cool, Randi. Well, it is a pleasure to meet you.
aRandi: Nice to meet you as well.
Marcus: We've not actually ... One of the things that I love about this podcast is I get to meet new people. I'm excited to get to hear your story about how you started your interior design business and just get to know you a little bit more. Why don't we start there? Why don't you tell us the story of where you're from, where did you go to high school, did you go to college, some of that information?
Randi: I grew up in Oregon in a rural small town called Gaston. I grew up on a farm. We had it all in cattle, and sheep, and goats, and pigs, and chickens and rabbits. I had a horse, the whole shebang. I started off in college as a pre-med major actually. I finished my first year, and over the summer, we found out that my Dad had cancer. After seeing my Dad go through chemo and radiation, and going with him to treatments, I realized that I couldn't be a doctor. I had naively focused on only helping people, not realizing that ...
Marcus: Sometimes you just can't.
Randi: Right, you're not going to help everybody. I went back to school in the fall as a business major because I didn't really know what else to do because I'd been focused on that for so long. But I didn't like business. I thought it was boring. My Dad said, "Why don't you take a break from school and get a job and think about what you want to do for a while?" So I did. I went to work for a chiropractor. I met my husband, Chad. He was in the Coast Guard. We got married six months after we met and we started moving around the country. We've been moving around for 25 years.
Marcus: Very cool.
Randi: This is our last stop though. He's retiring and we're staying here. I'm so happy to put down roots.
Marcus: I can imagine. My wife is an Air Force brat. She still gets the itch every once in a while, you know, kind of, "It's been three years. You know, it's been three years."
Randi: It's been three years this summer for us and I have to say I'm getting a little bit of that itch 'cause I'm used to moving along at this point.
Marcus: I'm here to tell you that it passes, you know, after a while. I think now she ... We still like to go and visit places, but recently she was in Dallas and she's just like, "I was following the GPS instructions and it said, 'Please stay in one of the five left hand turn lanes.'" She's like, "Yeah, no, I can't do that anymore."
Marcus: You studied business and where did you go? Did you?
Randi: When I met him, I was going to Portland Community College. Then we met, and married and transferred to Hawaii.
Marcus: There are worse places to be stationed.
Randi: Right, exactly. I tried to go back to school in Hawaii, but it was too much of a playground. We played for three years pretty much. Then when I came back, I decided it was time to grow up. Everyone who would come over to my house would comment how much they loved it, and what a good job I did decorating it, and would ask me for tips, and could I help them with their home. I just sort of discovered that I had a knack for it. I thought, "This is something I like to do and I'm good at. It's a job that I can pick up and move with, with my husband. It's also something I could do working out of my home and have kids." I thought, "It's a win-win all the way around."
Randi: I went to school, and got my degree, and got my license and started working and I love it.
Marcus: Very cool. It's funny how sometimes stepping away from school is a necessity in order to figure out what it is that you're actually passionate about.
Randi: It is.
Marcus: I don't know. I oftentimes wonder if I should have taken a break after high school and figured some things out, but I don't know. I mean, I went through school, went through college, and graduated with an English degree and then found technology and went into programming. It was just kind of this weird like ... I don't know. I mean, at the time ... 'cause this is in '96. The internet wasn't really even a thing that most people were using and stuff like that. I don't know that time away would have necessarily meant that I had gone down a different path. But it's interesting that you were able to still ... Because oftentimes when people don't go through immediately, they don't ever come back. So it's cool that you were able to do that.
Marcus: Do you remember your first job and were there any lessons that you still remember from that? I imagine growing up on a farm that there was probably a lot of work to be done there too, so even that would qualify as a job.
Randi: Right. You meant like my first job ever?
Marcus: Yeah, first job ever.
Marcus: Like flipping burgers or scrubbing floors.
Randi: Well, because I grew up out in the farmland, there really wasn't anything out there. I used to go out into the strawberry fields in the summer, and you would-
Marcus: Pick strawberries.
Randi: ... pick with the migrants, yeah. That's all there was to do. That was the only way to earn money. They paid 10 cents a pound.
Randi: Right. I would start at seven in the morning and I would usually knock off around one o'clock in the afternoon. Then when strawberry season was over, you would move to blueberry season and you would pick blueberries. Then when I was old enough to get a car and drive somewhere, then my first real job, I guess, was Burger King.
Marcus: It's safe to say you're not afraid of hard work?
Randi: No. That's backbreaking work, let me tell you.
Marcus: Yeah, picking strawberries, yeah I have a deep appreciation for anybody that's willing to do that 'cause that's not easy. It's hot. You're bent over. It's not easy.
Randi: Like I said, I would leave at one, but they would stay until five o'clock in the afternoon 'cause that was their full-time job.
Marcus: Wow. Well, how did you get started? You mentioned that people would comment, but the forming of the actual business and getting started with the interior design business, how did that happen? How did that start?
Randi: I took a long break to be a stay-at-home mom. I wanted to stay home and be able to focus on that. Then once my youngest son started kindergarten, I started to get that creative itch. I'm like, "It's time to work." Some friends of ours owned a construction company. I came onboard with them. That was a great way to get my feet wet again and get back into the business. I worked with them for about a year. During that time ... This was when we were stationed in Alaska.
Marcus: They sent you from Hawaii to Alaska?
Randi: Oh no, we were many spots in between.
Marcus: Oh my god, but still that's not right. But anyway, I digress. I'm so sorry.
Randi: That's okay.
Marcus: I just can't imagine like you're sitting on a beach, palm trees and luaus, and then Alaska, the barrenness that is the snow covered Alaska.
Randi: Yes, we've been all over the place.
Marcus: Wow, I'm sorry.
Randi: While I was working with them, the Travel Channel approached us, Hotel Impossible. They wanted to redo the Alaskan Hotel. I got the opportunity to work on that. That was a lot of fun. I was an assistant to the designer. Got to be in a couple little camera shots, but mostly behind the scenes. That was a lot of fun. Then I decided to after that just sort of spread my wings and go out on my own because there were projects that I wanted to take on that I couldn't take on working for the construction company. I never really intended to, I guess, start my own business, but it just kind of-
Marcus: Accidental entrepreneur.
Marcus: It happens. Is your clientele predominately corporate type customers or homeowners or-
Randi: No, both.
Marcus: It is a mix?
Randi: Yeah. I do residential and commercial.
Marcus: You can kind of specialize if you want to go into more designing hotels and designing commercial spaces and stuff like that. But you do a mix of both of those?
Randi: I do. Yeah, I've done offices and restaurants and people's homes. It's more fun, I think, than to pigeonhole yourself into one category.
Marcus: Yeah, I can imagine it gets a little bit rote. Now, if you were talking to someone that wanted to get started in running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?
Randi: I would say get out there and network. Networking, for me, especially coming in from out of the area, has been very important because I didn't know a single person here. Go to these networking events and introduce yourself and shake hands and meet people. It's about getting to know people and getting your name out there and your face out there. It's so important.
Marcus: I guess this is getting into one of my other questions, but I'll segue into that. Is there an organization here that you found where you've been able to get some of that networking opportunity?
Randi: I belong to the Baldwin Business Council. They've been a tremendous help. We have plumbers, and electricians and people that I need within my network that I have met and can rely on. If we don't have that profession within the group, I can ask around, and they will refer me to someone that they trust. That's been beneficial. 'Cause for me, I need to be able to trust my painter, and my electrician and my carpenter. I can't just go to the Yellow Pages and call somebody. References are very important.
Marcus: Yeah, I would imagine after a while of working with somebody, you can start just to speak shorthand with them 'cause they know what your vision is, they know what your style is, they know the direction that you're wanting to go. They can see it with you and not ... You don't have to spell everything out to the nth degree.
Marcus: Now, what does a typical day look like for an interior designer? What does a typical day look like for you?
Randi: It depends. I might have a client needing ... or a lot of times I do a lot of online shopping for clients.
Marcus: Which sounds like fun. But is it really after a while-
Randi: It is, but.
Marcus: ... you start to get cross-eyed looking at-
Randi: Sometimes you do, yeah. When you've looked at 400 lamps-
Marcus: Just pick one.
Randi: ... in a day, you know?
Marcus: Yeah, but it's not right.
Randi: It can get a little old, but yeah, you know I'm a woman. Shopping is fun. You're spending other people's money.
Marcus: Yeah, I guess there are worse jobs to have.
Marcus: I just remember like when we moved into this space, looking for even the couches that we're sitting on. There was a website, and I think it's Dot and Barry or you would probably?
Randi: Dot and Bo?
Marcus: Dot and Bo, yeah, it was Dot and Bo. I had my mind set. I wanted this look that I just had in my head and everything. My wife was just adamant like, "No, that's not going to work, blah, blah, blah. It's not comfortable, blah, blah, blah." I was like, "Fine, whatever." I spent probably a good month just looking, and looking and looking. I was just like, I was over it. We finally settled on this stuff. I would imagine after a while, at least for me, I was just like, "Just pick something," like click, buy, so ...
Randi: The other day I went sofa shopping, but she didn't want me to shop online. She wanted to actually sit in the physical sofa. I went around to furniture stores all day and I sat on sofas and took pictures. It just varies. It depends on what I need to do for them that day.
Marcus: Are there any books or podcasts, people or organizations that have been helpful in moving you forward outside of the networking group that you mentioned?
Randi: Because we move around so much that I feel like every time I start fresh on my own and it's all on me. I don't necessarily feel like I have an organization or a group behind me. I feel like it's me kicking down doors and saying, "I'm here."
Marcus: Even online, is there an interior design organization that you've been part of that has helped you understand how to get your name out or how to market yourself or how to approach projects and how do I structure my contracts, or anything along those lines?
Randi: I wouldn't say it's an organization. It's more friends that I have in the business. We'll sort of bounce ideas off of each other and say, "Oh, this came up. I'm not sure how to handle it. How would you handle it?" It's just internal networking with friends who are in the business or in my other networking group that I rely on.
Marcus: Very cool. What's the most important thing that you've learned about running a business?
Randi: Customer service is very important. I think that's what keeps people coming back to you. It's what people want to refer you if they've had a good experience with you. When you're a small business, the clock doesn't shut off at five o'clock. I have people text me at eight, nine o'clock at night asking questions because that's when they're free because they've worked and they've had dinner and sports with their kids. You respond to them because you want to be helpful and you know that's a good time for them.
Marcus: You also need the answers to the questions that, you know ...
Marcus: No, I can completely relate. I'm sure there's Chrissy who has been on the podcast as well. She owns Landshark Promotions. I'm sure she gets tired of ... 'cause I'll text here at seven or eight o'clock at night like, "Hey, do you have any hats that are like camo?" She'll send me some screenshots of some things. I'm always impressed by other small business owners that just go above and beyond. 'Cause it'd be real easy to say, "No, it's after five o'clock."
Marcus: But the reality is business doesn't stop.
Randi: It doesn't, especially when you're a one person business like me.
Marcus: Wearing all the hats.
Marcus: What do you like to do to unwind?
Randi: I like to play golf and tennis, lay by the pool.
Marcus: Do you have a favorite golf course around here?
Randi: We play a lot at TimberCreek.
Marcus: Oh, very cool. I live in TimberCreek.
Randi: Okay. They offer a nice military discount.
Marcus: I've played there a couple of times. I've played Rock Creek. I don't golf much anymore just because I'm horrible at it. I was like, "You know, if I'm going to give something up, the four hours on the weekend that I spend hating myself because I have a horrible slice."
Randi: But when you get that one good shot, that's what keeps you going.
Marcus: That is true. Yeah, it's like, "Man, I really ... Hole number eight was amazing, like shot it on par."
Randi: An eagle will make your day.
Marcus: Yeah, it'll make your year. That was not me though. I did not have many of those. Well, tell people where they can find you, and your website, Facebook if you have one, that kind of thing.
Marcus: Very good. Any information that they might need as far as the kinds of projects that you can help them with and stuff?
Randi: I can help them with any sort of small project. If they just need a color consultation, they want to paint their bedroom a different color, I can come and help them with that. I want to say no project is too small. I can help you choose furniture for your room or I can help you redesign your whole home.
Marcus: Redesign the whole house, yeah.
Randi: Yeah, build your home from scratch.
Marcus: Very cool. If they're a business owner, I'm assuming you can help them with plans for laying out, whether it's retail or office space or whatever, helping them understand laying that out, and buying furniture for that and stuff like that as well.
Randi: Right. Getting ready to start working on an insurance company office.
Marcus: Nice. Yes, lots of leather, wood furniture and leather. I always think of the Steeple. The Steeple has a room in there that has this couch has got to be 15 feet long. Have you had a chance to see that?
Randi: I haven't been in there.
Marcus: It's amazing. It's a tufted leather couch and it's really worn. I love this couch. At some point in time, I'm going to steal this couch from them because it's two of these couches put together. I mean, it's massive. But I love that room that's it's in, too. Anyway, I digress.
Randi: It can be tricky because you have to work with company colors sometimes, which aren't always the best.
Marcus: Yeah, I hear that. Well, I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast. To wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you'd to share?
Randi: I would just like to say that I've been in Mobile now for three years. I love it. I'm so glad this turned out to be our last post because we didn't know what to expect when we moved here. I'd never even been to Alabama. The people are so warm and friendly. I've just found it a great place to start a business and people have been so supportive. My second year here, I won a Nappie. That's amazing to have that kind of support. I just got nominated for another Nappie.
Marcus: We'll have to trade votes.
Randi: Cross my fingers that I win another one. It's been a great experience here.
Marcus: Now, as I'm also a transplant from the DC area, and so I understand what you're saying. Because it is when you live in a city, or if you're moving around like you're describing, oftentimes it's difficult to get your bearings. You're in a city, you don't really get to know anybody except for maybe people that you see at church or something along those lines, or maybe people that you went to school with. When you're moving around, I can imagine it's even more difficult. But the cool thing that I found about this area is that people are really welcoming. There is truly Southern hospitality here. Given the opportunity, people will go out of their way to help each other.
Randi: They will.
Marcus: It's awesome, yeah. Well, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur. It's been great talking with you.
Randi: It's been talking with you. Thank you for having me.