Breaking points — they come at different times for each of us, but they all come with the same feeling: a certainty and pit in your stomach that says, “it’s time.” Gail Davis, founder of GMD Interiors, knew her time had come after growing fed up with her mundane job and corporate life. This revelation set her off on a blazing path to becoming an interior designer — and fulfilling her dream of carving out a more creatively stimulating life for herself.
Her current success doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows Gail. Even as a child, she had a penchant for pretty things. She credits her grandparents’ home with kickstarting her curiosity about design. Their landscaping, in particular “…made you want to discover the goings on [inside],” she recalls. Years later, a job at Saks Fifth Avenue’s corporate headquarters introduced her to the wonderful world of visual design and the miraculous makers that crafted the beautiful store and corporate office. “I want to do that,” she thought.
In retrospect, these moments lit the way for Gail; instilling in her the confidence needed to pursue the satisfying career she has today. Since becoming her own boss, she has learned a thing or two about self-management, making time for herself, and the sweet success that comes with a happy client. Read all about these lessons and more after the jump. Enjoy! —Garrett
Photography by Crystal N. Davis
Why did you decide to start your own business, versus work for someone else?
I wanted to feel fulfilled and wanted to make an impact on the way people lived. I was burnt out… and desperately needed to make a change in the direction my life was going. I grew bored with corporate [life] and decided that my creative voice needed to be expressed.
Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work?
I first learned about interior design from my grandparents. It was, and still is, a delightful visual experience visiting their home. My grandfather’s landscaping was meticulous. The approach to the house made you want to discover the goings on [inside].
How did you discover what your field was, and how did you know it was what you wanted to do?
I discovered the official name of “interior design” whilst working in corporate at Saks Fifth Avenue. It was the visual team that was headed up by the late, great Randall Ridless. He and his amazing team would create these warm experiences throughout the store and corporate offices of the executive team.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
The most difficult part of starting my business was selling myself to potential clients, but once they understood the vision and witnessed the drawings (along with the fabrications and furnishings) they were on board. Interior design is all about packaging not only the product, but the relationship you create with your clients.
Photo Above: Interior designer Gail Davis’ workspace
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
The biggest lesson I have learned is [to] follow through and under-promise. If the [suppliers give] me a lead time of 2 to 4 weeks, I will tell my client 4 to 6 weeks. This way, if something goes wrong I have given myself a cushion to work with. Conversely, if the product arrives earlier the client is happily surprised.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?
One of my failures was in assuming my rug salesman understood the layout of a chevron pattern on my client’s steps. When he came to measure, we laid out the carpet the way both my client and I wanted it. When it was installed on the landing, he decided to turn the pattern on its side, creating a zig zag. The rug had to be ripped out and re-laid. [Since then, I have been] overly communicative in my dealings.
If you were magically given 3 more hours per day, what would you do with them?
I’m stumped! There is so much that I could/would do:
-An additional yoga class
-Linger in a showroom at [New York’s] D&D, the A&D or at 200 Lexington
-Enjoy quiet time in the park, sitting on the bench sketching
-Enjoy an extra hour of sleep as I seem to get so little of it
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
The biggest sacrifice is quality time with my family. The biggest misconception is that folks think when you are in business for yourself, you have all this time to spend with your loved ones, and that is not the case. You are incessantly grinding to [take your business] to the next level.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
My greatest success is when a client arrives for the final reveal and they are in tears at the transformation. It makes up for all of the anxiety and delays that a designer experiences during the process.
What business books/resources would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
I am a part of an amazing organization called Passionistas Inc. It is a dynamic, supportive group of entrepreneurial women who share resources and their love of their businesses.
Has failing at something or quitting ever led to success for you? Walk us through that.
I have learned my most valuable lessons through failing. I’ll go back to the placement of the chevron rug pattern on the client’s stairwell. It was a valuable lesson in that it taught me how to look for a swift resolution as well as to always clarify my expectations for each job with the surrounding team. I was so disappointed with myself for allowing something [as] minute as rug placement direction [to] take over the project and cast doubt with my client.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
The top three would be time, money and resources. You need to master at least two of the three. If you can master time and your resources, money will find you. You must know how to deal with people and work effectively with all types of personalities in this world and industry.
What’s the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?
Instagram. I like to see what people have posted throughout the night, and I look for inspirational quotes to get my day started.
What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?
The most daunting task of being my own boss is staying on top of all the nuances, i.e. work orders, work rooms, installation dates and keeping track of which client requires more hand-holding. You can have five hats on at any given time, however, you must take deep breaths, remain positive and have a sense of humor.