Change is hard. No one knows this better than Leslie Cohen, CKD, CID, AID, ASID who had to reinvent herself and her business when she moved cross-country two years ago.
Cohen originally established her business, Leslie Cohen Design, in 1990, and the long-time California native was well known in the San Diego design community, with a strong client base and a reputation for her creative, award-winning kitchen and bath designs.
But a move to Raleigh, NC presented a host of new challenges – and none of it was easy. “Starting my business over in an area with a completely different culture than I have lived in my entire life – and where I didn’t know a single person – has been the hardest thing I have ever done in my life,” she states. “And it wasn’t just business – [when I moved here] I didn’t have doctors, services such as hair dressers or dry cleaners, anything. It has been reinventing my entire life.”
But while the changes might have seemed overwhelming at times, Cohen likes to focus on the upside. “I have learned more about myself than I ever imagined I could,” she says. “I’ve had to learn how to reach out to others, voice my insecurities out loud, find true friends and champions and create a new network.”
Indeed, networking has been critical to rebuilding in a new area, because she believes that “people here really want to have a relationship with you before doing business.”
At the same time, Cohen is adamant about building relationships purposefully. As she puts it, “I can’t stand networking just for the sake of networking.”
She decided early on that she would take an active role in community organizations where she could make genuine connections, including women’s clubs, garden clubs, social business clubs, trade organizations, etc. “From day one, I jumped in with both feet,” she laughs.
The Woman’s Clubs and Garden Clubs had strong components of volunteerism within the community, something that immediately struck a chord in her. She also volunteers to mentor design students, and she notes, “I attend all sorts of meetings from local government public discussions of development to women’s empowerment. I’m sort of everywhere!”
Jumping into the community has paid off, Cohen explains. “Now that people are getting to know me I am able to start setting up speaking engagements. This will expand my reach. I visit local suppliers and get to know them. It has been exhausting and exhilarating. But now I show up and people say ‘I know you from somewhere.’ I’ve stayed within the realm of things that interest me and causes that I believe in so that what I do is something I truly
AN ECLECTIC BACKGROUND
Cohen has a broad professional background that spans design, business and technology skills – all of which she puts to use in her day-to-day work. She says, “I am a CKD and also a California State Certified Interior Designer, a professional level ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) designer and a member of the Alliance of Interior Designers, a very active local design group in the Triangle Area. I am active in my local NKBA, ASID, and AID chapters.”
She continues, “My education definitely affects the direction of my firm and our capabilities. My bachelor’s degree is in Business Administration and I am four classes short of an MBA. I also have four years of art and design education. Although I always wanted to be a designer, I took a detour into the computer field for a few years. This background means we tend to be a technologically advanced company as far as the software we use and how the business is run. And it is run as a business – I enjoy the financial end, project administration, and marketing just as much as design.
Cohen’s technology background is evident in her proficiency in everything from her Web site and strong social media presence to her use of design software. In fact, she issues “press releases” on social media, which have turned out to be one of her strongest marketing tools. She notes, “I’ve decided that the media that work best for me are my business pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Houzz. I post things I am involved in, awards I win, anywhere I am published. I have used LinkedIn to expand my network in my new location. [And as a result], people here are starting to notice me.”
She also uses Architect X7 (the full edition, not just Interiors) 3-D CAD software for her design work, and says her clients “are thrilled to be able to visualize their home in advance of ordering anything.” And she uses Publisher and Photoshop for a variety of visual communication needs.
Cohen’s comprehensive Web site is yet another tool that she relies on to help promote her business.
The business handles “space planning and materials selection for everything built-in,” and while the firm does extensive work with kitchens and baths, Cohen notes that they will also do complete renovations, and even exterior redesigns – “although I have jumped into all sorts of projects when I think our skill set and way of thinking will be a benefit to the project,” she adds.
Cohen sees the firm’s primary clientele as “adults who are ready to reward themselves for all of their hard work, for raising children, building businesses, taking care of parents, etc. They are ready to change their home into something that represents them and their lifestyles.”
To that end, she cites a recent project: a technically complex master bath that won an ASID Excellence in Design award. She notes, “I designed and had fabricated custom curved cast glass enclosures with a horizontal grain that had to align across panels and doors. The radii of the curved doors were so unique that only three places in the country could temper them. The result was spectacular.”
But it’s not just aesthetics that drive her designs: Cohen also recognizes the importance of creating spaces that are livable. As she explains, “Our approach to design is very comprehensive. We find out how our clients really live in their homes and what their goals are. We get to the bottom of what they want to change and why. This approach allows us to come up with solutions that truly work for our clients for the long term.” The bottom line, she says, is that, “We create places that people love to live in.”
She notes that her firm develops multiple solutions and offers a variety of selections for every project, explaining, “Our process is very interactive.” As a result, the clients “truly feel ownership in the final decisions.”
Her business philosophy is simple: “Do what you are passionate about, reinvent the business if it is no longer fun, make sure you take incredibly good care of your clients, and run your business like a business – you are not a charity (well, unless you really are a charity!).
Ultimately, though, what she believes really makes her business unique is that, “I live for design. I can’t imagine a day when I don’t recreate spaces. I think about it in my free time, wake up on weekends and design places out of the blue. For me, design is a calling. It is my passion. That is what drives my business and inspires my employees.”
She concludes, “Some people say you are not your job. I guess that may be true for some people, but not for me. Design is what feeds my soul.”