Dana McQueen, owner of McQueen’s Interiors, always knew she wanted to take over the family business that her father had started. In September 2009 she did just that. After graduating from ECU with a degree in interior design, she started working in the family business, on her way to becoming a business owner. Under her leadership, McQueen’s Interiors has expanded, added new technological and has cemented her family’s long-standing relationship with vendors. It’s Dana’s passion for her clients and interior design, coupled with the veteran staff, that keep this long-standing family business running smooth.
How did you come to own McQueen’s Interiors?
A: I’m second generation. It’s my family business, so we actually started in 1973. I didn’t really work in it when I was growing up, but I decided I wanted to go to school to be an interior designer, even though my dad tried to talk me out of it. It’s lots of long hours, but it’s something that I enjoy and I don’t regret it at all. So I went to East Carolina, and got my interior design degree, and came back and started working in the business in 1993. So I’ve been back for 20 years, and since then, I’ve purchased the business from my dad. I do love what I do. I’m very fortunate that I can come to work every day and enjoy what I have to do to make a living.
Did growing up with the business shape your decision to study interior design?
A: It probably did. I had a next door neighbor when I was small and she was going to school for interior design. She was always very kind to let me come over. She would bring over projects, and give me my piece of paper and my little pencil so I could draw and do my projects. So I would probably say that that was a large influence on me at a young age. At 5 I believe I wrote for “what do you want to be when you grow up” and you should’ve seen how I spelled interior decorator. But it’s always been the only thing I’ve ever thought about doing since age 5.
How was it taking over an established business?
A: It has its challenges. When I came back, I was working for the employees that are here now, so that was an adjustment. I’m very fortunate with the longevity of the staff I have here. I have girls that have been here 35 and 30 years. So coming back and working with them, and the transition to working for me, to be honest, it was fantastic. They embraced that I was taking the store to a different level. I put in the computers and barcodes on the inventory. In the beginning, they were not so happy about the change. But I think if you asked all of them today what they thought, I think they would say that it was huge for the store and the growth. So implementing the changes, I think they embraced them after a little hesitation in the beginning, and then from there, we’ve grown.
What made you decide to purchase the business?
A: I’ve always wanted to own the business and take the business in a different direction. When you’re putting in over 40 hours, the accomplishment of owning it was special. It was mine, and I got to keep it in the family.
How was the transition to becoming a business owner?
A: There are challenges to owning a business. I still like to do the interior design part of it, so I still like to take clients and do the presentation and design work, but I also have to do the management of employees, and ordering, and the problems, and putting out fires, and marketing, and advertising and social media, and all of the things that come along with promoting a business. I feel like sometimes people tell me I should work on my business instead of in my business to be successful, but I’m afraid that if I don’t do the design work, that’s the drive, that’s what I love to do, and I’m afraid that if I give up that piece of the pie, then I may lose that flame … that love for the business. I try to balance them, time permitting.
What changes did you make as an owner?
A: We implemented a floor day every month, where I put one of the designers in charge for the day and she comes up with a different way of merchandising the floor, so we’ve been doing that for five years, maybe more than that now. And I think that’s been huge, in terms of the display and changing things. For example, if a sofa’s not selling, then we’re going to switch it to a different rug and different accessories. I would say that that has been huge for our business. I also implemented vendor appreciation day. In November, after the October furniture market, we invite our vendors to come in and present to us their different furniture and accessory lines that are new. It’s all day, and they come in and I cook food for them, and we give drawings and giveaways and different things. I think that’s been huge, the relationship that we’ve built, the partnership between us as a business and them as vendors, and wanting all of us to succeed. Especially since the last couple of years have been hard on everybody, and I think it was a great way to show our appreciation. It has gotten huge. We even said that maybe next year it would have to be a two day thing. We have a customer care center as well, that we log into for customers. It’s just trying to mainstream everything, so that if someone picks up the phone, they can look it up and see if it’s come in yet, and get back to the customers instead of having the customers wait.
How do you like working for yourself?
A: I like working for myself. One of the things that I think I struggle with is that I’m a workaholic, I always am working. I think one of the challenges that sometimes I have is putting it down and walking away from it. I try not to come in or work on any Sundays. That’s the one day that I say ‘no’. People tell me that we should open on Sundays but no, I think I have to have one day that I know the ship is just shut for at least a day and nothing can go wrong. I think everybody needs their day off. I juggle, juggling the time, it seems like there’s not enough time in the day. I come in with my to-do list every morning and it seems like everybody’s saying goodnight and I say, ‘wait, it cannot be 5:30. We can’t be leaving.’ I do well with it, but I could probably do better with some improvements. But in our business, sometimes it’s just finding that perfect fabric, and sometimes you can just walk to the book and be like, ‘oh my, this matches great, they’re going to love it.’ And then you can spend two hours on a pillow fabric for one sofa. And you think, ‘wow, gosh, look at how long it took me to pick out that one fabric.’ Sometimes it just doesn’t all fall into place and sometimes it does. I’m very blessed. The longevity of my employees, for both my father and myself … we’ve been so fortunate. That’s huge, the loyalty they’ve given my family and the business.
Do you have any future plans for the store?
A: I probably don’t have any near future plans. It’s a manageable size. I think it’s a lot larger than people think from the outside. To be in a strip shopping center, it has its challenges and its rewards. I think its challenge is that people don’t expect to have a furniture store that large in a strip shopping center. But one of the advantages with being here in this premier shopping center is that I also get a lot of ladies that are coming in to shop for shoes, clothes or monogramed gifts and they wander in and are just like, ‘oh my god I love this sofa, I’m going to buy it.’ Sometimes it works for me and it’s a challenge sometimes because I find that I have to advertise a little bit more. I didn’t advertise for a long time, we just did word of mouth. But I find that advertising is important, especially given our location. So that’s a challenge. Some people expect a furniture store to be a brick and mortar independent on the highway with more accessibility.
Do you have any advice?
A: I have advice for someone wanting to go into the interior design field. It’s a field that you don’t just walk into. It takes a lot of on hand training and knowledge. We have a wonderful two-year program here at the community college, and sometimes I feel that it might be best for some students that are interested in the profession to come and work in it, for about a year or two, before they decide to fulfill their career in interior design. Some people will realize how much is involved in building your clientele, and sometimes people from the college that I’ve hired will come in and then go back to school. I sent two or three back to nursing school it seems like. We have this joke that every time we hire somebody new, they’re going to leave us and go to nursing school. So I think that if I had to give any advice, people need to work and see how hard this job can sometimes be before they decide to go into the profession. As for an owner, I always give advise people that if you can buy something and work in something that you love every day, you’re very lucky. A lot of people have to go to work just for a paycheck and to put food on the table and clothes on their kids, but when you can actually find something that you can make a living at and still love, and wake up every day excited to show up at the store, then I think that’s just a huge success for the business and for yourself.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: We’re very lucky to have a family business that is successful, and that a second generation had decided to take over. My family has supported me on the transition. You just have to roll with the punches.