Lori-Girl Creations - Huntington Station, NY
From dedicated mental health professional to award-winning Interior Designer, Lori Miller understands firsthand that it’s never too late to pursue your passion. Initially starting out with a Master’s Degree in Counseling, Lori covered the full spectrum of the mental health profession before rediscovering her childhood love for architecture and design. In 2000, her pursuit of this passion eventually led her to open LGC Interior Designs, a full-service interior design firm that serves residential and commercial clientele throughout the New York City Metropolitan area.
When Lori needed capital to grow her business and refinance high-cost debt, she turned to Excelsior Growth Fund (EGF), who provided her with an EGF SmartLoanTM.
Here’s how Lori, in her own words, combined her counseling experience, passion for design, and EGF loan, into an award-winning business that has been featured in publications like Architectural Digest and Interior Design magazine’s book Best in a Decade of Design.
How did you get into the Interior Design industry?
I was born into a family of contractors and builders, so in many ways, I grew up with an understanding of architecture and design. As a child, I really loved painting and quickly discovered a passion for mixing colors and creating patterns. Then when I went to college, I actually majored in art and minored in psychology, but ended up getting my Master’s Degree in Counseling.
For years I worked as a mental health professional and I eventually landed a Unit Chief position in the psychiatric ward at Rikers Island. During this time, I accepted a part-time position at a wallpaper store, which is where I rediscovered my passion for design and colors and is what ultimately inspired me to pursue a career in the field.
What motivated you to start LGC Interior Designs?
I ended up going back to school to get a degree in Interior Design and after that I worked for a couple of design firms but a lot of these firms started going out of business. I got tired of working for others because I felt like I was at the point where I couldn’t really get promoted or move up. So, I thought, “why don’t I just do my own work?” This started as something on the side but really ended up anchoring me and giving me the idea to open my own business.
What sets your firm apart from other interior design firms?
I have an uncanny knack of getting into my client’s heads. I think that this comes from my social work and psychology background. Having the ability to understand what my clients are thinking has helped me better understand their styles, needs and what they want from me. I think this is a unique skill because there are so many designers out there that try to push their design style on their clients rather than collaborating with them to help them achieve their specific vision.
What are some of the challenges you encountered when opening your business?
The business aspect was my biggest challenge when I started LGC. Design has always come naturally to me but there are so many nuances and skill sets you need in business. Skills like managing and tracking your time and finances or marketing and presenting your business are still challenging and somewhat foreign to me.
How did you find out about EGF?
I was looking for funding and needed assistance. During this time, I looked at several lenders but they all seemed like loan sharks. Eventually, I ended up meeting an amazing broker at Rodino Associates, who sat with me and we talked about some of my challenges. She pointed me in the direction of EGF Assistant Vice President Aissatou Bah, who met with me and helped me prepare everything for my loan.
How would you describe your overall process working with EGF to obtain the loan?
The overall process of working with EGF was so easy. As I mentioned, the financial side of running a business is not my expertise, but EGF makes it easy and fast to apply. Really, if I can do it, anybody can do it.
Aissatou also connected me with a QuickBooks consultant, Alek Marfisi, who works with me free of charge [through EGF’s Consulting Corps]. I’ve worked with many accountants in the 20 years that I’ve owned my business, but Alek actually works with me and has taught me valuable skills like how to use QuickBooks and track my time. As a designer, I am constantly communicating with five clients at the same time, so it’s extremely helpful to know how to efficiently track my time, so I can charge accordingly.
Design can often be a hard industry to break into, and a hard industry to start a business in. Do you have any advice for fellow designers and artists looking to start their own business?
This is an interesting question for me because I keep going over and over in my head what I would have done if I knew more about the resources available to small business owners. There are so many seminars, classes and books out there for business owners. For me, though, the most helpful resource was the Small Business Administration (SBA). I think that if I knew about them when I was first starting, it might have been easier. They provided me with so much leadership and guidance on topics that I had no idea how to do, like creating a business plan. I would encourage small business owners, especially those that don’t come from financial and business backgrounds, to reach out to them.
On a broader level, I would also encourage other entrepreneurs who have a passion for art or design to try to find a way to pursue it. I made the switch, and I believe others can too!
What are your proudest accomplishments when it comes to your business?
We were recently featured in an Architectural Digest article that highlighted a room we designed for Holiday House. This is a NYC-based interior design exhibition where designers are selected to create a space that is inspired by a holiday or day of personal meaning to them and proceeds go to Breast Cancer. In 2018, I was selected as one the Holiday House Designers and created a spa and wellness room. This opportunity was one of my dreams. Then, to have this design featured in Architecture Digest, was incredible and has always been a huge aspiration of mine.
EGF is happy to have been a part of Lori’s success story and is excited to see what the future holds for Lori-Girl Creations!