Nicholle Foster – Natural Habitat Interiors & Design

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Nicolle, tell us about your background …

I have worked in the interior design environment since high school. After gaining my interior design qualifications and working in the industry for several years, I opened my own business here at the age of 25. Bonville International Golf Resort was one of my first major projects. I started the business from home, before moving to commercial premises. Twelve years ago I relocated once again to our current location at the Jetty.

2016 will mark your 21st year in business. What significant changes have you seen in Coffs Harbour and its businesses over this time?

Changes have been major! The beginning of my career saw this area as a very conservative, brick and tiled built environment. With the exception of Korora, Sapphire and Emerald, few of the northern beaches suburbs existed, so all of the new sub divisions and population boom in that area is very significant.

There has been a lot of change to the retail landscape too, with the removal of the mall and recent renovation of Coffs Central along with the constant upgrading and expansion of Park Beach Plaza, both of which we played a role in. The development of the Health and Education campuses have also had a major impact on the region’s infrastructure. We were fortunate to have been part of the local services engaged when they were developed too.

Twenty one years ago, the café scene was in its infancy, and buying a cup of coffee was a scarcity on a Sunday afternoon. Thanks to the increase in population and tourism, the hospitality sector has seen major growth.

Do you have a signature style?

Our style is generally more contemporary with a textural, casual slant in response to our geography and the guidelines implied by the architecture here. But every project is different, and versatility is important. We would like to think that while we respond to trends and fashion, our design stands the test of time.

How do you keep up to date with industry trends?

We are constantly travelling to industry events and while we previously looked to print media for inspiration (read “magazineaholics”), we now subscribe to many newsletters, blogs and other online forums to be kept up to date. We tend to intuitively absorb trends by osmosis anyway, as our design radar is always tuned into new product emerging.

What do you find the most effective ways to promote your business?

Without doubt, the most effective way to promote our business is to provide excellent customer service, as it leads to word-of-mouth referrals. We’ve grown organically this way, as the use of our services require an element of trust from our clients and a referral from a reliable source is extremely valuable. Effective networking is also a skill that we continue to develop. Being time poor means being selective in regards to social groups versus networking functions. That said, there is a time and a place for both.

What marketing approaches have worked best for your business?

The best way to market interior design is visually. We keep our website updated with examples of recently completed projects and use social media to engage our audience. We keep our feed real by including images of our work in progress, mixed with life on the Coffs Coast. Beyond that, being a good communicator and being personable makes for positive interactions with clients, trades and the community.

What advice would you offer to other women in business when it comes to crashing through the glass ceiling?

I have been self-employed for most of my career, so have been able to control the height of my own ceiling by my own set of limitations. In other words, the opportunity to take my career further has been at my discretion, and I have chosen to moderate it with what was important to me and what I could manage between family and several businesses.

However, in a company situation, my strategy would be to observe the key competencies within the current level of upper management and model a game plan accordingly. These skills are often tied closely to the organisation’s culture and vision.

Creative industries such as ours value innovation, those who strive for excellence, and people who think outside the square. Therefore, the concept of a glass ceiling is not necessarily relative. I believe these types of businesses/companies are more likely to promote individuals who are outgoing, risk takers and not afraid to tell it like it is. That being said, always being professional and having good interpersonal skills and a strong work ethic with clear goals are my personal guidelines for success in business.

Can you share for other small businesses, your top three tips for success and longevity?

  1. Make a plan, allow it to be flexible and persevere. Being a regional business means we are particularly vulnerable to the ebb and flow of the economy. We are a discretionary service and are a business often impacted by economic and property fluctuations. How you read and plan for these times and respond is critical to surviving.
  2. Remember the voice of the customer. We pride ourselves on being good listeners. It is imperative to the success of our design services that we understand the needs, wants, fears, desires and wishes of our clients.
  3. Surround yourself with good people. I’ve had some wonderful mentors during my career. Likewise, I’ve employed some excellent staff who share my passion for the industry and who bring a great work ethic to the business.

How do you spend time away from work?

My friends will laugh at this, but I try to find the balance! Life can be hectic (we have another business and two teenagers) for all of us. My personal motto is to “live well” or at least, try to. In a nutshell, that means spending time with family and friends, travelling, laughing and enjoying good food and wine. We live in an amazing place, and I consider myself very fortunate to be on the Coffs Coast doing what I love!

Thanks Nicolle.

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