BABE #312: MACKENZIE COLLIER - Owner, Mackenzie Collier Interiors
Eight years ago, Mackenzie graduated from design school during a time when the economy was slow and her options for quality employers was slim-to-none. Unable to find a design firm whose values and aesthetic aligned with hers, she decided to open up her own. Today, Mackenzie Collier Interiors is a full-service residential and commercial interior design studio in the heart of downtown Phoenix, AZ, specializing in sustainable, functional design. As owner and lead designer, Mackenzie employs six hustlin’ babes, and together they provide quality interior design services rooted in transparency—from their process to their pricing and beyond.
Hometown: Cadillac, Michigan
Current city: Phoenix, Arizona
Alma mater: Michigan State University; Harrington College of Design in Chicago
Degree: B.S., Psychology; A.S., Interior Design
Very first job: Hostess at a resort restaurant
Hustle: Owner and Lead Interior Designer, Mackenzie Collier Interiors
Babe you admire and why?
I admire all the babes who leap without a safety net. I admire the ladies who don’t have the security of a partner or parent’s income to help them, but they go for their dreams anyway, even if it takes multiple jobs and years of sacrifice to get where they want to be. I know firsthand how terrifying that route can be, but I also know how sweet it is when it all finally comes together and you can look around knowing you earned your success. It’s really badass!
How do you spend your ‘free’ time?
I love yoga, backpacking, hiking and traveling internationally. I feel most at home when I’m out of my comfort zone living an adventurous life.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Crab legs, for sure.
What’s something you want to learn or master?
I played viola when I was young through college, but my instrument broke and I couldn’t afford to fix it when I was in my early 20s, so I stopped playing. My fiancé recently bought me a new one and I’m so excited to re-learn how to play.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Jane Goodall. I’m always in awe of people who devote themselves to the greater good in such difficult but important ways. I’d love to ask her about patience and perseverance.
What resources help you in your day-to-day work?
The single most important tool in my day-to-day is my network of women business owners. We have constant group texts, coffee dates and happy hours where we are able to bounce ideas off of each other, vent and feel totally supported.
Tell us about your hustle.
I’m the owner and lead interior designer at Mackenzie Collier Interiors, a full-service interior design firm specializing in both commercial and residential projects. I’ve been slowly growing my business for eight years, so I’ve really done every role in my business at some point. Currently, I oversee my business development and design teams every day, while also plotting the future expansion of our newest by-the-room design service called Scheme.
What does your typical workday look like?
A typical work day for me starts with 6:00 a.m. coffee, greek yogurt, a kitchen dance party and then a couple hours of quiet meditation and/or scrolling through social media, depending how zen I’m feeling that day. I try to either run or do yoga before work whenever possible. At 10:00 a.m. I head into my office in downtown Phoenix. I work on a block schedule, so each day my morning and afternoon blocks are devoted to a different aspect of my business, like team development, financial planning, marketing initiatives, design meetings, etc. On Mondays I schedule all of my tasks into the appropriate blocks and it has really increased my productivity since I quit trying to multitask. At lunch time, I love checking out all of the restaurants and coffee shops in downtown Phoenix; there are new ones popping up every day. After work I usually unwind with my fiancé and our dogs, catching the sunset or lounging on the sofa.
What inspired Mackenzie Collier Interiors?
I started Mackenzie Collier Interiors eight years ago, right after I graduated from design school and the economy was slow. I couldn’t find a design firm whose values and visual aesthetic aligned with mine. All the firms had overly serious aesthetics (think, burgundy tassels on very heavy drapes) and made their money through sneaky markups, hiding price tags and withholding information from clients. It just didn’t sit well with me, so I decided to try to freelance while I also worked full time as a nanny for two years. Freelancing slowly and painfully grew into a full-time business, and now I have a team of six women who hustle hard to work on some of the coolest projects on the West Coast. I think we’ve had success because we’re diligent about acting with integrity and providing transparency within our pricing and design process. Because of our highly efficient design process, we can offer quality interior design services at a price point that works well for young families and people whose lives are in transition. This year we’re expanding to Portland, Oregon, and Denver, Colorado, which is a long-time dream of mine.
What have some of your favorite projects looked like?
I have really loved working on some of our adaptive reuse projects where we take a crumbling old building that’s nearly condemned and bring it back to life while honoring its character and history. The city of Phoenix has a bad habit of allowing developers to come in and knock down all of our charming old buildings to build high-rise condominiums, so I’m always so excited when we get the call to help bring an older building back to life. We’ve completed some large commercial design projects in the Warehouse District as well as on Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix, and I’m very proud of the results. We also love working in the many historic neighborhoods of downtown Phoenix. Architectural charm is hard to come by in the Southwest, so it’s really important to me to help preserve it whenever I get the chance.
Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit?
Yes. I was selling seashells to the kids in my Midwestern neighborhood when I was 5, and giving horseback riding lessons to local kids when I was a young teen. I’ve always had the ability to see an opportunity and for some reason I have no natural fear of risk. I’ve always been able to jump and then figure out how to open the parachute later, so to speak. For me, it’s not about the money; owning a business is an opportunity to make an impact on my community by building an unconventional business model that truly reflects my values of integrity, positivity and giving the underdog a chance. We’ve worked really hard to build efficient design processes so we can offer highly transparent, affordable pricing (in an industry that traditionally has a lot of snooty attitudes and shady secret markups and fees). We get to be wildly creative and work with younger, less “affluent” clients than traditional interior designers, which, frankly, is a lot more fun. We keep short, highly efficient business hours (10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.) all year and close for a few weeks in the summer so my team can travel (paid) and come back inspired. I’m really proud that my team practices yoga together every week. We also give back to the community, donating a portion of our proceeds every month to Shoebox, a local nonprofit that packs toiletries and clothing into backpacks for the homeless.
How would you describe your leadership style?
My leadership style is to lead by example. Personal integrity is far more important than any talents or skills a team member could offer. I look for team members who have positive attitudes and a can-do spirit. The people who are successful on our team are optimists, go-getters and great team players. We are highly collaborative, so it’s important that everyone is willing to pitch in, no matter what their job description says.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
Being a woman in the construction industry has presented an array of challenges through the years. I’ve survived a constant flow of mansplaining and having my abilities and knowledge underestimated. I’ve experienced a lot of sexism, mostly from male business owners and investors who try to manhandle me during project negotiations. In spite of that, I’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with negotiation techniques over the years and I’ve developed a negotiation style that has been pretty successful. I try to stay true to who I am: I smile, I take up space physically (power positions!) and verbally (lady‘splain!), and I dig deep to ensure everything I say is direct, but kind (even when the other party might be behaving awfully). I don’t mess around. You have to be willing to walk if the deal doesn’t serve you. I try to negotiate like I already have a million dollars in the bank. When you negotiate from a position of power, you’re bound to be more successful than when you seem desperate for the job.
What female-specific challenges and victories do you face in your day-to-day work?
I’ve compared notes with a lot of my male counterparts in the design industry in Phoenix, and even they are surprised by the regular push-back I get from potential clients who ask us to lower our fees for them. I think because my team is made up of young women, certain people have a tendency to underestimate their experience, skill-level and value. We work very hard to earn our clients’ trust, and it’s always a great feeling to deliver a project the client is thrilled with, especially when they might have been unsure about us at first. One thing that’s amazing about being a women-owned and women-operated business is the incredible community of women-owned businesses who support one another. Phoenix has a really strong community of businesswomen who rally for one another and offer support constantly. It’s been a really beautiful thing to be a part of.
What’s the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
I think Arizona has a slightly different ratio than most other states. Most accredited interior design programs at universities across the country are full of predominantly women, but in Arizona we don't have regulations around who can call themselves an interior designer, so we have a lot of male real estate developers, real estate agents, decorators, social media influencers, etc. who have crossed over into calling themselves interior designers, without having earned any of the credentials (like degrees) that would be required in other states. It’s challenging for us, because clients don’t always understand that interior designers study health and safety codes, color theory, building systems, art history, sustainability, space-planning, etc., so they may not understand the depth of what we can contribute and why our rates are higher than those who have not earned such credentials. I’d love to see states evolve to regulate the interior design industry more—not just for my own benefit, but for the health and safety of the public who are using these spaces.
How do you stay on top of industry trends?
Honestly, I try not to. Trends are cycling faster than ever before, and trendy items land in dumpsters once they aren’t “on trend” any longer. I encourage my design team to create from within, so we produce spaces that are timeless. Trendy projects are not sustainable or financially responsible. I think the most successfully designed spaces marry the existing architectural style with the unique people who inhabit the space, and this month’s trends shouldn’t have anything to do with it.
What does your approach to work-life balance look like?
This has always been a huge struggle for me. I’ve been driven and achievement-focused since I was a little girl. For many years, my self-worth was tied up with my productivity and achievements rather than who I was as a person. Looking back now, I can see that life just kept serving up bigger and bigger challenges every year (serious illness, break-ups, financial setbacks) until I had no choice but to stop working 80 hours a week and come to the realization that even when I produce nothing at all, I have so many other intrinsic qualities that deem me worthy of happiness and love. Who knew?! These days, I work from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday (regularly). Having an office outside my home really helps with that. Of course, occasionally I need to play catch-up on the weekend, but overall I prioritize my life outside of work: my adventures, relationships, friendships. I’m able to do that because I finally got over the fear of delegating important tasks to my team.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
If you own a business, work backwards financially. First figure out how much money your ideal lifestyle would cost (don’t forget to add taxes). Dream big. Then, divide it by the number of hours you want to work every year. If that hourly number is too high to be competitive in your industry, with your experience, then either learn to delegate nonessential tasks to someone who can work at a lower rate or go earn the credentials (or hire someone with those credentials) that could launch you to the income level you want. Don’t wait. Go for it. The only difference between people who are “successful” and people who hope to be successful is action. I like to remind myself there are successful people out there who are dumber than me, with worse ideas than me who simply got out of bed one day and went for it.
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