Robin Wilson is a New York-based eco-friendly interior designer and entrepreneurs of a hypoallergenic lifestyle brand with products sold at Bed Bath & Beyond, TheNextStore.com, and other major retailers. She was the first female designer with a branded line of custom kitchen and bath cabinetry sold by over 400 dealers nationwide. Wilson is also a spokesperson for consumer products giant Panasonic to promote their latest line of cutting edge products for the home. Her namesake brand has sold millions worth of products retail.
[Related: Entrepreneurs Summit: 5 Resources for Entrepreneurs in Atlanta]
Wilson is considered an expert on healthy homes. Her new book Clean Design: Wellness for your Lifestyle encompasses 15 years of the Robin Wilson Home design portfolio which began in 2000, which evolved from Wilson’s lifetime challenges of asthma and allergies.
“I want to educate consumers on how to live in a safe and healthy environment. How to make their home a sanctuary,” says Wilson, who is an ambassador to the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America and serves on the board of the Sustainable Furnishings Council. “I do projects that are designed beautifully and are meaningful. Last year we did EcoBungalow-LA,” a project that involved rebuilding a family home lost in a holiday fire from its foundation to furnishings that were fire-safe, non-toxic, and energy efficient. “Pictures from that project are in my book.”
Wilson is the recipient of the 2008 Black Enterprise Small Business Award for Innovator of the Year. “We won at a time when I was coming out with a line of hypoallergenic furnishings and a technology product that allowed people to do 3D renderings of their homes,” recalls Wilson. “I was working toward building a wellness lifestyle brand that was accessible to thousands of consumers.” But then in 2008 with the economic downturn, consumer spending on home furnishings and renovations declined significantly, she points out. A saving grace, Wilson was retained by a high profile client to design their family home. That experience is chronicled in her first book, called Kennedy Green House, published in 2010.
[Related: Eco-Healthy Design Can Help Fight Asthma & Allergies]
In order to maximize exposure of the brand and to scale the business, Wilson began licensing the brand to partners, which included eco-friendly custom cabinetry by Holiday Kitchen. By 2011, she had licensing deals in the categories of cabinetry, textiles, durable goods, and quilts. In 2013, her furniture line, Nest Home by Robin Wilson, premiered at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York. Another testament to the business longevity; last year she released a documentary short film Home With Robin, which is available for download on Amazon.com.
Wilson gives credit to other African American entrepreneurs and their product lines, including B Smith (Barbara Smith) and Carol’s Daughter (Lisa Price). “Those are brands have paved the way for me to have a retail brand,” explains Wilson who notes that in the works for the design firm is a baby line.”
Here she shares three key lessons learned:
You need the ABCs. A is a great attorney. B is a great bookkeeper. C is cash flow. Those are three things that you need to be successful as an entrepreneur. Your attorney is the person who will write you contracts that can live and move over time. Your bookkeeper will make sure that your books are straight—people are getting paid on time and you have revenue coming in. You need to have positive cash flow from revenue to ensure your company can succeed.
Build your brand. You have to have an expertise or an area of focus so that you can build an audience and build a platform .You have to focus on both traditional and social media to make sure that people are aware of what you are doing. It is harder to get noticed today; there is a lot of noise but you have to stand out.
Know your competition. Who are benchmark competitors? If you don’t have any than what are you doing with your niche? You need to know who your competitors are in your niche to ensure that your fee structure, customer satisfaction, media, web presence, and client referrals are best-in-class.