From Garage to HGTV: How This Woman Grew a Successful Home-Staging Business
Kristy Anderson spent most of her childhood on the move.
She and her mother, Bridget, would often change apartments. And Anderson, in an attempt to make each place feel more like home, would spruce it up with some amateur decorating.
She would rearrange some pillows. Or maybe she’d take some bedsheets and turn them into curtains.
“My mom always welcomed it,” Anderson said. “She was very encouraging.”
Nobody knew it at the time, but what she was doing was making her way toward building her own business.
A New Path
A resident of South Tampa, Anderson, 41, is the founder and executive director of Dwell Home Staging, which specializes in getting homes ready to hit the open market. She employs a staff of eight, including her husband, Marc, the company’s operations manager. Four months ago, she sold the business to appliance chain Happy’s Home Centers.
Dwell has been featured on HGTV and is repeatedly ranked among the top home-staging businesses in the country.
“Never in a million years did I ever imagine this,” Anderson said.
Anderson took a stab at acting before landing a teaching position 12 years ago at Academy Prep of Tampa, a non-profit school for middle school students. Eventually, she was named the assistant head of school. Anderson had an apartment on scenic Davis Island, located right near downtown Tampa, and was pulling a solid salary.
“I thought I was going to be in education forever,” she said.
On the side, however, Anderson was still dabbling in decorating. She worked 10 hours a day at Academy Prep of Tampa and then spent the night staging homes for her friends. It was fun. But she figured it was just a side gig.
“It was a real small-time,” Anderson said. “I would just go into people’s homes, re-design or revamp it, and maybe bring a few new pieces in.”
Starting Her Own Business
One day, Anderson decided she no longer wanted to work in education. She took $3,000 out of her savings account and created an office out of her garage — from there, Dwell Staging was born.
Anderson’s aspirations were modest — she never thought staging homes would match the $65,000 a year she was making as an assistant head of school. So she planned on making a living as a real estate agent.
But Dwell continued to grow.
Anderson built her client base through word of mouth and friendly referrals, as well as through Google Adwords, an online advertising site. She created a Facebook page, which she routinely updates with videos of homes she has recently staged, and a Twitter account. She joined local associations for homebuilders, investors and realtors and visited realtors to give in-person presentations.
Anderson also hosted broker’s opens, which are strictly for real estate agents and not for the public, in homes she had staged.
The ad campaign worked — Anderson became so busy running Dwell that she no longer had time to pursue her real estate license.
“That’s when I said, ‘I guess this is what I’m doing,’” she said.
Purchasing her inventory wholesale from furniture and accessory vendors from across the United States, Anderson needed just six months to take Dwell from her garage to a storage facility. A year later, it moved into a 2,000-square-foot office and warehouse; the company now operates out of a 9,000-square-foot facility.
Staging a Home
When she’s staging a home, Anderson considers her true clients to be the home’s potential buyers, not the current owners.
“We always design for the target demographic of the expected buyer,” Anderson said. “This is the first indicator for our design. Then we look at the home’s architecture and design, and select pieces that highlight that. If it’s occupied, we try to use as much of what the seller has as possible, while using our inventory to supplement in order to pull together a cohesive look.”
Dwell will keep a home staged for 30 days (at a cost of between $1,500 and $2,880) or 60 days ($2,010 and $3,968) and offers additional monthly packages after the initial contract has expired. Dwell also offers free real estate photos for vacant homes with four rooms or more.
It’s a process that seems to be working. Dwell has had an increase in revenue each year, bringing in $180,000 during its first year and close to $500,000 last year.
Though Happy’s Home Centers now owns Dwell, Anderson still runs the daily operations and hopes to branch out into other markets such as Orlando and Sarasota.
“That’s the ultimate vision,” she said. “But we still want to be the top staging business in the Tampa Bay area and do things more efficient [sic] and better than anyone else.”
Anderson always dreamed on landing on HGTV — that dream came to fruition when Dwell designed a space for the show “Container Homes” with the help of artists from the Tampa Bay community.
“I’d watch all those shows on HGTV and would dream —‘Wouldn’t that be great?’” she said.
And Anderson knows who to thank for success — her mother Bridget, who passed away last May.
“She was always saying, ‘Just say yes,’ and, ‘Why not you?’” Anderson said. “She kind of ingrained it in me to take big risks. Why couldn’t it be me?”
John Lembo lives in St. Petersburg and often “dwells” on his lack of decorative skills.