Staging Expert and Interior Designer Stayci Fast

Stayci Fast is what you would call an interior design jack-of-all-trades. She designs, styles, and stages both residential and commercial interiors.This Boston entrepreneur opened her business, New England Home Staging Interiors, seven years ago and has since gained national recognition in publications like USA Today and The Wall Street Journal and has received prestigious industry awards including The National Association of Home Builder’s MIRM Designation, the top-level of achievement for professionals in new home marketing.

After years of rearranging her childhood bedroom and asking Santa for Ralph Lauren Home accessories, Stayci always felt she would end up working in home design. However, it took eight years of grinding it out in the corporate world before she could no longer quiet the creative force welling inside her. In 2004, Stayci began exploring the uncommon world of staging, or decorating empty spaces to make them look lived-in. By honing her design skills and sales experience, she made a name for herself in the business, at a time when homes-for-sale were left empty of furniture and style.

Rounding out our studio tours of the creative Boston co-op at 369 Congress Street (previous features included graphic designer Jessica Sutton, interior designer Erin Gates, photographer Sarah Winchester, and ceramicist Jill Rosenwald), Stayci gives us a peek inside the industrial space she redefined into a retro-glamorous office. We guarantee you will flip over the super-sized photo of an old-school pool scene that never ceases to captivate clients while they talk with Stayci at her desk. This, combined with layered textiles, a gold vintage bar cart, and a collage of colorful fabric swatches, transforms this plain, white space into an inspiring, vibrant office. Read on, friends. Read on….

Full name: Stayci Fast
Age: 42
Current title/company: Owner, New England Home Staging & Interiors
Educational background: Visual Communications at University of Oklahoma

What was your first job out of college and how did you land that position? How has your career path changed since then?
My first job out of college was working at The Gap (this was 100 years ago). My career today has sort of come full circle because I started in retail, merchandising anything and everything from socks to bath products, and honing my selling (and shopping) skills. After being recruited by MCI Worldcom, I spent eight, rather successful years, in the corporate world only to find myself yearning for a creative outlet. It was a major leap for me to get out of that comfort zone and the security of my corporate job but I became so miserable, I knew I had to make a change and failure was not an option. Every Sunday I became a raging monster with the mere thought of work on Monday. Fast forward to today- I’m merchandising again, on a bigger scale, loving every minute.

How did you discover your passion for home staging and interior design?
Since the 7th grade, I have had a passion for design. I would set up photo shoots in my bedroom as kid. I painted one wall in my room a cherry red, used colored chalk for graffiti art (this was way before chalk board paint of course) and dressed my little sister like Madonna for photos. My friends were into MTV and I was obsessed with Style with Elsa Klench on CNN, I recorded every episode. I really thought my path was to be a fashion designer, marry Ralph Lauren’s son Andrew (he was my age) and live in Telluride. (You know, just regular girl dreams). As a teen, I asked for Ralph Lauren bedding collections for Christmas. I loved houses and interiors and kept catalogs of magazine tear sheets on furniture and floor plans. With no background in design and spending my 20’s in sales, I got my real estate license as a way to make money while looking at houses.

What made you decide to incorporate both interior design and staging services instead of focusing primarily on one or the other?
When I started staging in 2004, home staging as a profession was unheard of, yet I stumbled into my own business model by combining my creative abilities with my sales ability. I used design strategy as a successful selling tool for homes. I never considered doing residential interior design, and although that piece of my business grows each year, I don’t pretend to be a master designer. My education is in sales focused spaces, merchandising homes or businesses, that’s my strong suit. Designing for model homes is ideal, you have a budget and the creative freedom to design at your own discretion. When it works, you get immediate gratification through sales, productivity, and very happy clients. Incorporating both design practices was a natural progression because the new buyers typically ask for your help after falling in love with the staging interiors.

How do you balance your interior design and staging services? How much time do you typically allocate to each project, and how many clients do you usually take on at one time?
I am very selective with taking on new clients because of the time involved in designing for living. Luckily, I work with an amazing designer, Jennifer Colvin, and together we manage 2 to 3 design projects at a time while managing the staging chaos simultaneously. Model homes and staging are turn-key and easy to manage because we have processes in place and a large inventory of furniture that we pull from. We can floor plan a vacant 10,000 sq. ft home in a week and install/stage in 4 days.

How did you handle marketing your services when you were just starting out? How have you successfully grown your business over time?
To be honest, when I left my corporate job, I went from a six figure salary to zero overnight, so I had no real budget for marketing. I knew I needed a website so I taught myself how to build it and used a template. I used my real estate photos for my portfolio. I used Publisher to create my own brochures and wrote cards and letters to every Realtor I knew looking for business. In the staging business, it’s all about appealing to a “target market” and that same strategy has helped me grow my company. I’ve always been quick to ask, “who is my customer?” and then go after that niche. It’s so much more effective than trying to conquer the world all at once.

When starting out, how did you decide how much to charge clients for your services? Did you ever work for free to build your portfolio?
I did my homework early on to get a benchmark for what to charge for my services, based on other professionals. I certainly learned some hard lessons in not charging enough, especially with furniture leasing for vacant properties. I probably lost money on every staging I did during my first year. For me the goal was to get success stories for my portfolio, not just photos but stories like, “Sold in one day,” “Sold to the first showing.”

I was constantly re-evaluating my contracts, adding legal jargon and disclosures for totally random things that would come up. Now days I still get caught sometimes working for free and those are always the jobs that have the most issues and I find myself saying “Why did I do that?” I’m at a point where I’ve realized, I can hang at home for free; watch movies and eat Chobani in my snugglies, I don’t have to actually do hard work for free. In my work, people want staging quotes for free without consideration to how long it takes us to put a quote together for furnishing a vacant home. We are starting to set some boundaries there.

What has been the most challenging part of having your own business? What about the most rewarding?
The challenge for me is not putting every dime I make back into the business. There is always something I want to expand on or implement. Also, I have a very hard time stepping away from work and just hanging out. Having a flexible schedule is the most rewarding. I’m the most domestically challenged mom on the planet but, it’s so great to be able to be there for my kids every day. And getting paid to shop isn’t a bad gig either. 😉

How has your business evolved since you started out? At what point did you decide to grow your team?
I’m extremely ambitious. I always knew from day one that I wanted to grow my business. I used the first two years to build my plan and by my third year, I had 12 stagers on my team.

What is your advice to other women looking to start their own company, especially those interested in offering staging and interior design services?
I’m confident that my success with staging is directly related to my experience with selling real estate. Having natural design ability is a must but the experience I have from working in the field has been invaluable. I would say that regardless of where you’re at today, find a way to immerse yourself in the field, whether you’re an assistant or the phone receptionist. Getting in the arena will open doors and create opportunities that will take you where you want to go.

Take us through your average work day. What does a day in the life of Stayci Fast look like?
6:30am- 8am get kids fed and to school- read emails and change clothes 15 times.
8am-8:30 answer emails, send proposals.
9am- 2pm site meetings, stagings, 100 phone calls and driving like a bat out of hell from place to place.
2pm- Panic attack sets in because kids will be out of school in one hour and I feel guilty if I’m not there to greet them.
3pm- Calling kids to tell them I’m still working.
4pm- Cook after school meal for kids so they have energy for sports.
4-7 pm- Gym time or more working while kids are at practice.
7-9 family time
9-12pm- Hanging with the hubs. (like now it’s 11:58 pm and I’m working since he fell asleep)

Best moment of your career so far?
Not sure I have a best moment yet, I’ve had some great ones- shopping in Italy for a client, meeting my fave designers. I love getting random cards from my husband saying how proud he is of me. To have someone you love championing what you do- it’s truly the greatest reward ever.

What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
Follow the things that make you feel happy and everything will quickly fall into place.