In this installment of Meet the Merchant, we speak to Patricia McCarthy of OC Design in Manchester, Connecticut. Patricia shares how her design work relies on collaborations with architects, how she balances her creative tastes with her clients’ needs, and how Clover has helped her organize the various components of her business.
Clover: Thank you for speaking with us today, Patricia. Can you tell us how you launched OC Design?
Patricia McCarthy: I had been working as an interior designer for many years in several capacities. After college, I worked in the marine sector designing yachts, and have since led commercial and residential projects. In 2019, I decided to rebrand my former company as OC Design and begin incorporating all three of these fields into my work. The name OC comes from my two children—Olivia and Chase—as I do this work not just to build my career, but also to build a future for them.
As part of my rebrand, I’m doing a lot of project management of renovations on top of my existing residential portfolio. I’ve also taken my business to the next level by working directly with architecture groups as a spec writer—someone who writes all the specifications for projects that go out to bid.
Clover: Can you explain to us how you toe the line between design and architecture? These two fields seem interconnected. Where does your work fall?
McCarthy: That’s a great question, and one that I often answer. Designers work on the interior of the building, while architects focus on exteriors and the bones of a structure. Often architects don’t like to work with designers because many designers don’t understand the full scope of a project. The way I’ve built a name for myself is by speaking the architect’s language. I get how architects think, so I’m able to tie in design elements from the ground up, literally.
I like to keep my portfolio as varied as possible. I take any size of a job that inspires me and am very focused on building relationships with my clients. Many of my former clients are now close friends of mine.
Clover: That’s lovely to hear! How does building relationships with your clients tie in to your creative process? Do you ever struggle to balance your personal taste with the tastes of your clients?
McCarthy: As far as my own creative process goes, I am constantly gathering inspiration. I try to be open and curious about the world around me, while noticing small details and filing them away in my visual memory. When it comes to working with a specific client, I try to pay attention to their personal style whether that means the shoes they’re wearing or a small detail inside their home.
It’s important to balance the clients’ needs and wants with their vision. Often homeowners will show me an image they saw online as a starting point. Even if that image doesn’t reflect something that will work in their space, I will try to capture the essence of what they like in a way that does complement their interior. I start by asking, “what is it that you like out of this image? Is it the colors, the pattern?” We’ll talk about it, get real deep into that picture, and distill it.
Clover: It seems like most of your work is onsite with your clients. How do you use Clover in these scenarios?
McCarthy: You’re right. I work primarily with my clients onsite, so I use the Clover app on my phone to take payments. It’s very user-friendly for me and my customers!
I’ve also really enjoyed Clover’s Reporting functions, which I can access through the Virtual Terminal. Since I work on a variety of projects, Reporting helps me see my data organized by category. This has helped me understand how the various components of OC Design are tracking over time, especially during such an unprecedented year.
Clover: I’m glad to hear it’s working well for you. How has the pandemic affected your business?
McCarthy: When COVID-19 first hit, all my work was focused on the contractor commercial sector. Many office and retail spaces took advantage of being closed by using that time to update and remodel. And then by May 2020, when these spaces started slowly opening up again, I pivoted to work primarily on home renovations. There have been a lot of homeowners spending more time than usual staring at their four walls and saying “I need a change.” So I’d say 90% of my work since last summer has been home renovations—bathrooms, kitchens, and home offices.
Clover: Sounds like you’ve stayed busy! What unique challenges has the pandemic presented to your line of work?
McCarthy: The biggest challenge is not being able to visit showrooms in person. I used to travel to NYC multiple times a week to visit showrooms, but now I’ve had to reframe my vision of a space to an entirely virtual model. I’ve learned to substitute virtual showings and consultations whenever possible. Sometimes that means having a client walk me through a space on video chat, or teaching a client how to take measurements of their space for me. It’s not ideal, but we have to adapt.
It’s also been a little tricky getting some resources, as the supply chain has been disrupted across many sectors. This disruption, however, has forced me to be more creative in finding materials that don’t have extended lead times, which is sometimes a fun challenge!
Designers are learning to maximize efficiency in other ways, too. We’re completing projects in a shorter amount of time so we are not in a client’s home longer than necessary. I feel like the pandemic has made the design community stronger as we’ve been challenged to reevaluate our processes and work smarter.
Clover: It sounds like you are making thoughtful choices. What advice do you have for other small business owners?
McCarthy: The best advice I can give is to always keep an open mind. If you get caught up in a frustrating situation, take a step back and figure out how to find the silver lining. And really, just take a deep breath, because you never know what new challenge tomorrow is going to bring.
Read more of our Meet the Merchant stories for real-life experiences of small businesses in action all over the country.