Everything Home Staging Inventory: an Interview with Pam Christensen
This interview originally aired as a podcast episode. If you would prefer to listen, you can find it here.
Cindy: How did you become a home stager?
Pam: What happened was when I turned 50, I had kind of a little “what am I doing with my life” breakdown, which some people will go through at that point in their lives. I really didn't like what I was doing. I was a senior manager at Boeing and some other companies and I just went, “I don't want to do this anymore. I want to do something that I care about, that I love, that I'm helping people.”
So I started kind of playing in different things and I got into real estate investing and this was in 2007 when the market crashed. And I discovered that I was not a real estate investor. However, I staged my properties, and I found that not only could I rent for what my mortgage was, but most of my properties rented sight unseen over the Internet. And I didn't even know what I was doing. So I got out of investing, got into staging. I took some classes and the rest is history.
Cindy: That's amazing. And what is the real estate market like in your area?
Pam: I’m in the Seattle area and our market is hot and it's predicted to continue to be hot this year. It's definitely a seller's market. The hardest thing I think in our market is for buyers to be able to get into a home because if the home is presented well and priced right, there's a bidding war on almost every house.
Cindy: What service do you provide your clients?
Pam: We do primarily vacant home staging and consultations. I found that when we put our inventory into an occupied property, we didn't always get it back in the condition that it was when we put it in the home. So we've really specialized in vacant home staging.
And for occupied homes I do, I provide a consultation service so that we walk through with the seller and tell them everything that they need to do with the home to present it well. And then we can also help them with rearranging their own furnishings. Rehanging art, light staging with their possessions. But we don't stage occupied homes.
Cindy: What does your volume look like per year?
Pam: We stage an average of 300 homes per year with a team of four full-time designers, an assistant, and four movers. We have two staging teams and we stage anywhere from two to three homes per day.
Cindy: I want to talk about inventory because you have such a big business with four designers. Can you talk about your process for buying inventory? How do you determine what and where to buy and how much do you spend?
Pam: Well, like any small business owner, I want to keep my costs down. So I look for inventory that I can get that's going to look really good, fit my style, and that I can get at the lowest price. I invest the most in larger pieces, like sofas, headboards, and art. I look for places that I can buy wholesale. I look for places where I can get designer discounts.
And in the past two years, I've started going to furniture markets and look to see what are the new trends that are coming up. And then I look for pieces that I know I'm going to be able to use over and over again.
When I first started, my policy was — and I still am kind of like this — I didn't buy anything that I didn't have a house to put it into. I didn't go out and just buy 10 couches because I might need to use them. I bought one and then if that one worked well and if it was a neutral piece that I felt I could use for five to seven years and I got enough business, then I'd buy more.
If you own your inventory, it’s really important to keep track of what you have.
Cindy: How long did it take you to develop your in-house systems?
Pam: I'd say three to six months to get the first version of Staging Assistant out. But we've had it now for five years. So we've had several versions and we've updated it. I think the thing that most of our users like about it is that it's all something that you can do on your phone. It's all mobile. I at anytime I could look at my phone right now and tell you how many houses I have staged, what is in, what is out, how many couches I own this right there, and so on.
Cindy: The other thing too is that you have to plan out your inventory. How do you do that?
Pam: I know I'm going to be staging eight to ten homes a week during prime time. My manager and I sit down on Friday and look at the coming week and then we look at the inventory that we have and we look at the inventory that is going to be coming back, and we start matching it to houses. And because we can do it all online, we go to lunch, we go to happy hour or whatever, take our laptops, and we plan out the week and then we look and what we have coming in and going out to start making plans.
Cindy: How often do you buy new inventory?
Pam: I would say every three months or so. But, you know, you’re constantly buying. I think new stagers don't realize how much your stuff gets beat up. Moving furniture is really hard on the pieces. If you've had a couch that it's still a really neutral piece that you could use anywhere, but you've used it in 300 homes, you need to replace it. We really try to keep our inventory looking fresh and new as new as possible.
Cindy: How big is your warehouse?
Pam: I only have a 5,000 square foot warehouse, which for our volume is pretty small. But because we have so many houses staged at a time, it works fine for us.
Cindy: How much maintenance do you do with your inventory? Say a couch is really beat up. What do you do with it? Can you talk me through that process?
Pam: So if we decide that a piece is at the end of its life, the first thing we do is post it on Craigslist or OfferUp. For couches, we average about $150, but we’ll take less. If it stays posted for more than a month, the piece gets donated to a local charity. If something is broken, my team will try to repair it. If it can’t be repaired, it gets donated or taken to the dump. My team is really good at cleaning pieces, so that regular maintenance helps the life of a piece.
Cindy: Did you start out by owning your own inventory or did you rent first?
Pam: I've always owned my own inventory. For my very, very first staging job, I went to Ikea. This was way back in the day. I went to Ikea one day and then the next day I rented a truck. And then on the way to the stage, I stopped at Fred Meyers, which is a local retail store, and bought a couch. So I've always owned my own. I've tried to rent a couple of times and it just didn’t work well for the volume we do.
Cindy: Do you have any tips for a stager who’s in the process of growing their business?
Pam: The first thing is I think it's important to sit down and envision what it is that you want your business to look like. I'm a very strong proponent of envisioning what you want and then you will realize it. And then once you've envisioned what you want your business to look like, start thinking about what tools or steps that you can take to work toward that vision.
I would also say seek out someone who's done it. Talk to people who are bigger than you are. I thought I was pretty big stuff until I started meeting some other staging companies who were bigger and I learned from them every day. That's my advice. Always envision what you want, be clear about your vision, give yourself some actionable steps to achieve it, and then work with people who have done what you want to do.
I loved chatting with Pam! Did you learn anything new about inventory for your home staging business? Let me know in the comments!
Pam has staged millions of dollars in real estate and is passionate about helping her clients sell better and faster. Pam is also Academy Home Stager Certified and is one of the top home stagers and home staging educators in the nation! Pam says, “Staging to me is not just a career but a lifestyle. Staging a home to sell allows me to help both the buyers and sellers have an elegant ending and beautiful beginning.”