COVID-19 Response: Leslie Fine, Principal, Leslie Fine Interiors

May 2, 2020

We check in with twelve architects, builders, designers, and suppliers to see how they are managing their staff and their businesses during this incredibly challenging time.

With the coronavirus currently taking over our personal and professional lives, the measures that have been instituted to stop its spread have had a major impact on most businesses, including those of us serving the New England design industry. In times of crisis, we turn to people who have withstood similar circumstances in the past and persevered. We reached out to twelve industry leaders who have led their firms through past crises to share what actions they are taking now, how they will measure the success of their firms over the next twelve months, and how they’re moving forward.

2019 Design Hall of Fame inductee Leslie Fine of Leslie Fine Interiors shares her secrets to keep her business running during the COVID-19 crisis.

Home is going to be more important than ever before. How do we keep consumers engaged now?
One of the upsides of the current situation is that it’s given me the time and flexibility to reach out to not only my current clients by phone or email but also to my past clients just to touch base and see how they are doing. Most of my clients are people I really care about, and, on social media, given the severity of the world situation, I feel uncomfortable just posting my “beautiful room” photos as I normally do. Instead, I have focused on topics that may be of interest to my followers during this time of being homebound. For example, I have offered organization tips, home office ideas, and thoughts about how art enriches our lives and affects our moods.

How are you communicating with your in-house teams and outside vendors?
I have become a wiz on Zoom video conference calls. I recently had a big design presentation with clients over Zoom, which turned out to be quite successful! Of course, nothing is quite like in-person meetings when discussing materials, fabrics, and furnishings, but given the situation, my clients were engaged and excited and were thrilled to see the project moving along.

How will you be defining success in three months, six months, a year?
Three months: factories open up and the current work in process gets completed. Six months: more projects come in the door, and we ramp up to our normal workload. One year: we are back to our normal workload and there is a vaccine for the coronavirus!

Is there something you implemented at your firm in 2008 that worked that you are executing again?
Back in 2008, when projects came to a standstill and new work stopped, I kept forging ahead with marketing my business and promoting my brand. By doing so, I positioned my business so that when work began to flow, clients sought out my firm. It’s important to promote one’s business in the bad times as well as the good times.

How are you thinking about cash flow management differently now than in more normal times?
Honestly, I’m not thinking about cash flow any differently now than I do in good times. I’ve always felt strongly about running a strong, successful business from a financial point of view, which means keeping staff and overhead as efficient and lean as possible, and maintaining a healthy balance in the checking and savings accounts in the event that unexpected events occur.

Are there different cost-saving strategies you are leaning on regarding staff, overhead, and discretionary spending?
One positive idea that will come out of the current situation is the realization that much work can be done remotely, and that you don’t necessarily need a large physical office space to function well. 

How do you ensure your “all of a sudden” remote workforce remains motivated and productive?
I am trying to touch base with my staff regularly (sometimes several times a day by phone and email) and by including them in on video conference calls (even if it may not be totally necessary for them to be on the call) so that there is a constant flow of information and engagement.

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