More than 30 years ago, Suzanne Felber helped her builder husband with many of the day-to-day chores of operating a business, but it wasn't long before she decided to pursue a Master in Residential Marketing (MIRM) designation that she eventually would be able to parlay into much, much more.
"I was handling all of the marketing and advertising, ordering supplies and merchandising all of our models," Felber said. "I was doing everything anyway, so I thought I might as well learn more."
With a strong interest in interior merchandising — in part because of her natural flair for design and a compelling desire to help customers live both comfortably and stylishly — Felber began taking marketing, sales and model merchandising classes through NAHB's Institute of Residential Marketing. She earned her MIRM designation by May 1988.
"Becoming a MIRM and getting involved with the National Sales and Marketing Council (NSMC) really jump-started my career," Felber said. "I learned so much from the classes and met some outstanding mentors. They've been a big influence and we've remained friends for more than 20 years."
Today, Felber is at the top of her field: an award-winning designer, in-demand speaker and renowned expert on merchandising.
She is the owner of Dallas-based The Home Idea Factory, which specializes in model merchandising, styling and product merchandising. She built the company around her Lifestylist Design philosophy: customizing homes to customers' lifestyles, passions and families rather than the whims of a designer or builder.
In addition, she launched her own Lifestylist Design line of furniture with Cottage Lane Furniture and is currently expanding her lines into flooring and other markets.
"The company is doing well, even in today's economy," Felber said. "I've managed to stay busy."
Felber first went out on her own in May 1987, when she founded Memory Merchandising and her design philosophy began to germinate. In January 2001, however, Patriot Homes hired her as a Lifestylist responsible for the design decisions in 11 of the company's plants. Her duties also included marketing homes to site builders, placing stories in area publications, making the design decisions and merchandising show homes.
Eventually, she changed her focus and opened The Home Idea Factory.
"I like to be involved in every aspect of my projects. I'm a company of one. It's just the way I prefer to operate," Felber said. "I want to be the point of contact for all of my clients. If there's a problem, they know where to find me."
Before Jerry Alexander, president of Red Baron Building Co. in Lindale, Texas, launched his own home building company two years ago, he went to The Home Idea Factory for help and ideas.
"Suzanne was an invaluable resource," Alexander said. "She taught me how to design the layout of my homes, especially the kitchen and bath. She staged my models and helped me prepare for home shows."
"She also taught me that women are the influencers in the home buying process and told me exactly what they are looking for," he said.
A Camaraderie Among MIRMs
Through the years, Felber and her fellow MIRMs have always maintained a camaraderie that has been strong enough to share business leads.
"Shockingly, we're not overly competitive," Felber said. "They've been a tremendous support network. We share and learn from one another."
Felber helps fellow MIRMs and other marketers and merchandisers by teaching IRM classes. She also has often spoken at the NAHB International Builders' Show.
"I probably would not have gained as many opportunities without being a MIRM," said Felber, who won a Gold Award at The Nationals — NAHB's national sales and marketing awards program — in the merchandising a home under $150,000 category.
Her work has been highlighted in national publications, show houses and model homes and she has been featured in the HGTV program "Dream Builders" as well as in Home Magazine, This Old House Magazine and Home Depot's Style Ideas magazine.
Felber also integrated her ideas into The New American Home 2011 (TNAH), where she served as the show home's official Lifestylist.
"What a huge honor," Felber said. "It was hard work, but I think everyone was pleased and the owners said that I added their voice and personalities to the home."
Felber said that a MIRM designation can open doors, educate new home sales and marketing professionals on how to distinguish themselves from the competition and increase their marketability.
"Getting my MIRM was one of the smartest business decisions I've made," Felber said.