Agent Essentials

Shop Talk - The Real Estate Agent Podcast

Real Estate Agent Podcast 30: Lauren Cox and CJ Willey

30: Lauren Cox and CJ Willey
October 16, 2019

We dig into how Havenly's designers work with their clients to turn real estate into the perfect dream home.

It doesn't really matter if it's your first home or if this is your tenth home. There's always something that you need when you move because it's not always a seamless transition from what you currently own to your new place.

Lauren Cox

About This Episode

Lauren Cox and CJ Willey work at Havenly, which pairs you with your own personal interior decorator. With designers all over the country, Havenly has built a custom platform to get to know your unique style preferences and help you - or your client - design the perfect space. 

Whether it's a closing gift, a home staging, or your own treat to yourself, check out Havenly at

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Episode Transcript

JON: Hello and welcome to Shop Talk: The Real Estate Show. I'm Jon Forisha and joining me on this episode are Lauren Cox, who goes by LC, and CJ Willey. They're both from the design company Havenly, which wants to be your new best friend for everything from closing gifts to home staging. LC, CJ, thank you for joining me today.

CJ: Yeah, excited to be here. Thank you.

JON: So can we start with just talking a little bit about Havenly? What do you guys do?

LC: Yeah Havenly is an online interior design company. We're based here in Denver, but we work with clients across the U S to have designers based across the U S um, and really our ultimate goal is to make design easy and accessible and create real design for real people. So we try to treat our designers as your design BFF to create the space of your dreams with any budget, any style, um, at any price point.

JON: Awesome. So what are each of your roles at Havenly?

CJ: Yeah, I'm CJ Willey. I'm the senior director of business development at Havenly. So, um, I mean a great cross functional role where I get to, to interact with creative folks in our business and, and then I'm directly, uh, interact with our customers and then also, um, relevant to The CE Shop. Uh, all of our efforts in real estate, um, specifically integrating with real estate agents, which, uh, I understand we'll get into, but yeah, that's my role.

LC: And I'm LC, I'm a design program manager at Havenly. So I oversee all of our interior designers, mainly focusing on our in house design team here in Denver and our team in Chicago. And then I also focus on our partnerships. So really excited to kick this off with The CE Shop and start building that connection with these real estate agents here.

JON: Awesome. So why was Havenly started? You know, who saw the need for cheaper design?

LC: Ooh, you want to, you want to take it?

LC: I can take a stab.

CJ: Yeah. How long do we have?

LC: It always comes better from the horse's mouth, but I'll do the best I can. So it started with our CEO, Lee. She moved out here from New York, and as you can imagine, New York homes and apartments are pretty small. I moved to Colorado and had all of this extra square footage to fill. All of a sudden she had space and didn't have the furniture to fill it. So she had a need for somewhat quick turnaround for her interior design. Um, also had a decent budget, but because of the way that traditional design works, no one would really work with her, um, either because of her tight time frame or because of her quote unquote low budget, even though that wasn't necessarily true. So she just found a need for someone to come in, address her home, kind of room by room and address it relatively quickly. So she created Havenly.

CJ: Yeah. And that was a four and a half years ago. Yeah.

LC: Five and a half, five years.

CJ: If you can trace it back to Lee's bedroom or you know, her initial prototype that she created. Um, and since then, you know, we've grown to become, uh, the nation's largest interior design company. Little feather in our cap.

JON: That's awesome.

CJ: You know, we are, we're really proud to be a Colorado born and raised startup and funded as well from a locally here in Boulder. And, um, we're now up to 65 folks in our office, um, and about 250 designers who are 150 designers from across the country. Um, and so the, the growth has been amazing. It's been an incredible ride so far and a lot more to do. Yeah.

JON: Very cool. So the focus of our agent essentials program this month is closing gifts, which is why we're having you on the show. Uh, agents like to think outside of the box with their closing gifts and, um, design help is actually perfect. You know, it's not just a bottle of wine or a ticket to the movies or whatever else they might normally do. Uh, specifically for real estate agents. How can Havenly help?

CJ: Yeah. For real estate agents. You know, we are all about delivering to your clients, uh, a super delightful experience that feels personal to them, but giving them this elevated level of service, um, at, at a price point that is incredibly reasonable. In fact, for, um, for, uh, real estate agents that are going through The CE Shop, uh, online courses, it's, you'll find it's going to be incredibly, incredibly affordable. But, um, but you know, if you look at this time of life that, that a client is moving into a new home and they're making a lot of big decisions that they're going to literally live with, um, for quite a while, that is the perfect time, uh, for Havenly to, to come in and relieve some of that decision fatigue, that anxiety around designing your home. And so in lieu of the traditional welcome home gifts of, you know, the bottle of wine, the uh, the mediocre merlot right, or the uh, or the magazine subscription or you know, giving your clients something that's really personal to them. Something that they will connect to the agent, something they will tell their, their friends and neighbors about. You know, that my agent Heather, you know, set me up with this amazing interior designer. Um, you know, w which, which sounds good next to a mediocre merlot.

LC: I think to chime in here too, it doesn't really matter if it's your first home or if this is your 10th home. There's always something that you need when you move because it's not always a seamless transition from what you currently own to your new place. So I think that there's just always going to be a need to up your design game and this feels like a natural fit.

JON: Yeah, for sure. And once you have that new house full of boxes, you don't really want to design. So. Very cool. So have you guys worked with many real estate agents so far?

CJ: Yeah, we have. So we have agents that, um, for years have just loves giving us, uh, as a welcome home gift to their client. Um, it's great the agents have kind of led us into this space and that they've, they showed us the potential of it. Um, and I think they find great engagement about it. So, um, well we've developed recently in terms of driving that engagement for, for agents because we know that they, you know, they care about connecting with their clients through the process and then even keeping that engagement afterwards. Um, after the closing date. What we do is after the client has done a Haven lead design, when upon completion, we actually send a notification to the agent because it's a great time to check back in with your, your client that it's a delightful time. They've just finished their design. We tell the, uh, the agent, you know, who the designer was, what the space that the client designed. And then that's a great time to, to give your client a call and and say, you know, tell me about the living room that you did with Tracy and how did that come out? And so we're trying to build that engagement, uh, for agents. Very cool.

JON: So LC, you previously worked in a design showroom. Uh, how does design with Havenly differ from the more traditional approach?

LC: Yeah. What I love most about Havenly is just how approachable it is. Um, I'm able to really help the people that I know and I care about my friends and my family because it does feel just a little more real and more approachable. I also love with Havenly, just how quickly everything moves. Um, you don't feel like you're rushed through the process, but if you are in a new home, you don't want to wait eight to 12 weeks for that to come together. You want that done pretty quickly. You're excited, you're ready to S, you know, sleeping in bed, I sit on the sofa, do all the things that you might not have when you first move in. So I love just the pace and the speed at which we work and just the overall approachability.

JON: Awesome. Yeah. So, uh, obviously as a closing gift, Havenly would be great, but what about for home staging? Say an agent has a client that has a real nightmare of a home, and is that a situation Havenly could help?

CJ: Yeah. Jon, you're, you're reading our minds. This is something where we're coming out to specifically for real estate agents as well. Um, it's going to be a new offering where we're really gonna help a real estate agents to actually market their properties. Right. Um, folks are gonna want to check back in, um, as we're, we're currently developing this, but it really is about showing your clients or, you know, anyone who's interested in the home, what it could be, right? And that's a lot of what Havenly does through our 3D renderings. We're showing, you know, you've got a space, you're approaching it with some confusion, and we're gonna lay everything out in a way that says, you know, wow, that's, that's exactly what, you know, what I would have hoped to have achieved. Um, with a professional designer and that's what we're doing on the 3D side, um, for agents as well. But check back in. Um, good, good intuition there. That's exactly where we're moving.

JON: Home staging is a thing that I think freaks out a lot of new agents. Uh, I mean they, they, they get into it cause they love homes, but then they're like, well, I'm not working with nice homes sometimes starting out, you know, uh, what do you do when you have a terrible looking home? So, uh, the home staging side of it could be really cool. I talk more about those 3D renderings. So what do you guys do with those?

LC: Sure. Uh, so it's something that we're currently testing, but we, um, have offered it to large amount of our clients. Um, and essentially they receive at the end of their process with their designer, they will receive a more realistic version of their home. So our designers get through the two D portion, which still shows them the architecture of their homes, still shows them exactly how everything is going to look when it's placed in their home. But the 3d just takes it one step further and kind of shows them the shadows and the lighting and we'll add in a lot more of those realistic touches. So it's just a really nice finishing touch that we're hoping to really expand and kind of blow out for more of our clients in more of our packages.

JON: Very cool. Yeah.

CJ: I am blown away when I see some of our three D renderings and, um, just the level of detail that that technology is able to achieve with that as LC said, the shadows, the sunbursts, you know, and, and that really does make it feel like you're in the room. So I think it is, it's a great way to give our clients kind of that final last push of like, this is what you know you've really created. Yeah. Um, not just what's going to be in this space, but how it's gonna look and feel.

JON: So let's talk about the logistics of your designers. How do they actually do what they do?

LC: Yeah, so we've actually created a really easy to use platform right on our site that our designers are really familiar with and they can do everything within our site basically. And that's where they communicate with their clients. That's where they source the products. That's where they work on alternatives and revisions and go through everything. Um, yeah. And then they build the designs kind of with their own software on the back end. But everything is taken through our site, makes it really easy for the clients as well to interact and have that one stop shop for them to shop and engage with their designers.

CJ: Hmm. And one of the coolest things about the process that you don't move through it as a client. I know this because my wife and I didn't did our home. Um, until you're completely satisfied, um, at that stage, right. So you can tinker as much as you want with color patterns and, and, and home decor items and how you're going to lay it out. And then once you're completely satisfied, then you're gonna kind of move to the next, the next stage. So once you get that three D rendering, that's a space that you have, you know, touched every part of it with your, your designer and you're going to be completely happy with it.

LC: Yeah. There's a lot of back and forth. The designer will take the reins and then you can kind of chime in as much or as little as you want as the client to make sure that it gets exactly right by the end of the process.

JON: So do you have designers all over the country?

LC: All over. Wow. Everywhere. Some even international.

JON: Really? Yeah. Wow. How do you find your designers?

LC: They find us, which is great. That's cool. Yeah. We have a pretty rigorous onboarding process. So we do want to make sure that the designers that we do hire are the best of the best. Um, but they find us typically after design school or after they have worked with a traditional firm and realize that they want to have more control over the design process. They want to see it from start to finish. Um, and we allow them to do that and really take ownership of their projects. So we get clients from our, I'm sorry, we get designers from all over, all kinds of backgrounds. Um, but ultimately they come to us because they are the cream of the crop.

JON: Wow. Yeah. That's an awesome place to be in. It's great. Yeah. So how does that work with styles? Because I mean, some designers may gravitate towards one style over another. So how does that work?

LC: Yeah when our designers come to us, they tell us essentially how, uh, they'll tell us three to seven styles that they really love designing. And typically they like to do some sort of hybrid of styles, but they'll kind of come to us with their favorites. And those are the ones that, uh, they'll showcase on their portfolio and they'll really lean into those styles. From the client perspective. They'll, the clients will sign up with us, take a quick style survey to help them determine what their style is. And then we, with our fancy algorithms, we'll help pair them with the designers that we think are going to be the best fit, not only but with their style, but with their availability and just their personality and kind of their background to help make that a little bit easier. Um, with 250 designers, that can be an overwhelming process. So we try to kind of streamline that for the client as much as we can. Yeah,

CJ: I love our style quiz because it's, it's image based. Um, and not surprisingly, a lot of clients don't know whether they are bohemian or Scandinavian minimalist or, or glam or,

LC: or they think they do, but then they take our style quiz and they're not.

CJ: And that's the cool thing about it, you know, you know, when you love a space that you see right and clients we're living in this, this age of, you know, you're inundated with images of beautiful. Um, and so you kind of, you know, you pick up on what you really love. Um, and that's what our style quiz is built around is just going through those images. And then from there we're going to tell you, you know, what your, your style was and even your sub styles, which I find is really cool too. And then try and nail that, that designer selection for you. That was going to be my next question. What do you do if, if somebody doesn't know what their style is? Cause I could see that being an issue, but yeah, you guys thought of it all. We try, we try. Yeah. And we let you select your designer. Um, you know, from any style if you'd like, you can look through their real portfolio. Um, you can, you can view a video of them talking about their, their own, you know, theory on design. Um, but certainly through that design style quiz, we feel that we are, we're serving you up with designers that are, that are gonna match your style.

JON: So turning to the unfortunate side of things, you kind of already mentioned it, that you have to have client's approval and every step of the process, but what do you do if you get to the end and the client just says they hate their designs?

LC: Yeah, it happens. Um, it doesn't happen often, which is really nice. Um, typically we catch that early on, but we know that design is so personal and not every designer is going to get it right the first time around. I think that's true for any profession. Um, so we have that kind of built into our process. And so as CJ mentioned, with each phase, you do have to give a rating and feedback. And so if you're early on not loving it, we'll work with you to either get things back on track or to find a new designer that's going to be a better fit for you. Um, it's not really worth anybody's time, the designer or the client to go through a process if it's not the right fit. So we do try to catch that as early on as possible and just make sure that the client ultimately in the end is happy with our end results.

JON: What would you say are the most common rooms that you've been hired to decorate?

LC: Living rooms for sure. Yeah. I think that one just has the biggest visual impact. It's the first room you see when you walk into most people's homes. It's the one where you're going to entertain and really show off. So that's typically the one that gets addressed first. See a lot of dining rooms too. And I think those are probably our most popular.

CJ: Yeah. A growing number of clients doing nurseries. I think that's, that's really, really popular, you know? Yeah. And it's just a space that people love to share, I think, because it's an exciting time in their life. Um, as I would know, we've, we've got three at home, so that was the best of times when we were preparing for comparing. Yeah. It's the fun part. Yeah. I should mentioned that now most of my home looks like it's designed by a toddler designer. Right. And not even a toddler is at this point. Yeah. Probably none of the toddler with a design background. Right. A toddler with it's struggling in our class or something, we'll come up with a name for it, but bringing it back to evenly, that's why it's nice to, to have kind of those adult spaces in your home town because, um, once, once the toddler is takeover, they're unrelenting. Yeah.

JON: So what's the most unusual thing you've been hired to design?

LC: First of all, what comes to mind is this client. We designed a room for her cats. She had a spare room and wanted it to be this play zone for them. Um, it actually ended up turning out really cute and she wanted like actual furniture for them because they love to snuggle on sofas and whatever. Um, it was playful and it was the most bizarre request I think we've gotten, but turned out great.

JON: That sounds pretty fun to do that for sure.

LC: Yeah. I didn't personally. Yeah, I was, you know, coaching the designer who was working on it.

CJ: I like that. Yeah. Or we're going to look for, look for more expanding into the cat market. I think [inaudible] dog houses send.

JON: That might be a niche that you don't, didn't know existed, especially in Denver. Oh for sure. So many dog homes you could absolutely. I'm ready. So I mean design is super subjective and moves fairly quickly. How do you stay on top of the trends?

LC: Yeah, a great question. Um, you know, we'd have a really great community of designers who really love to support and help each other and whenever they see something new they are not afraid to share it. So I think we just have a really, uh, communicative group of designers who love to talk about what they're loving, what they're not liking. Um, all of that. And then I think just with the prevalence of things like Pinterest and Instagram, it's really easy to see what clients are gravitating towards, what are designers are gravitating towards and then hopefully support them kind of on our end with merchandise design trends kind of around those.

JON: Have you seen a lot of the Chip and Joanna Gaines style? Everyone loves it and it doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon.

LC: Yeah. People love that modern farmhouse. Yeah.

JON: They're opening a hotel. Not surprised. It makes so much sense. Like why didn't they really do it?

LC: I would stay there.

JON: Okay. So, uh, also on the Havenly website, you guys have an e-commerce component. Can you talk a little bit about that? Hmm.

LC: Want me to say it? Yeah, there you go. So with each design package to the clients, we'll have a really personalized shopping list for them of items that have been handpicked by their designer. So that's kind of the most curated level of e-commerce that you can really get. Um, with that clients can also browse shop on their own through our site, um, to find pieces that are similar if it's not the right color or they want something at a different price point, et cetera. So that's kind of built into our design process. But from a purely e-commerce standpoint, those who maybe know exactly what they're looking for or they don't really want to go through the design process, they're just looking for a gold metal coffee table. They can come right to our site, go right to our shop and browse through our assortment of vendors. We work with about 200 to 250 vendors. So they don't have to go to obviously that many websites. They can come right to us and just do a quick search looking for those specific pieces. Yeah.

CJ: I think we should mention best price guarantee. Right. So, um, the price that you would get at Havenly is the same that you would get from any of the, as LC mentioned, hundreds of home brands, um, if not better. Right? Cause we, we run a lot of really cool, um, promotions within the site too. And then it's a one click solution on, on the purchasing side. So if you can imagine, you know, you might have eight to 10 different brands and you, you're really eclectic in your tastes and your brand style. And with one click you could purchase that. And then let Havenly handle the rest and a white glove way. We're gonna make sure all of that gets right to your door. Um, so you're not going to be tracking down, you know, you're eight to 10 different, you know, brands to, if anything goes wrong, you call us and we'll make it right. So our customer experience, folks at Havenly are amazing at just solving, um, these types of issues for clients. It's not something you'd really think of at the beginning of, of the process, if that's a big value add, but if anything goes wrong, we make it right. And that, that is, you know, a really nice, nice, uh, thing about purchasing through us. Hmm.

JON: So what is next for Havenly? You sort of alluded a little bit to what's in the future, but how are you guys gonna keep expanding?

CJ: Yeah, well, LC has a hand in that in terms of how we're expanding, um, with our design teams. The growth is explosive. So you can touch on that and then.

LC: Totally. Yeah. So as I mentioned, I oversee our staff teams currently in Denver and Chicago. And we're looking to expand that into other cities and other markets to have just a more cohesive and close knit group of designers who can really just prank design work. Um, they're kind of our cream of the crop. They're our most talented. They're able to just make their clients really happy and create really beautiful design. So we're really trying to lean into that, um, and expand in other markets there. And then I'm also involved with some of our kind of physical locations. We currently have a few popups open, um, in San Francisco Bay, in California and short Hills, New Jersey. Um, in partnership with some of our vendors where we're actually able to connect with people face to face, one on one clients can come in and actually shake hands with their designer. So I imagine we're growing a lot. They're kind of looking at other cities, other strategies to continue that one-on-one growth with our clients.

CJ: Yeah. And, uh, we're expanding what we do on the business side is, as Jon alluded to potentially, um, new services, um, that we're going to be offering within the home and the way that we can design more spaces in the home or provide more solutions to real estate agents for example, and then working with different partners. So, um, ideally we'd love for agents to kind of integrate us into their, their process. Um, and that's something, you know, we've learned a lot about design in the last five years or so. Um, but I think we're just scratching the surface in terms how we can work with partners. Um, and so we're just, you know, excited to work with, with partners that, um, that can integrate Havenly into their process and then, you know, give their clients that delightful design experience, um, that we've been really good at an offering. But now, you know, really doing that through a partnership model, uh, I think is going to be exciting in the coming years. Cause we are, we're growing, we're growing fast. Yeah. I mean there's a lot, there's a lot of room to grow in the, in the home generally. And, and with people, um, wanting to achieve that high design look, um, but at a super affordable price.

JON: Yeah. Do you feel like you've picked up a lot of design knowledge by working at Havenly?

CJ: You know, it's funny, I am a, I am a non-creative at heart and it is inspiring to work with so many, um, creative types. But yes, I love working with the designers. I love seeing the stories of clients, um, that really, you know, talk not only about what they achieved but their space, but then how that makes them feel on a daily basis and, and seeing how interior design can really change someone's mood should change someone's, is it, is it, uh, too much to say changed their lives.

LC: That's totally accurate and really does. Yeah.

JON: Yeah. Yeah. Definitely can. Yeah. So if somebody wants to learn more about Havenly or sign up for your services, where can they find out more?

LC: Yeah. Right to our site. Attract them over to and they'll find most, if not all the information they need there. Cool. Yeah. It could be fun to do the, do the interior design style quiz. Yeah. Um, yourself and, and that's always a fun exercise. Um, but yeah, through, uh, The CE Shop and on the The CE Shop site, we're going to be available. You'll be able to access Havenly design with a special discount and, uh, and so that's a great way for agents to interact. Perfect. Okay, well thank you both for joining me.