Four Entrepreneurs Shaping San Antonio’s Home Interiors Business. Striking out on your own in business is scary and exciting. What does it take to make it a success? We asked four of the leading entrepreneurs in San Antonio’s home interiors arena how they got their start. These women are not only established names in shaping unique aspects of home environments but also share common themes about how they made their enterprising dreams come true. Learning the business, getting help from mentors, leaning on family and friends to shape their team, and embracing trends came up time and again. Key to their success were their passion and creativity for good design, a strong work ethic, maintaining relationships and knowing it is never too late to begin anew. Featured in this story are Christi Palmer of Palmer Todd, Sandra Yedor of Lili Alessandra, Becky Compton of Compton Lamps & Shades and Casey Roy of Casey Roy Design and waghaus.
Christi Palmer is celebrating a 20th birthday of sorts this year. This one is for her business, Palmer Todd. Established Feb. 16, 1995, her namesake business was launched when Christi Palmer embarked on a new phase of her career, this time as entrepreneur/new business owner for the company she owns today.
Palmer had always planned to be a designer and embarked on her career immediately after attending the University of North Texas. The university was considered to be one of the best schools in the country at that time for their interior design program. In the early ‘80s, she met and married her husband and returned to San Antonio, where they were both born and raised. Palmer decided, after giving birth to her son, to take some time off to raise him. When she was ready to return to work, commercial space planning positions were still difficult to come by. That is when Palmer struck the bond that would ultimately pave the way for her success today.
She began her career as a lighting designer for Focus Lighting and Control Systems. One project, in particular, would ultimately change the direction of her career. She was charged with designing the lighting studio for Wagner & Co., a hardware and plumbing business that also offered a mix of cabinetry, tile and lighting. Impressed by her work, the owner of Wagner & Co. decided to hire Palmer to lead his kitchen design team. Initially hesitant to take the position, Palmer recalls the owner, Mr. Wagner, stating, “Don’t you see? You know everything about kitchens because it all comes down to space planning.” She worked there for five years, during which time she became an NKBA certified kitchen designer as well as a registered interior designer. On Christmas Eve 1994, Palmer recalls getting the call that would change her life and take her career to a new level. Wagner called her with a business proposition to purchase his business. She had never considered being a business owner or entrepreneur before, but she seized this opportunity and spent the next two years learning about what it takes to appropriately manage a company. Palmer marveled, “I had to go from being a designer to learning everything there was to know about owning and operating a successful business.”
Her business has shifted and grown over the years to become the team of 12 expert associates that it is today. Much of this growth is attributed to the collaborative efforts of trusted family members as well as employees she considers to be her family. “I love my team. They are an amazing group of dedicated people that work here. Palmer Todd was built on the foundation of great teamwork and collaboration,” says Palmer. “Successful businesses are about the team. It’s about the people.
“Now, 20 years later, we are the Palmer Todd you see today. We started out very small, one project here and there, but grew into the firm we are today because of our attention to detail and dedication to the clients we serve. As my clients have acquired additional homes in multiple locations, I now find myself traveling domestically and internationally to continue working with them,” says Palmer. Palmer plays tennis competitively and participates in tournament fishing with her husband and son. They are engaged in these activities almost every weekend. “I’ll never retire. I may work less and play harder, but I will never completely let go of it all. I wake up running at full speed and am frequently ribbed by my employees as to what level of hurricane I will show up as for the day,” she says.
To stay on top of her successful professional career, she relies heavily on partnerships with other businesses here in her hometown. Much of her business is reputation- and referral-based, and clients see her as a leading professional expert in her field. “It’s so important to know where to send my clients and feel secure in knowing that they will receive the same caliber of treatment that I give to them,” she says. “We are an idea center, and we want to provide a unique experience. Everything here centers on quality products and design and superior customer service for me. That’s why our clients continue to return to us year after year.”
Sandra Hernandez Yedor is the founder and owner of the award-winning home textile brand of linens that bears the name Lili Alessandra — Lili for her mother and Alessandra, the Italian version of Sandra. Lili Alessandra makes fine linens for the home with an artistic flair, including handcrafted work like appliqués, embroidery and beading that embellish her finely handcrafted linens. Recently, Lili Alessandra was honored with a coveted national award by the Home Furnishings Industry, Home Textile Manufacturer of the Year. Four home textile companies were nominated nationally, and her business won. Hernandez Yedor was born and raised in San Antonio. She took a position in Houston with Foley’s Department Stores after graduating from St. Mary’s University. She worked with Foley’s for nearly 15 years, ultimately becoming store manager. Her next significant position in retail took place when she moved to Dallas to become assistant general manager with Saks Fifth Avenue, eventually becoming the general manager at Saks Fifth Avenue in San Antonio. After 17 years away, she was finally back home. Hernandez Yedor was persuaded to leave retail to become vice president and later president of Duty Free Americas where she was responsible for developing, enhancing and managing the company’s many stores along the border with Mexico, adding yet another skill set to her already feathered professional cap. She stayed until the company was sold.
That is when Hernandez Yedor found herself at a point in life where she didn’t know in which direction her career would go. While she did not have a specific objective in mind, she was eager to do something new and challenging.
Yearning for a fresh perspective, Hernandez Yedor traveled to Europe to explore new opportunities. She knew she wanted to do her own thing. She attended a few home accessory trade shows in Paris and saw a luxury fine linen European line she loved. On a handshake with the company’s owner, she became the company’s distributor for the U.S. market. She invested a lot of time and money in this new venture. That experience became the training ground for her to learn the home textile business. After nearly five years of collaboration with the European company, she decided it was time to move on ─ this time on her own in pursuit of her dream to own her own company. Hernandez Yedor began her own enterprise by doing her own designing, selling, setting up, invoicing and packaging. Today, she has a staff of 11 to help with all that. The most important and challenging aspect of her business is product design. “In the early days when I did not have actual design training, I did what I wanted,” she says. “Now that we sell to retailers across the country and internationally, we design according to who we are, but also we make the products marketable in different parts of the world.”
Hernandez Yedor feels fortunate to have worked for dynamic women whom she refers to as “wonderful role models. I admired and learned from those women who were strong and determined,” she says. “I realized that their success didn’t just happen, it came with hard work and dedication. Being successful in my field requires strong business skills as well as strong creative abilities. Marry those sets of skills and you have a creative entrepreneur,” she explains. “You have to be gutsy to make it happen when you are traveling and doing business internationally, especially if you are a woman,” she says. She still works with the same two overseas factories she has worked with from the beginning ─ on a handshake basis. They are a big reason why she is still in business. “Relationships and support of those who work alongside you are key.”
COMPTON’S LAMPS & SHADES
Treasuring tradition and illuminating trends shapes Becky Compton’s leadership style as Compton’s Lamps & Shades lead executive. She lights up when we visit with her about how she came to head such an established San Antonio retail business and family legacy. Today, Compton’s Lamps & Shades is a third-generation business. Compton shares the story of how the business was born. Her husband’s grandmother, Clara Ranney, purchased an existing lighting store in 1957. In 1967, Clara’s daughter, Beryl Compton, purchased it from her. From mother to daughter, the business went. Completing the circle, in 1992 Becky and her husband purchased it and continue to run it today. The company spent 40 years on the corner of McCullough Avenue and Ashby Street, and 17 years at Huebner and NW Military Highway, and is excited to be in its new location at 2211 NW Military Highway. In talking about the importance of light in a home Compton says, “People love light. From the tiny shelf lamp and prominent table and floor lamps, to natural light coming through the windows, it is all an accent to a room and a necessity for a complete look and feel. I hope that people think that lamps and shades should last for 20 years or longer. They are an investment to be treasured.”
Married for 36 years, Compton welcomes her attorney husband, Matt, who comes to help her at the shop with repairs in the evening. He ran the store for the first few years. When he went to law school, she took over operations of the store. Considered a small mom-and-pop shop, Compton’s Lamps & Shades has eight people on staff with three on site at any given time. “We love that a customer can find a lot of history in our shop, unique lamps and wonderful customer service. We encourage people to frequent smaller boutique stores,” says Compton. Prior to hiring their store manager, Compton spent most of her hours working within the store and on related business issues. “With the new manager, we are now able to enjoy more time with family and grandbabies, keeping active in our LDS church community, doing family history research, and gardening a bit more. I am actively involved in the store operations and day-to-day store activities. My heart is here, but I have no issue keeping life in perspective,” explains Compton. Compton especially enjoys seeing the transition in lamp trends. “We have a wide variety of traditional and transitional lamps in stock, but also look for pieces that we can make into one-of-a-kind lamps,” she says. She is enthusiastic about a trend she finds especially exciting — the new LED light evolution. “Because LEDs emit almost no heat or ultra-violet rays, our stylish lamp shades will last for years. Shades often need to be updated even when they are still in good shape, like a dress out of style,” she explains. Drums are back in style and very popular. Other textures, including linen, leather, cottons and unconventional ones like textured cork, are making their way onto Compton’s floor.
Compton emphasizes customer service. She encourages clients to bring their lamps in so staff can assist in selecting the right size and style of shade. The extensive inventory of shades provides the customers, and even designers, the opportunity to update and refurbish existing lamps. All of her six children have worked in the shop, assisting with everything from repairs to sales. “They usually started around age 14. They have lots of memories from here.” When asked about retirement, Compton says, “It’s still a few years away so we are not giving it too much thought, but I’m sure our children will be able to make it a fourth-generation store. The staff is like family who have been with us for decades. It’s just the type of business we are.”
CASEY ROY DESIGN, waghaus,
Citrine Home, FRAMED
Casey Roy is the owner of not one but four different businesses — Casey Roy Design (CRD), waghaus and the newly launched Citrine Home and FRAMED. Every design detail excites her. She thrives on the vibe of what they are doing: “I’m a sucker for creation. It fuels me.” Roy started her career in Dallas, where she was born and raised, after graduating from Texas A&M University. After working in Charlotte, N.C., for a brief time, Roy landed in San Antonio with Baxter Design Group in the fall of 2004. Roy has always loved fabrics and interior design. She loves good classic design principles. It was with this passion that she made the entrepreneurial leap and started her namesake interior design company, Casey Roy Design, in September 2011. Like many women who go out on their own, her storefront was her two-bedroom bungalow home, and her mom and loyal staff supported her. Outgrowing that space, Roy established Casey Roy Design and waghaus on McCullough in March of 2012 after renovating the space. “I wanted it to be a canvas for style. It’s a backdrop for what clients can do,” she says.
Roy asked her mother to come manage resources and vendors. She has worked with her mom for the last several years and says, “My mom is a very strong woman, and that is probably where I get my drive. She has always worked and supported my sister and me through college, so I respect and admire her drive and ambition. She gave me the foundation from which to work.” The company is staffed by a talented group of women, all of whom Roy calls her heroes. She wants it to stay small and connected to clients. “There is not one person in the office who isn’t involved with day- to-day client work. That’s the best collaborative way to get results,” she says, proud of her team’s talent, dedication and enthusiasm.. As proprietor of waghaus, Roy gives us insight as to how she named her business. She explains that San Antonio has a huge stray animal problem. When she stumbled on SNIPSA (Spay, Neuter, Inject, Protect of San Antonio) five years ago, she signed up to be a foster parent for dogs, and the next day she received a call to serve as a foster. She was hooked. She could see the difference it was making in the animal’s life and the families’ lives that received the dogs. Naturally, as a foster parent, she had numerous crates and kennels in her home, and she wanted to substitute something beautiful. The business concept for waghaus is stylish living for the privileged pet. A custom-designed doghouse that is created for the individual’s interior space, a waghaus takes the place of a crate or kennel. Each one is appointed and styled to complement the patron’s home. A percentage of each waghaus sale goes to an animal rescue group of the client’s choice. Roy’s next goal is growing waghaus. One day she wants to personally deliver waghauses to clients across the country.
This past December Roy and a partner decided to add a complementary business concept, Citrine Home, to the studio. Citrine Home is an accessories retail boutique, offering decorative pillows, unique gift items and even a custom candle line. “The goal is to go very personal with the experience. We feel people are craving instant style, so we are trying to cater to that,” she says. Amazingly, as if not busy enough, Roy also recently launched her fourth business, FRAMED, a custom art and picture-framing studio located in the same building. When talking about work-life balance, Roy sets goals and accomplishes them and then gets back to basics to recalibrate: “No matter what it is — design, volunteering, starting a new venture — I think I’m just born to move forward. Ruts bother me. I’ll find myself with a piece of paper and start scribbling. We don’t all move forward in a straight line because life happens, but I’m not afraid to take a risk to make something happen.”