EP 235: How a Relauncher’s Home Staging Passion Became a Successful Business with Betsy Boughner
Betsy began her career as an occupational therapist before making a career shift into sales and ultimately into pharmaceutical sales. After taking a career break to raise her three children, Betsy discovered her passion for organizing, rearranging, and re-doing furniture and decor. She began in her own home and soon was getting requests to do the same at her friends’ homes. After discovering there was actually a professional name for her work - "staging"- she pursued a home staging certificate and subsequently launched her real estate residential staging company, PorchLight Home Staging. We speak with Betsy about her career shifts, finding her passion, the importance of upskilling, and hear Betsy’s valuable advice on entrepreneurship.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice, and success stories. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO and Co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. Today, we welcome Betsy Boughner. Betsy began her career as an occupational therapist before making a career shift into sales and ultimately into pharmaceutical sales.
After taking a career break to raise her three children, Betsy completed a home staging certificate program and launched her own home staging company. In this episode, we talk to Betsy about her career shifts, finding her passion and the importance of upskilling. Betsy, welcome to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch.
Betsy Boughner: Hi, Carol. Thanks for having me.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Thanks for being here. And we like to start where we start a lot of our podcasts, and that is to ask you to tell us about your career path that led up to your career break.
Betsy Boughner: Sure I'd be happy to. I think it starts back at Penn State. I went to Penn State University and at that time, I was thinking I wanted to do something in the health sciences.
And so I majored, with a Bachelor of Science. And then from there went on to Duquesne University here in Pittsburgh and received my Master's in Occupational Therapy. I then moved to New York City with my husband and I worked there as an OT for many years and I absolutely loved what I did. I was working on a rehab floor.
It was exciting. It was great, it was everything. We then moved to Pittsburgh, where I'm from, and my husband went to Carnegie Mellon to get his MBA. And so while he was a full-time student, I was working as an occupational therapist in many different disciplines at the same time. I was doing rehab, I was doing home health care, I was doing schools, I was doing mental health, I was doing a lot of different things to pay the rent and the utilities. And, it really, I felt like I was pulled in many directions and I was not loving it at all. And I really didn't feel like I was helping anybody.
Just shortchanging, going from one place to another. And I threw my hands up and said, I can't do this anymore. And just like talking to friends and networking, trying to figure out what I was going to do. Decided to look into pharmaceutical sales and I interviewed and ended up working for Eli Lilly for a couple of years in pharmaceutical sales.
And I have to say I loved it. It was great. I loved being in front of people. I loved talking to people, being out on the road, it was wonderful. But then, I stayed at Eli Lilly after my first daughter was born. And then when my son came along, it was time for me to stay at home. Really the cost of daycare wasn't really worth me working.
And so my husband and I decided that I was going to stay at home. We then had another baby, so I have three kids, and they're all very close in age. They are 16, 15 and 13 now. So I was at home with a lot of babies all at the same time. So while I was there, at home with these kids, which was wonderful, I just, I knew I wanted to do something, but I really wasn't sure what I wanted to do.
I wanted to be able to be out there working, but then also have the flexibility to do stuff with my kids and be around. There were many years where I was trying to figure it out, what I wanted to do.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. That's a great journey. And I want to talk about now, your career transition into the home staging business and also becoming an entrepreneur and everything that was involved in that. So can you talk to us about, when did you decide that home staging is going to be the direction you were going in and that, and that you were going to start your own business? What was the thought process that led to all that.
Betsy Boughner: Yeah, so it was a pretty long thought process. I can't say it like came to me in an instant. Being at home with these kids, I was in my house a lot, staring at the same walls all the time. And, my husband would always laugh because he would come home and furniture would be rearranged, walls would be painted, art, different artwork would be up.
I just loved to organize and re-do and rearrange furniture. I know some people, they can't stand doing that. I love it. I've always loved being organized. I would go into other people's homes, whether it be for parties or Bunco games or different neighborhood things. And honestly, in my mind, I would rearrange their furniture and I would declutter their bookshelves and think to myself, oh, it might be a better flow if this were here or that were there. As I'm looking back at those earlier years and we're talking probably 12, 13, 14 years ago, this was always going on in my head. Back to when I was at home and doing all this in my own home, and my husband is, he has a great entrepreneurial spirit.
He was always my cheerleader saying, you really need to do something. I can tell that you're going a little stir crazy here, but let's try to figure this out together. I think it really didn't hit me, that home staging was what I wanted to do until after we sold two homes here in Pittsburgh.
And I went through all of the home staging strategies, not even knowing what home staging was, but I did the depersonalization, the de-cluttering, the removing of all excess things. And we sold our homes very quickly, within a matter of days. Our second one sold within 24 hours. And it was at that point that a light bulb went off and I was like, I'm good at this.
Why don't I give this a shot? I had to do a lot of research. And right at that time, HGTV was getting to be really popular, million dollar listing. And if you listen closely, they would always say, now we'll bring in the stage or we're going to stage this room. So I reached out to friends of mine who are realtors in California.
And I said, Hey, I have this idea. What do you think? And they said, that's called home staging. We do it all the time. And Pittsburgh's always a little bit slow to grasp new ideas. It made sense that it really wasn't as popular here as maybe it was on the West Coast. So I did a lot of market research.
I would even just look up pictures online, the multi-list pictures, and I would study them and I would say, this is what I would have done differently. And that's really how the whole idea started that I wanted to become a home stager. That is such a great process and path that you went through.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And I love the idea that you were at friend's houses, eventually rearranging their furniture, and really started to put that all together and then figured out that this is actually a, like a specialty. And then you could have expertise in this. So you decided you were going to do this. Then what happened?
Like what were some of the steps?
Betsy Boughner: Yeah. So that's the greatest question. I think for me and maybe it's just my personality, but I really felt that I needed, if I was going to do this, I was going to do it the right way. I wasn't just going to pop up into people's homes and say, Hey, I can home stage for you.
I really felt like I needed some sort of certificate or a credential behind my name. I knew how to do it in my head, but I didn't really know the why's and the, just the different strategies of, quote unquote, home staging. I actually spoke with a couple of friends of mine here in Pittsburgh who were designers telling them, have you ever heard of home staging?
And it just led me down this path of then doing research and finding an online course that I felt was going to be the best one for me. I paid for the course, it took me probably four to six months to complete. And my certification then is in home staging and redesign. I am a professional home stager and redesigner and that was important to me.
To have that in order to market myself to real estate agents and the agencies that they work for. And so that's what I did. So I took the certificate. I took the course, I should say, got my certificate. And then it was like now what?And I, and I just channeled my pharmaceutical sales background and I said, now it's time to get on the road.
Prior to doing that though, there was a lot that needs to be done and I spoke with an attorney, how to get an LLC set up. I had to get a website designed. I had to get, oh my gosh, insurance. I had to get, obviously banking. I had to get social media. I had to get marketing. I needed business cards.
I needed tri-fold little folders to hand out. So all these things and I'm very, a list oriented person. So I just sat down one day and I listed everything that I thought I needed to do. And my husband always makes fun of me. He says, I need to check things off a list and I do. That's the way I work the best.
So that's initially how it all started. Once I had all of my marketing materials and I felt comfortable talking about the company, Porchlight, I would just call. I called every real estate agency in Pittsburgh that I could think of and asked to be invited to speak at their team meetings. And they gave me three to five minutes.
They said, all right, you can come on a Monday at nine o'clock. You get five minutes. And that's it. And I did, and I brought them bagels. I brought them donuts, I brought them coffee, which is what we did in my previous sales life. And I really, I had to start with educating the agents in Pittsburgh. I had to start with what is home staging, and then that kind of led into how I can help them. And I would say for the first six to eight months, that's what I did. And then, thankfully now it's all, referral and word of mouth. I really, I had to put in the time and, I always say just doing your dog and pony show in front of everybody.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. Do you mind if I ask you how much the course cost?
Betsy Boughner: I would say it was probably maybe around a thousand dollars. I think that was in 2017.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay, that's helpful. Thank you. And also, in order to go on the road and talk about this in three to five minutes, you had to really refine essentially an elevator pitch
Betsy Boughner: An elevator pitch, exactly.
Carol Fishman Cohen: So did you spend time scripting that and practicing that? Or how did you go about doing that?
Betsy Boughner: Yeah. Rewrote it many times. Did it in front of the mirror many times, time to myself, tried to come up with every single question that someone would have for me and it, and then have a concise answer.
And I'm always a firm believer. If I don't know, I'm going to tell you, I don't know, but I'm going to find the answer out for you. So people would ask me statistics about staging, I still don't really know them off the top of my head because they're changing every year. That was some of the questions I would get.
And if I didn't know it right at that moment, I found out and I would email them and let them know the answer.
Carol Fishman Cohen: You mean the statistics around where staged, how's it, did they sell faster, did they sell for a higher amount of money? That kind of thing? This is a little off topic for our relaunching topic today, but I'm going to ask you because I'm so curious about the business.
How do you manage having enough inventory to be staging different houses at the same time? I guess it's not that unrelated. Cause it's part of how you, it's a challenge of building this kind of a business. So how do you approach that part of it and how much well, did you have to invest in that? Or do you rent it or what do you do with the furniture?
Betsy Boughner: So there's a little bit of both involved. Initially, I just invested a couple of thousand dollars and I would buy some of the basics.White bedspreads, white pillows, but then pops of accent pillows, table decor, lamps, artwork, rugs, counter stools, there's counter height and there's bar height.
You really have to figure out. And the course that I took, they helped me, figure out what I probably initially would need to do a few houses at a time. I did that. I bought some initial things and stored it in my garage. And then as the business grew, I needed to find someplace else to store it.
And then I needed to keep buying more furniture. I never wanted to turn down a job. And so what that meant was that I needed the inventory to stage the house. So it was a constant cycle. I don't think the company was profitable probably for the first two years. Every dollar we made, I would put into either inventory.
There's also every year, there are different fees that you have to pay. Either it's legal fees, liability insurance, website platform, marketing. There are so many different hidden costs, I guess you would say, of owning and running a business, to be honest, I never really even thought about. But yeah, that's really where all of the money went initially was to building up my inventory and to paying things that supported the business along the way.
Carol Fishman Cohen: So let's talk about that cashflow part of building a business and how you said you weren't profitable for the first couple of years. Can you give us a sense of, did you think that you would be instantly profitable?
Did you, how did you think about the actual cash outlay or inflow that would happen during the course of the first few years of the business?
Betsy Boughner: Yeah, I actually thought that you'd snap your fingers and put all this work and immediately maybe be successful. I had a pretty big credit card debt to start off with.
Yeah, it was eye opening every time, I, we would do a job. And we would collect our fees, our staging fees or rental fees, and just how quickly that disappeared out of my bank account. Cause I had to pay other people or I had to reinvest into the company. But I, I really do believe that in order to probably make money, you have to spend money.
So reinvesting in yourself and in the company was one of the first things I learned that I felt was really important in order to be successful.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Before we started recording, we were talking about this whole idea about romanticizing entrepreneurship. And I'm just wondering, when you had the reality of the cash outlay and not being profitable for a couple of years.
And,I'm guessing maybe an, a lumpy, unpredictable income or cashflow stream, did it, did you go through a period of adjustment of thinking, all right, I have to figure out more, better how I'm going to manage this cashflow or, what stages did you go through in order to get more financially sophisticated about it?
Betsy Boughner: Yeah, absolutely. I think there were also periods, not only that, which I'll address, but there were periods of, is this worth it? The amount of time that I spent, either doing the job, thinking about the job, creating ways to maybe be more successful. What are my goals? And it's still, to this day, 24/7 owning your own company and running your own business.
Lot of late nights, a lot of weekends, especially because I wanted to be present for my kids. So that was really important. Sothere's chunks of day from three o'clock to nine o'clock where I'm either at sporting events or chauffeuring kids around or making dinner that I'm not working. And then at 9, 9:30, 10 I'm back on the computer, I'm working til midnight or so, and then on the weekends, packing for jobs, organizing things.
So it's, it's yeah. It's not as romantic, I think as everybody would say owning your own business, it's a lot of work. But as far as the cashflow is concerned, I definitely had to take a step back. I think at one point, we had close to 30 homes going on at the same time and I had to take a step back and say, okay, I either spend a lot more money right now and buy a lot more inventory or I'm going to start turning down jobs. And thankfully it all started to even out where neither one of those things had to happen. I'm always spending money on inventory. If I, we have to keep up with the trends, what people are seeing on TV, what they like. So if rattan is a really popular item, I need to go out and buy some rattan chairs, rattan items, different things.
So I'm always spending money for inventory because I need to keep my homes looking fresh and looking good, but there's definitely, there has to be a pause button on some of that, because I have to look at what's coming in and what's going out. And I now have four employees that work for me. So I have to be able to pay them.
I have to be able to pay the rental for the warehouse. I have to be able to pay all those hidden fees that we talked about earlier that go on behind owning a business. So it's definitely something I look at probably every day.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Actually that was one of the questions I was going to ask you about your team.
You had mentioned we, and you mentioned, you four people. So when did you hire your first person and were there, how did you decide when it was time to hire more people?
Betsy Boughner: It was probably a little over a year ago that I came to the decision that, you know, in order to grow the business in the way that I wanted it to grow, it was time to bring on help. I had always had people in the summer. My niece, when she was home from college, she would always pitch in. The summertime is a very busy time for us. I would always have people like that helping me, which was great, but it really, it was time a little over a year ago for me to change directions a little bit and say, I'm going to reinvest in the company in the way of hiring people. And one of the really important things to me was hiring someone who was a certified home stager, for example. I had someone who was interested and she went ahead and took the course and she became certified.
And then, it's a lot of, I would say, on the job training. So she was with me for a lot of consultations. She's with me for every staging vacant staging we do, it takes me about a half day to set up and to take down a home if it's vacant, meaning bringing all the furniture in, all the artwork, the rugs, everything. And then right around that same time too, I realized I'm good at social media, but I'm not great at social media. And you have to be really great at social media these days. So I hired someone who not only is an interior designer, but she's great at social media and she helps me with staging.
So there's a lot of overlay. I have a content writer, she helps me with all my blogs. She also helps me with all my staging. So it really, everybody is great at what they do. They're probably better at it than, they're probably better at what they do than I am at it. I'm good at all of it, but I think it's really important to have people who are better at their skillset than you are and surround yourself around those people.
And then I think that's what really builds a great team. So we're all very supportive of each other. And we're, I think very, appreciative and supportive of our skill sets that we bring to the company.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. That all sounds, it's, you're giving everyone some very good, it's like a primer on entrepreneurship here.
And I'll ask you one more question in that vein, and then I'm going to switch to something else and then we're going to have to wind up. I wanted to know how do you decide how much to charge.
Betsy Boughner:I, it basically looks at how much there's a labor charge and then there is a rental charge. And then you combine the two and that's pretty much where I come up with our fees.
So I, we have an hourly rate. I judge, I see every single home in person that we stage. To me, no home is a cookie cutter project because I really don't think, home should not look the same when they're on the market. So we don't have packages. We don't have anything like that. So we'll go and we'll visit each home and determine what pieces need to be put in the home.
And then based on that calculates the rental cost of the furniture, the accessories, and then there's what we call a staging fee. And that's our labor that is involved in setting up and taking down a home.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And then you also have to move other furniture out of the home, right?
Betsy Boughner: Typically the sellers, yeah, typically the sellers will have moved all of their stuff out. We also do model homes. So a builder obviously will have an empty home that we will come in and furnish. We also just help people add to their own furnishings. So if you were selling your home, we would come in and work with you with your own furnishings, your own accessories. And there might be areas where we can help. So they can rent from us artwork, table decor, bookshelving,rugs, pillows, something to give their home, that little extra flare on the MLS photos and for the showing. And that is one of the greatest things I would say about owning your own business is that it's so fluid.
You can really tailor what you do to people. There's no, yes or no answer, you can pretty much do anything. I think, as long as you're willing to be flexible and work with the homeowner, work with the seller, work with the agent, it's, you can do it, you can do it all.
Carol Fishman Cohen: You know, I'm getting back to more of a focus on the relaunching piece.
I'm just thinking about occupational therapy to pharmaceutical sales, your, to your career break and to your entrepreneurial company in home staging. Do you see any kind of a link between any of those?
Betsy Boughner: Probably. I love to work with people. I love, I cannot imagine myself sitting behind a computer or in a desk all the time.
That's just, that's not who I am. So I love to stay busy. My husband will say sometimes I'm too busy, but I just, I work better when I have a million things going on. And I just think I really like to be out there. I like to work with people and, I would never have said I'm a creative person.
I'm a terrible artist. I can't paint. I can't draw, but I can visually see things and I can visually appreciate when something will look good when something will look bad. And, I always say to people when I'm in their homes, let them see your space, not your stuff. And that's always really how I've lived.
Even I would say, as a teenager, I was always pretty neat and tidy, so I don't know. Yeah. I think there's probably a link between every phase in my life to get me to here.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And I'm just thinking when you described it, you never had a desk job.
Betsy Boughner: Yeah, never.
Carol Fishman Cohen: So none of those are desk jobs. You are always out there with the job, but doing very different things, but there's a commonality there.
Wow. And one other question, certain expertise that you developed, like you said, I was pretty good at social media. How did you get pretty good at social media?
Betsy Boughner: A lot of YouTube videos and asking my teenagers for help.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Yes. And just a plug here, because relaunchers will tell us, even when they're in corporate jobs with that Google searching and YouTube video tutorials are the first line of defense for relaunchers learning something or reviewing something that they haven't looked at for a long time.
Betsy Boughner: I agree. 100%.
Carol Fishman Cohen: That's great. All right, Betsy, I want to know if we can end with asking you the question that we ask all of our podcast guests, and that is, what is your best piece of advice for our relauncher audience, even if it's something that we've already talked about today.
Betsy Boughner: So I have two pieces of advice, and one, we really did touch on it a little bit, but it's surrounding yourself around people who are supportive of what you're doing, what you want to do, your goals. For me that was hiring people who are better at a skill set than I am. That really has created a nice working team. So, surrounding yourself with good people who want to work hard.
And, my second one and I tell my kids this all the time, always ask for chances. I tell my kids that the worst thing is that someone will say no. And if that's the worst thing, then that's actually not so bad. There's a quote that I love, and I say to them all the time that, "it's better to ask and hear no than to ask and wonder what if." And I think when you look at when I started Porchlight Home Staging, I really, I had to pick up that phone and call and ask for a chance to just get in front of people, even just to educate them, even if they weren't going to hire me, just to educate them about what home staging was. And then, cross your fingers, hopefully they're going to call or email or text you and ask you to come look at something. So just always ask, always ask for a chance.
Carol Fishman Cohen: It's so interesting to me that when you made this last career transition, the first thing that you did was to focus on the certificate program and the professional development piece of it, after you figured out that's what you wanted to do. And to lead with the credential, I thought that was, that was important. And for our listeners in the Pittsburgh area, I wanted to know if you could tell us how they can find out more about PorchLight Home Staging?
Betsy Boughner: Oh, sure. Yeah. Thank you. So we have a great website. It's www.porchlighthomestaging.com. All one word Porchlight. And on our website, you'll learn a little bit about us, what we do, how we can help you. We also have a great portfolio of recent projects that we've done. I think it's always important, when you're hiring,we're in the service industry and it's always important to see someone's work. So we have a lot of portfolio pictures on there. We have our blog on there that we update every single month, with just a lot of interesting information. So that is our website and then we're really active on Instagram. So our Instagram is @porchlighthome.
We're always doing these fun reels and videos and pictures, and I'm helping agents market the homes that we're staging because it's really important to get, I always tell them to get as many eyeballs as you can on this home that you're listing. So we try to help them out in that way. So @porchlighthome.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Great. Thank you very much. And Betsy, thanks for joining us today.
Betsy Boughner: Thank you so much. It was really fun.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, it was fun for me too. And thanks for listening to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice, and success stories. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the CEO and Co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. For more information on iRelaunch conferences and events, to sign up for our job board and access our return to work tools and resources, go to irelaunch.com. And if you liked this podcast, be sure to rate it on Apple podcasts and your favorite podcast platform, and be sure to share this podcast with a friend on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media.
Thanks for joining us.