September 22, 2023

You’re the Boss Blog: Why We Hired a Sales Consultant

Staying Alive

The struggles of a business trying to survive.

Editor’s note: This week, Paul Downs is writing a series of posts about his decision to hire a sales consultant.

A year ago I was in the middle of a collapse in sales, which caused me a great deal of anguish and led me to try a number of solutions. In the fall, I wrote about puzzling through the reasons for the slump and my putting a solution in place. At the time, I believed the problem resulted from a change I had made in my Google AdWords marketing and that the solution was to restructure my campaigns.

I still think that AdWords was an important contributor to the problem, but I am now convinced that the real solution came from another change I made, one I gave short shrift in my first look at the situation. In June of last year, I hired a sales consultant to provide a critical evaluation of our selling methods, to suggest changes and to work with us to carry out those recommendations. The contract for that work has just expired, and I’d like to share my thoughts on why we hired a consultant, what we learned about selling and whether I should renew the consultant’s contract.

I should start by pointing out the obvious: the solution to a shortfall in sales is — wait for it — more sales. And for me, it was not just about returning to the right number and type of inquiries but actually closing deals at an acceptable rate. Fixing my AdWords campaign did restore the number and type of customer calls we got. But to declare that that was the whole solution to our problem is to ignore what happens after an inquiry is received.

In our case, closing a deal involves a lot more than picking up the phone. We make an expensive custom product, conference tables. We need to inspire enough confidence in our customers that they will send us large amounts of money for a product before it even exists. And so we have a complex process that we use to convert a curious caller into a committed buyer. I ignored all of that when I wrote about AdWords — in part because I was still figuring out what we were doing wrong and how we could do it better.

Here’s a quick recap of our sales process at the time the trouble started. Inquiries were coming to us in two forms: as an e-mail or a phone call. In either case our response was the same. We would ask a series of technical questions meant to reveal the functional aspects of the potential client’s table needs. We wanted to learn the desired size, the anticipated number of users, the size of the room, the wiring requirements and whether we were matching any existing furniture. We would also ask about the budget.

If we received answers, we prepared a proposal. This was a pdf document that contained images of the options we recommended and information on wood choices, power/data options and pricing. These proposals were impressive. We saw them as a good way to demonstrate our engineering skills and craftsmanship, and they took advantage of all of the advances in software and communications that had become available to us. I had developed the format myself, and we had used it to good effect, with more than $16 million in sales since 2003.

I had also developed a game plan for the proposal that, in retrospect, was more a reflection of my own inclinations than a rationally thought out method. Keep in mind that I had started out at the bench, making furniture, and that making things is in my blood. I learned to sell only because it was a way to keep working. But I soon found that I had some talent for it — I’m a smooth talker, when I need to be. By 1992, I had stopped working at the bench and for the next 20 years I spent most of my time selling. I found that I enjoyed meeting new people, showing them what we could do for them and closing deals.

For many years the volume of incoming business was manageable, but in the period that has followed 2010, as we recovered from the recession, increasing call volume strained my capacity to keep up. So I developed an assembly-line method of writing proposals: ask questions, design like crazy and send them off. Next!

When I promoted one of my bench guys, Nathan Rossman, to sales representative, I taught him the same method. And when I added another sales rep, Don Wuest, a year later, he worked in the same manner. We were brilliant at responding to requests, but we did no follow-up. The funny thing is that it was working. At least it was until it wasn’t.

Tuesday: Our Sales Process Stops Working

Paul Downs founded Paul Downs Cabinetmakers in 1986. It is based outside Philadelphia.

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Vitriol Online for Cheerios Ad With Interracial Family

The commercial ends with the word “Love” on screen.

The spot, heartwarming to many, began on national television on Monday and was uploaded to YouTube on Wednesday. But it has caused a furor for the maker of Cheerios, General Mills, because an interracial cast portrays the family.

The advertisement, which features a black father and white mother, has generated vituperative comments online, but General Mills says it stands by the commercial.

The ad will “absolutely not” be withdrawn, Meredith Tutterow, associate marketing director for Cheerios and Multigrain Cheerios at General Mills in Golden Valley, Minn., said Friday.

“There are many kinds of families,” Ms. Tutterow said, “and Cheerios just wants to celebrate them all.”

The casting has attracted angry comments, many of them overtly racist. The volume of negative remarks on YouTube reached the point that General Mills has temporarily disabled the commenting function.

On the approval/disapproval counter accompanying the video, which continues to register likes and dislikes, there were more than 700 “thumbs down” as of Friday evening, compared with more than 6,400 “thumbs up.”

As those numbers suggest, the preponderance of comments online and in social media about the commercial was positive, and Ms. Tutterow added, “We’re really gratified.”

But the fact that there were so many negative remarks — including racist language — has attracted widespread attention. For example, the AdFreak blog that is part of ran a post under the title “It’s 2013, and People are Still Getting Worked Up About Interracial Couples in Ads.”

Ms. Tutterow said she was not taken aback by the amount of negative reactions or their tone, but, “We’re a bit surprised it’s turned into a story.”

General Mills always hears from consumers, pro and con, about its ads, especially a major brand like Cheerios, Ms. Tutterow said. She added that the YouTube comments would be enabled again, but she did not know when.

The interracial family cast might be the first for a Cheerios commercial, Ms. Tutterow said.

But it is certainly not the first TV commercial for a major consumer brand to depict an interracial family.

There was speculation that the presence of an interracial family in an ad for a brand as familiar and ubiquitous as Cheerios may have generated the attention, or perhaps it was the debate on the front page of the popular social-news site Reddit.

General Mills reacted quickly to the negative comments as they began arriving in midweek. After a Twitter user wrote on Wednesday about the “horrible, racist comments” on YouTube, a reply was sent from the official Cheerios Twitter feed that thanked him “for the head’s up,” adding, “They’ve since been removed.”

The commercial was produced by Saatchi Saatchi in New York, part of the Publicis Groupe.

Lynne Collins, a spokeswoman at the agency, said, “It is important for us to make sure the work reflects the people we’re trying to sell products to.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 31, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the word that is displayed onscreen at the end of the Cheerios commercial. It is “Love,” not “Smile.”

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Bucks: Tracking Your Finances, One Number at a Time

I think it’s true that if I want to improve my performance in something, I need to measure and track it. As Thomas Monson, an author and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said: “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates.”

I’ve certainly seen this in my life. It’s pretty amazing the difference it makes in my exercise habits when I can see on my watch how far I’ve gone and how fast I’m running. Just a little feedback sharpens my focus.

For some people, the simple act of stepping on a scale first thing in the morning and recording what it says helps manage weight.

This seems like a simple thing. In fact, when it comes to improving our financial situation, it feels as if it’s too simple. So we don’t do it. I wonder if something super simple, like tracking a single number, consistently and for a long time, may be the subtle nudge we need to improve our finances.

Most of the people I talk to, regardless of income or net worth, have no budget or financial plan. So it’s pretty clear that anything that we can do consistently will be better than the nothing we’re currently doing.

So the question I have is: How simple can we make this process and still see improvement?

What if we just tracked one number consistently, over a long period of time?

Which number would be both easy and beneficial?

The default answer is usually spending, but the idea of tracking spending makes people think of budgeting, and budgeting has a marketing problem — very few people like to do it. But it can be effective and simple.

Take 10 minutes at the end of each day and record what you spent. Use a notebook or your favorite app and track it. Over time, you start to see patterns. You learn things you didn’t know about yourself in terms of what your spending says about your priorities. That will naturally lead to change.

One of the reasons I focus on spending is that people think tracking doesn’t help. A great (or not so great) example is the time I taught a financial literacy class to people who were working their way out of the local homeless shelter. The first week, 20 people would show up. I gave them a pocket-size spiral notebook and asked them to record everything they spent for one week and to come back so we could move onto the next step. No one ever came back. After a few weeks, we canceled the class.

And it’s not just people in the homeless shelter who seem to have issues when you mention tracking spending. Most of the people I talk to who make more than $100,000 a year and have money invested think they are way beyond budgeting. So they don’t do it either.

But maybe what you spend each day is the wrong number to focus on.

What about tracking a different number like the value of your savings, investments and retirement account? Once a week, you add up the balances and write down that number. Measure it over time. Just one piece of paper with a simple line graph.

Would that lead to change?

I like this idea because it’s what many of us are focused on: having enough money saved to meet some future goal like sending your children to college or retirement. It seems to me that by just focusing on that one number, a lot of the noise goes away.

Another idea would be even simpler. Track the amount you are able to able to save each week or month. That’s a number that gets rid of the short-term variation that comes from the market and focuses clearly on something that we have control over — how much we save. In theory, if you focus on that one number, you will find ways to improve it. That could mean you will find ways to spend less, earn more, or both. Because you want to see that number go up.

Since I know many of you have tried one or all of these things, tell me what your experience has been.

  • What number(s) do you track?
  • How often do you track them?
  • How do you remind yourself to do it?
  • Have you seen improvement?

I think we all know that some improvement, any improvement, is better than standing still. Maybe something simple like tracking and measuring a single number will give us the nudge we need to be smarter about our money.

So, what’s your number?

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You’re the Boss Blog: Why We Never Use Professional Recruiters

Building the Team

Hiring, firing, and training in a new era.

This column is called “Building the Team.” It’s about leadership, which I’ve focused on in my first few posts and will return to later. It’s also about training, talent development, goal setting, culture and career development. But it starts with getting the right people on the team, and that’s the theme I will address in my next few posts.

The first step is recruiting, and my view is straightforward:

1. Always be recruiting.
2. Do it yourself. Don’t outsource to a professional.
3. The process is just like any other marketing or sales campaign.

The reason to always be recruiting is obvious. You just never know where and when you might meet extraordinary talent (I’ll write more about this in a coming post). The reasons to do it yourself may be less apparent. Isn’t that what professional recruiters are for?

According to the American Staffing Association, the industry for search and permanent replacement services generated $11.5 billion in revenue in 2011. Clearly, given the size of the market, many companies find value in hiring an external recruiter. But I would bet good money that this industry will shrink over the next five years because of one company: LinkedIn.

LinkedIn now has 202 million users, up 39 percent from last year, according to its most recent quarterly earnings announcement. It adds two new members every second. Why do so many people use LinkedIn? It is the place for employees to find a future employer and for employers to find their future team members.

Here’s how we use LinkedIn for recruiting campaigns to build our team:

Define the role. We can’t start recruiting until we know the position we are trying to fill. When a manager on our team requests budget for a new head count, we ask the following questions: What are the goals for this person? What are the day-to-day activities? To whom will he or she report? What is the expected compensation?

Develop the candidate profile. Before we begin a search, we have to know who we are looking for: Is there someone within H.Bloom who is the perfect profile for this position? If not, what are the attributes that we believe are most important for the role? These attributes will help us filter as we review hundreds of candidates online: years of experience, previous experience, specific skills, educational background, location, work at a particular type of company.

Build a list of potential candidates. LinkedIn makes this easy. Here’s the process:

First, upgrade to a premium account. The price varies based on how many LinkedIn e-mails (called InMail) you want to send to candidates you find on the site. The options start at $24.95 a month for the Business Edition, which allows for three e-mails per month, and go up to $499.95 per month for Talent Pro, which allows for 50 InMails per month. If someone doesn’t reply to your e-mail within seven days, that credit is put back into your InMail account. I subscribe to Talent Pro, and I have never found myself wanting for more InMails. At first, I thought this was expensive. But when I compared it with the approximately $20,000 that I would have had to spend for a recruiter for one new hire, I recognized the cost savings.

Once you have set up your account, click on Advanced to the right of the search box at the upper right of the home page. This brings you to the Advanced People Search page where you can enter the job attributes that you have already identified. There are spaces for name, location, company, school and then additional search criteria like industry, seniority level, company size and years of experience. Once you’ve finished entering the attributes you are searching for, click search to see the candidates who meet your specifications.

You will receive a list of profiles. Click on a name to see that person’s entire online résumé. You can also see if the person is connected to anyone you know personally. When you find someone who meets your requirements, send him or her a message by clicking on Send InMail.

Develop your pitch. LinkedIn makes it easy to find the right candidates to target. But it’s up to you to create a persuasive pitch that will grab the attention of someone who is content in a current job. Here’s what we think about when developing an initial pitch:

• What our company does. It is important to convey this up front.

• Why our company is different. We describe our growth (to show real traction), investors (to demonstrate a stamp of approval from someone else) and press (to convey that we are unique within our industry).

• What we are looking for. We define the role, its potential impact and why we think the candidate might be a fit.

• Suggest a simple goal for the e-mail, a next step like setting up a call or a coffee meeting.

• Try to create urgency by saying something like, “I’ll be in town next week.”

• Keep it short. Your e-mail will be received out of the blue. You want to provide enough information to pique the person’s interest.

• Work on a catchy subject line. Think about the profile you are targeting. What is the best one-liner to grab this person’s attention?

It is a numbers game. Dan Portillo, a partner at the venture capital firm Greylock Partners (which was an early investor in LinkedIn) published a presentation recently where he described what he called the 100 Rule: To find one person worthy of an offer, you need to contact 10 to 15 candidates. To find 10 to 15 people worthy of offers, you need to contact 100 potential candidates. In other words, the conversion rate is from 10 to 15 percent.

Always respond. If someone takes the time to write back to your unsolicited e-mail, take the time to send a thank you e-mail, even if the person is not interested at this time.

We have used this recruiting process to grow to 80 employees without ever using a professional recruiter. Next, I’ll provide a specific example with the details of how we used LinkedIn for a recent recruiting campaign.

Have you tried recruiting through LinkedIn? How did it work for you?

Bryan Burkhart is a founder of H.Bloom. You can follow him on Twitter.

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You’re the Boss Blog: Why a Mediocre Web Site Is So Dangerous

Site Analysis

What’s wrong with this Web site?

In my last post, I asked, “Can a Marketing Contest Increase Sales for This Online Retailer?

The online retailer, you may recall, was Don Chernoff, the inventor of SkyRoll, a carry-on bag that was designed to minimize wrinkles in suits and shirts. SkyRoll has sold thousands of units in retail stores but relatively few through the company’s Web site. In an effort to bolster the site’s traffic and sales, Mr. Chernoff created the “Crazy Carry-On Contest.” Unfortunately, the contest has done little to improve the site’s performance. We asked the readers of this column to take a look at the site and offer their views on why the site is failing to deliver sales and why the contest has failed to generate buzz.

As usual, the readers zeroed in on the crucial issues, offering insights and providing a lot of practical advice. When selling online, there are three things you have to do: make people want to buy your product, create a level of trust so people will be willing to buy from you and make the buying process as simple and intuitive as possible. The readers clearly believe (as do I) that the site has failed in all three areas.

Lucy, from Moab, Utah: “I wondered if there would be enough room for everything else I wanted to carry if I used this system. An artist’s line drawing of an X-ray view of the bag, with items nestled within and around the roll would be helpful. Or possibly a photo of everything that fit within the bag laid out for all to see. After all, potential customers of Skyroll already use a carry on roller bag AND a garment bag. Surely a concern would be, ‘Could I fit everything into this one bag?’”

Sporty from Atlanta: “The description on how to use the bag makes it sound really complicated and shuts down the sale. Why not simply do a lovely video that shows how easy it really easy to pack clothes. Additionally, it is not clear how much can fit in the cylinder. That can be shown on the video as well.”

In addition, I’d like to give a big thank you to Jen in New York who found the site for Max Mirani luggage. This site succeeds in many ways that SkyRoll does not. Starting with the home page, the site has a clean, uncluttered design. And as you can see below, it demonstrates the capacity of the luggage through illustration and explanation, making it much easier for visitors to decide if this is the right product for them.

Readers also picked up on the fact that little seems to have been invested in the SkyRoll site. Lucy from Moab thought there needed to be “more excitement,” while Susan from North Carolina didn’t mince words. “It is a terrible Web site,” she wrote. “The paragraphs are disjointed, with way too many words. The product itself looks great, but obviously no one with marketing experience was involved. And frankly the Web site construction is flat and dated as well.”

New York’s Anonymous Coward summed up the issues: “The big problem is there is nothing on the home page that says this item is for sale. The site looks like a brochure and not an e-commerce site. There needs to be something on the front page that tells the visitors, ‘we sell great bags and you can BUY THEM NOW.’ Right now it just says ‘we make great bags’.”

Mr. Chernoff was especially interested in reader reaction to his Crazy Carry-On Contest, which was introduced in March but has generated little buzz. Site visitors were invited to submit photographs and videos of odd or unusual carry-on bags, but few have been submitted. The readers were not impressed.

Joshua from Maine: “It took me a while to find (the contest) on the site. It’s not really a contest if winning is that you own and post their picture on your site. You may consider a time frame and offering an actual prize, such as a free bag. The problem with the contest as it currently stands is that you first have to find the product, then the contest.”

Jen in New York: “I think the owner needs to be very clear on who his intended audience is, and then design the message and site accordingly. I can’t imagine that the ideal customer is the same person that might engage in this contest (photos/videos of funny, weird carry-ons might be more of a college student thing).”

The contest was also featured on SkyRoll’s Facebook page, but that did little to generate interest. “I checked out your Facebook page — obviously something that you want visitors to the site to do since it’s so prominent on the homepage,” wrote LeNerd. “You’ve got people submitting content on the Facebook page, but you’re not responding to them! Granted, you don’t have a large enough fan base yet to get a constant stream, but why would you leave those excited customers hanging out to dry? One person asked about submitting photos for the contest on the Facebook page, and you told them to do it via email instead. Why? It’s so much more compelling to see user-generated content right away!”

Mr. Chernoff Responds

Mr. Chernoff thought most readers missed the point. He was looking for better ways to promote the contest and was surprised how much people were focusing on the presentation of the contest on the Web. “I was not looking for advice on Web site design,” he said. “The Web site is not the vehicle for promoting the contest. Having people write or blog about it is the goal.”

He said it would be difficult to set deadlines for the contest or to offer rewards because, to date, there has only been one entry. “If we get a steady stream of entries and the contest gathers momentum,” he said, “I can see giving away a free SkyRoll every month or so to the best entry.”

He also dismissed the more general comments about the site. “There was a lot of hipster whining about our Web site, but very little actionable advice,” he said. “I disagree with the many comments that say I need a ‘call to action’ and that the site isn’t ‘sales oriented.’ The site is designed to explain a product that is unique and benefits from explanation. It is easy to buy one. There is a ‘Where to buy’ link on the home page and a ‘buy now’ button on each product page.”

My Take

Mr. Chertoff says his goal is to get bloggers to write about the “Crazy Carry-On Contest” because he feels that kind of attention will create buzz, traffic, participation and, ultimately, more sales. But I’m not sure he understands the way bloggers and other “influencers” work.

Some influencers wield enormous power. The reason they enjoy huge audiences is because they provide information that is of real value to their audiences. They succeed because they do their homework and only endorse Web sites and products that they genuinely like and respect.

Every time influencers recommend a site or a product, they put their own credibility on the line. And contrary to what Mr. Chernoff says, his Web site is the most important place for promoting the contest. Unless your  site presents the contest in a creative and fun way, no influencer is going to risk his or her credibility by sending readers to your site.

If Mr. Chernoff is fortunate enough to get bloggers to visit his site, what will they find when they get there?

•    The contest is buried on the bottom navigation of the home page.
•    The contest page looks slapped together.
•    The few photographs posted aren’t particularly “crazy.”
•    The videos have nothing to do with the contest.
•    There are no prizes offered.
•    There is no time frame.

This is not a case of “build it and they will come.” Mr. Chernoff needs to build it extremely well before anyone will come — and recommend that others follow. This will not be cheap and this will not be easy. A Web site and its marketing and promotion are a reflection of the brand behind the site. If a contest looks slapped together, it will all but guarantee that visitors will not come back — and they certainly won’t buy from your site.

While Mr. Chernoff was not looking for a review of his Web site, the site itself is at the heart of the difficulties he has been having. Without a redesign and a more creative and structured approach to the contest, the site will not draw much traffic, the contest will not get much buy-in and visitors will not purchase SkyRolls in  significant numbers.

When conceiving a contest — or any other attempt to drive traffic with user-generated content — it’s important to keep a few things in mind:

•    Make sure the contest aims at an audience of potential and current customers.
•    Give them incentives to contribute (prizes, recognition).
•    Give them reasons to keep coming back (pick daily, weekly, monthly winners or featured contributors).
•    Promote the contest through multiple channels (like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube).
•    Promote the contest on appropriate travel blogs.
•    Create new contests and promotions on a regular basis.

A good example is a contest created by the Irish brewery Guinness. The Guinness Storehouse is a combination museum, visitor center, pub, brewery and restaurant. Thousands of visitors tour the storehouse each year, so Guinness created a contest to encourage visitors to share their photos of the Storehouse online. More than 20,000 people have done so, making the contest an enormous success. The contest offers monthly prizes, and it awards a grand prize of 1,000 pounds. And Guinness actively promotes the contest on its Twitter account.

Here’s the bottom line: Any business that fails to take its online business as seriously as its offline business is committing economic suicide. Introducing a mediocre Web site or online promotion with a minimal budget and little thought is worse than a waste of money. It sends a message that you are unprofessional or incompetent or both. Your Web site can be your single most important marketing and sales tool. Do it right or don’t do it at all.

Would you like to have your business’s Web site or mobile app reviewed? This is an opportunity for companies looking for an honest (and free) appraisal of their online presence and marketing efforts.

To be considered, please tell me about your experiences — why you started your site, what works, what doesn’t and why you would like to have the site reviewed — in an e-mail to

Gabriel Shaoolian is the founder and chief executive of
Blue Fountain Media, a Web design, development and marketing company based in New York.

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Square Feet: Laurie Zucker

Q You’re part of an elite club — the daughters of developers active themselves in commercial real estate. Has it been hard being a woman in this industry?

A In the beginning, certainly, it was harder. I would often be the only woman in a room. It’s easier for women now. I’m on the construction jobs a lot and I walk around by myself; I have no fear whatsoever. Still, I am often the only woman around.

Q Is your father active in the business?

A I do run the company, but it is a family company; I work with my dad. He is still very active and he does his thing and I do my thing.

Q And what does that include?

A He’s very good at identifying sites and handling financing. I am pretty much the detail person. I do a lot of the design work: I select materials for the apartments and public spaces, and I’m instrumental in the marketing. I also oversee the management of all the properties.

Q What’s it like working with your father?

A I started in 1977. I had a chair, and my desk was my lap. In the beginning it was difficult for us to find our place — I was young and trying to make my mark somewhere — but I think we found a very nice place for both of us.

When we first started out, my father was mostly a mortgage broker. He developed a couple of buildings, and the person who was managing the buildings for us died suddenly; he ended up de facto having to take over the management. We added more and more people and buildings.

Q And you continue to add buildings, like Love Lane Mews in Brooklyn Heights.

A Construction is just about done there. There are 30-some-odd layouts in the 38 apartments, priced from $1.050 million, for a one-bedroom, to $4.250 million, for a three-bedroom. We started selling in December, and we have eight contracts either signed or in the process of being signed.

This was a renovation of a group of buildings that were previously a garage, but we saved a lot of the original brick walls, and we have the garage in the building. So if you buy an apartment, you will have a parking space in an attended garage.

Q Is 55 Thompson fully leased?

A We started leasing in September, and occupancy started in November. We are about 90 percent leased. We have a town house that enters on Sullivan Street, which is part of the project, that we just completed and is going on the market. Rents start at $6,000, for a one-bedroom, and go up to $25,000, for a three-bedroom. There are only 38 apartments.

Q And 34 East 22nd Street?

A We just started renting. Thirty-four is a walk-up brownstone that we gut-renovated; there are eight apartments in all. We’re asking $4,995 up to $6,595. They’re all one-bedrooms, but the ones that are more expensive have large terraces.

I did 34 and 36 without my dad.

Q No. 36 is the Story House.

A There’s a story behind the Story House. It used to be the offices of Frederick Warne Company Publishing, which published the Beatrix Potter series and stories from Brothers Grimm like “The Frog Prince.”

The eight apartments are loft floor-throughs, two- and three-bedrooms. We felt we could get families in the building, so we thought the Story House was a great way to market the building. Prices start at $3 million, and go up to $3.895 million, for the top-floor apartment. That is an average of $1,517 a square foot.

Most of the marketing campaign is very whimsical: our brochure is a cloth-bound storybook, and it’s a fairy tale that we wrote about how a fairy wanted to do something wonderful with the building and she created these fabulous apartments.

Q Were you always interested in real estate?

A I was actually a piano major in school. I didn’t want to teach and I wasn’t good enough to be a concert player, plus I hated performing in front of people, so that was not an option. I actually always worked for my dad on vacations in high school, and I enjoyed it.

Q Do you still play the piano?

A I take piano lessons every Wednesday morning at 8. It forces me to sit down for an hour.

Q What else do you do in your spare time?

A I’m an avid knitter. It’s sort of like building a building — at the end you have something to show for it. I don’t knit at meetings, because it’s really unacceptable.

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Bucks: Thursday Reading: Unplugging for the Week

April 21

Thursday Reading: Unplugging for the Week

Marking screen-free week, marketing to kids with online games, apps for the royal wedding and other consumer-focused news from The New York Times.

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