Spectrum Design Group

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Divine Intersections…Continued

I’ve always been a person who predominantly looks ahead, but I find it important to regularly take a moment to look back to see where I’ve been. The story of SDG is special to me. Mostly because it’s not about me or anything I did. It is an amazing story of “divine intersections” of people and situations. The outcome is an incredible group of people working together, creating beautiful spaces, and establishing meaningful, long-lasting relationships with our clients and providers. Many of you know our story, but if you don’t, here is the full 2022 version including the latest chapter.

The Great Recession

In 2007, I accepted a position with an architectural firm to manage their new local office in Champaign. My family and I moved to the area knowing very little about it and even fewer people. Two years later, the great recession hit, the long-standing firm went bankrupt, and I was unemployed. Thankfully, I was able to take over the work in process so my clients could complete their projects and I could provide for my family.

One afternoon, I met a client at Tile Specialists to select flooring for their office. Afterward, Karl Smith, the owner of TSI, walked in to introduce himself. Through our conversation, I conveyed my vision for making high-quality interior design approachable. He shared that he had started a company named “Spectrum” with the hopes to be able to offer integrated design services to its commercial clients and expand into the residential market. A week later, former colleague Kimberly Fletcher and I signed on and Spectrum Design Group was formed. We had a horribly slow start, but we worked hard, learned much, and slowly built the business. Nearly three years later, Spectrum Design Group began to sustain itself.

As we grew, we knew we needed another designer but struggled for months to find the right person. In the spring of 2012, I attended a continuing education class and was seated next to Dawn Bane during lunch. Two weeks later, we welcomed Dawn as the newest member of SDG. The future looked amazing!

When Companies Merge

Six months after becoming a team of four, we were told that our parent company was merging with another firm and SDG was not included in the agreement. We quickly put together a business plan and our owner graciously created a standalone LLC for Spectrum Design Group. By January 2013, we were flying solo with four employees and the future looked a little foggy.

By late spring, it was apparent that we were overstaffed, and our overhead was going to take us down quickly. I scheduled an afternoon team meeting to share these realities, but before the meeting could happen, my co-director walked into my office and told me that her husband had accepted a job out of state which meant they had to move. Then, in the middle of that conversation, our office administrator interrupted to let us know she was taking a job at the University of Illinois. I thought, “Wow, that’s not how I thought it would go, but the needed cuts were made without saying a word and everyone landed well.” Later, I shared the news with Dawn and asked if she was still on board to which she replied, “Yes, but I’m pregnant!” I call this the “Day of Attrition.”

Less than a year later, I purchased the business, Dawn came back from maternity leave, and we worked hard to keep SDG growing. The future looked daunting.

Moving On Up

As a team of two, we needed to move out of the cavernous building we once occupied with our former parent company. The search had gone on for months to find a location that not only met our needs, but also one we could afford. Out of the blue, a long-time local designer called me to say she was retiring, and she wanted me to take over her space. The timing was down to the wire, and we had to do considerable work to make it our own, but the building couldn’t have been more perfect. We moved into our current location in an old Victorian on University Avenue in 2014.

By late 2015, we had settled into our new home and were seeing the fruit of our efforts. It became clear we needed another designer. Again, we struggled to find the right fit.

One morning, out of desperation, we decided to put a “We’re Hiring” tab on our website. Later that day, I had a meeting with one of our fabricators. When the meeting concluded, I asked the project manager if he would introduce me to the person on their staff who was a fellow alum of Taylor University. That person was Cory Rodeheaver. We exchanged contact info, figured out we knew some of the same people, and five minutes later I was on my way back to the office. When I returned, I opened my email to find a message from Cory saying he saw the “We’re Hiring” tab on our website. Cory joined our group in February 2016.

Continuing to Grow

Two years later, it once more became clear we needed to change our process to better care for our clients and make our projects run more smoothly. To make it work, we needed someone to help bring more structure to our creative environment, but the position had to be part-time.

Again, we toiled for months trying to find somebody not only with the required skill set, but also someone who fit the culture we worked so hard to create. We had known Kara Vanskike for a couple of years, yet we understood she was in a season of life where a job outside the home wasn’t practical. Then one day she reached out to say she was ready to step back into the workplace, but only part-time. Kara joined the team in January 2019.

That year we celebrated our 10th anniversary. It was a great year and the momentum continued into 2020. The first quarter of 2020 was full of big internal plans, including the launch of a new website, and exciting external projects.

The 2020 Thing

We were only a couple of weeks away from Q2 when the world crashed. Thankfully, working remotely was an option for us, and our services were considered “essential.” We did what we could to find the silver lining in the new reality we found ourselves in, like living at a slower pace and having more time with our families, lots more time with our families.

Like everyone else, we made many pivots to find a way to keep creating and operating. Some projects did pause, while other projects started. We are forever grateful for those projects as they helped to sustain us in the trying few months of sheltering in place.

Who could have known that the pandemic would trigger an unprecedented season of growth? That new reality, coupled with navigating through raising our families during this period, proved interesting to say the least. We had several junior apprentices in the office most days but were thankful to be in a place where it was possible to have our kids join us in the office when they weren’t in class. What a crazy(town) time!

Workloads and waiting times exploded. Our biggest challenges were to find a way to scale up to meet the unprecedented demand, maintain our level of creativity, and improve the client experience, all at the same time. We knew we needed help, so in 2021 we took the leap to bring on a full-time project manager. We had known the perfect person for our team for several years, but she always felt out of reach. Thankfully, Renee Beere agreed to become the fifth member of our group and has helped elevate our product and process even further.

Looking Forward

Since SDG began, we’ve invested heavily in technology to give us the tools to be more efficient with our time. The beautiful part of that is the time saved allows us to be more creative and to learn about processes and materials that aren’t regularly used or found in central Illinois.

I’ve never been more excited about what we get to do each day. Interior design is so personal. It requires trust and a profound understanding of the people we help. Those relationships are the deepest joys of what we do. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Our history has been filled with many extraordinarily timed “divine intersections.” I am thankful to walk through this journey together with our team. We continue to learn, grow, and refine how we work and the services we offer, and are blessed to have the opportunity to continue to create personal spaces that are functional and enduring. It’s an opportunity we don’t take for granted and recognize our clients for their trust and appreciation of the work we do.

author avatar
Jeff Owner/Principal
Jeff Kaper is the owner/principal of Spectrum Design Group LLC. For over 30 years, he has helped his clients navigate the tension of form, function, budget, and disruption to create uniquely personal, enduring spaces to do life. He is a raving fan of the intrinsic joy good design brings to our daily lives. He also finds joy leading the SDG family and its story still being written.

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