Keki is the definition of go-getter. She brings a genuine and personable attitude that’s unmistakable. She also started her own home staging & design business with two little kids in tow when it was still an undefined category. Read about why she’s so infectious and how she’s defied the odds.
1. What did you study in school and first job out of school?
I went to U of I and studied education, but knew I didn’t want to do that. I come from a strict Hispanic family and I had been coached that it was a great secure job. I student taught at Burr Elementary School. I complained about how I was ill prepared and they offered for me to come back and get my masters full ride in something I was passionate about. I didn’t feel like I was ready to teach, and I went back to get my business education masters. I wanted to be a principal or administrator. I went into education in Highwood.
2. How did you wanted to work in interior design?
I was unhappy with my career at that time and was engaged to my now husband. He was my number one supporter to do what makes me happy. I was always fixing our little Lincoln Park condos so after 2 years of teaching, he told me to take the summer to figure it out. After summer, I decided to not go back.
3. Getting started can be the hardest part. Knowing you weren’t classically trained, how’d you get started?
Well, that was my biggest fear. I didn’t have the background, and I wasn’t going back to school. That summer I would dial-up on the internet [yes, back in the dial up days of AOL], and I would research how to be an interior designer. One day my husband came home and he said, “The condo on the corner is for sale. Let’s buy it for investment. We’ll buy it, you fix it up and let’s see what we can do with it.” I changed out everything with my own two hands. And I sold it. When he saw that, he came home and was like you should do this.
4. So did you immediately start your own business?
No, actually I completely put it on hold for 2.5-3 years because I had a baby and another one on the way. I always knew it was there, but the time wasn’t right. I knew I wanted to be a full time mom, but I wanted a full time job. And I didn’t want to miss anything at home. The only solution was a mom boss. When my second was 6 months old, we put the boys down for bed one night, and I decided I was ready. I fired up my laptop, and I just started working. It was big in NYC and CA, and still not here [in Illinois]. I signed up for a course over the weekend and ended up taking 6 months of online courses. The best to get started was an in person 3 day course. During every nap time, I started working on my website and trying to figure out marketing. I didn’t tell anyone other than my husband.
5. When was Cecilia Cannon Staging & Interiors born?
By August, I was turning 30. I threw myself a huge 30th birthday party. Facebook was starting to get big, and I invited literally everyone I knew. I stood in our backyard at the party, and said, “Thank you for coming tonight and celebrating my birthday. I have a big announcement. I’m starting my own business in staging and interior design. I’ll design your home for free.” I started handing out business cards and networking at my party. I offered to stage their homes for free.
6. Growth of your business over the last 8 years. How have things changed?
August of 2009 was my launch, and it was soon after the market crashed. There’s something to say about the stories where it happened at the right moment. People needed to sell their condos and whatnot, and staging came into play. When people started googling how do I sell, home staging started popping up. There were 3 stagers in Chicago and now there’s over 3,300. It’s exploded.
At that time, I created fliers and would go up and down streets, and I’d put my flier and business cards on for sale signs. I worked so hard to get my name out there that I’d even have my kids nap in the car so I could drive around and work while they slept. When I could coordinate with my mom or sitter, I would get dressed up and would go to all of the real estate office with flowers and cookies. I ended up becoming friends with receptionists because on Tuesdays everyone was in the office. It took me 2 months where finally people would start to see me. It was months of putting myself out there and slowly things started trickling in. After 8 or 9 months of self-marketing, I finally started to have breakthroughs, and I’d have a staged house every week.
7. How do you balance between home staging and interior design?
For Chicago and the Midwest, we’re very seasonal because of the weather. Between October and January, families and home owners settle in for the winter. Super Bowl Sunday through the summer is high tide. Beginning January 1st, the emails and phone calls are endless because everyone is gearing up for mid-February. In the suburbs, it goes into mid-march. Summer and fall is all interiors, but I have to finish before Christmas because then I flip back to staging. June flips back to interiors.
8. What are you most excited for in the next 24 months?
Personally I take it day by day. Many successful women are so type A. You have to take it morning by morning. I wake up early and get going. Professionally, I want to influence outside of the Chicago area, and I know that is through online. I want to offer services through eDesigns. Small town in Minnesota. I want to take it past Chicago.
9. What advice would you give to someone that’s just starting out?
If you’re just starting in staging take your courses and get certified because there’s so much competition right now. If you’re just starting something entrepreneurial, get rid (and stay away from) all of the naysayers. Block people who aren’t kind.
Affectionately known to her friends as Millennial Martha for her love of DIY and decorating, Jen can’t help but pour her heart + soul into everything she touches. She’s loved to entertain since acquiring a table and chairs, and giving gifts is one of her favorite hobbies. Jen is the creator of Girl Meets Party. Her dream is to share her passions with the world in hopes to inspire others by making the seemingly unattainable attainable.