When the daughter of Mountain Brook decorator Alison Gorrie was gearing up for college in 2011, Allison had a specific vision for a shelf-like cubby that could wrap above and around a twin bed in her daughter’s dorm room. Alison found that what she envisioned didn’t exist on the market, so she did what any decorator would do — she had it custom made. A couple of years and a lot of cubby buzz later, Alison and her good friend Kate Phillips were in business together.
Kate’s son had begun making similar cubbies for friends at a significantly lower cost than what Alison had originally paid, and Alison and Kate realized there was a hole in the dorm room décor market. They decided to draft a business plan and begin preparing for what they thought would be a fun little venture together, emphasis on little. But the company took off in a way neither of them expected.
“That first summer, we were ill-prepared for the demand,” says Kate. “We thought that if we had 100 orders, we would have been successful.” Surprisingly, they received close to 1,000 orders — not only for the signature cubbies but also for bedding, pillows, rugs and accessories. “There really wasn’t a one-stop place where you could get a designer dorm room,” Kate adds.
As Dorm Decor, Alison and Kate’s aptly titled new business, filled that void and became wildly successful, it caught the attention of some deep-pocketed potential buyers. Ultimately, Alison and Kate chose the family-owned, Canada-based Magnussen Home Furnishings (whose owners live in Greensboro, North Carolina) to take the reins. “These people just seemed to get it,” Alison says, “and they had the resources to grow the company, so that’s why we picked them.” The company was sold in 2017 and officially changed hands in January 2018.
Since then, the showroom has moved from the Lakeview area of Birmingham to a more spacious spot in Pepper Place. Bright and airy, the space features all sorts of dorm room essentials, from power surges to picture frames, headboards to bed skirts. Walk-in customers are welcomed, but appointments are encouraged, especially during their busy months of June and July. And for those not local to Birmingham, Dorm Decor offers FaceTime appointments, where a showroom consultant works with a client just as he or she would in person. “We also mail out fabric swatches to those clients,” says Jackie Roessler, Dorm Decor’s marketing director. “We really make sure that what the girls are designing is going to be something they love and enjoy that freshman year.”
Mailing swatches and offering FaceTime appointments makes a lot of sense for Dorm Decor, considering how much of the company’s clientele is outside of Birmingham. Though they have a lot of students heading to SEC campuses, Dorm Decor also has customers going to school as far away as California and upstate New York.
To help generate country-wide exposure for Dorm Decor, the company recruits campus representatives with strong social media followings. “This year we gave them a bunch of photos that they could post to their Instagram stories and their Instagram feeds, and they’ll go onto Pinterest and re-pin all of our 2019 collections,” Jackie explains. “They’ll share us and our page on Facebook, too.”
Students interested in becoming a Dorm Decor representative can can fill out a form on the website before being invited to go through an interview process. “They’re compensated in Dorm Décor products because all of these girls are incoming freshmen,” adds Jackie.
Alison, Kate and Jackie all attest to the power of Pinterest and social media in helping the business to grow so quickly. “We kind of developed a secret sauce to get to the right market, which is an 18-year-old girl,” says Alison, who still makes herself available for design consultations, whether in person or over the phone.
Despite selling Dorm Decor to Magnussen Home Furnishings, Alison is still deeply invested in the company’s success and wants it to do well. Doing well shouldn’t be a problem, of course, especially with their first-hand knowledge of specific dorms across the country, even down to the room dimensions. A customer can tell the Dorm Decor showroom consultant which school she is attending and which dorm she’s been assigned, and information about that room — its size, ceiling height, window placements, etc. — are pulled from a special binder that began with Alison and Kate. “It was a labor of love, but it’s so helpful to the moms and dads,” Alison says. “Kate and I had both moved daughters in, and it was horrible.”
In addition to having this valuable information that parents don’t even know they need, Dorm Decor can also ship everything directly to campus, which certainly makes it easier to pack. Indeed, while some aspects of heading off to college will never change, today’s era of Instagram and influencers has spawned a company that makes it just a little easier — and definitely more stylish.
Ready to send your student off to college in style? Start with Dorm Decor.
For the best of the South — straight to your inbox! — subscribe to our newsletter HERE!