The two women running the ship at one of the South’s niche retailers have an interesting backstory. After graduating from Vanderbilt, Carolyn Greene and Jennifer Cope both became electrical engineers at Sonat, a previously Fortune 500 natural gas company based in Birmingham at the time. From Sonat, they each pursued different entrepreneurial endeavors — in stationery design and landscape design — before ending up in the college dorm room business. Dorm Decor is so much more than just decorative trinkets and sheets that fit single beds … they’ve got crafting and building the perfect dorm room down to a science. Jennifer, Carolyn and their team of designers know the dimensions of many SEC college dorm rooms by heart, and they have become a one-stop-shop for families sending kids off (or back) to college. Get to know the FACES behind the South’s incredible, always-refreshing Dorm Decor!
Tell me a little about how you became involved in Dorm Decor? What did you do before joining the team?
Carolyn: After Sonat, I owned a card design/stationery store. About the time I was selling it, Alison and Kate, the original founders of Dorm Decor, asked me to come help them with the books for their start-up company. It was about a month before the Dorm Decor website launched. My job grew from there, and I’ve been here ever since!
Jennifer: After Sonat, I owned my own landscape design company. I was winding it down after 18 years in business, and Carolyn asked me to come help with operations at the rapidly growing Dorm Decor.
The past few months were likely interesting for business … what did you do to pivot?
Carolyn: We had multiple road trips planned for trunk shows in cities around the Southeast that we had to cancel due to the pandemic. We’ve always offered FaceTime appointments for customers who cannot come to our Birmingham showroom. It’s been a good way for roommates who live in different cities to connect and create a look together for their dorm room.
Jennifer: During the shelter-in-place, we promoted our FaceTime appointments on social media and expanded our capabilities using Zoom. This has really caught on with our customer base. It’s popular and a great substitute for the trunk shows. Now we can have virtual trunk shows in cities that are too far to visit, like Baltimore.
How have you continued to grow and adapt as a one-of-a-kind, niche business?
Carolyn: By keeping in touch with our customers’ desires, which are ever-changing. The trend continues to move from wanting a utilitarian room to a cozy and serene environment. Once we recognize the trend, we work to provide bedding and furniture solutions.
Any new Dorm Decor products or services you can excite our readers about?
Jennifer: We’ve got three new furniture pieces this year. The Dorm Decor Console, which comes in two sizes, allows the students to house and hide a refrigerator and microwave in a sophisticated cabinet. The Dorm Decor Bed Shelf is a space-efficient piece that fits between the bed and the wall and keeps items like phones and water bottles within reach. The LED light strip provides effective task lighting for a great price.
Carolyn: Also, for several years we have offered the installation of our furniture at several schools in the state of Alabama. This year we are expanding to include Ole Miss, and we plan to add more schools in 2021.
What excites you the most about helping grads prepare for college living?
Carolyn: Often it is the first time for graduates to design and plan their own space. They get so excited as they get a glimpse of what their room will look like in the coming year.
Incoming college freshmen are likely in a strange and uncertain spot right now. How have you all helped college kids getting ready for this coming year in particular?
Jennifer: Heading to college is a happy and hopeful idea that graduating seniors and their parents can focus on right now. We have worked with so many customers during the quarantine that saw college in the fall as much more of a certainty than the normal (but unfortunately canceled) spring events of senior year in high school. Even though things may be a bit different, thankfully kids are going to school in the fall and we give them something to look forward to.
What’s your favorite project or aspect of a project to take on and why?
Carolyn: I love the whole season! Working with the Dorm Decor team to create the new looks, fixing problems and fighting fires as they arise, and at the end of the day, making every customer happy … all of those things are fulfilling to me.
Do you have a touching or funny story of a customer interaction to share with us?
Jennifer: Oh my gosh, one of our favorite times is when moms who roomed together in college come in to shop with their daughters who are now going to be roommates. It’s a happy day!
What’s a common misconception you hear about dorm outfitting that you’d like to clear up?
Carolyn: The lofted bed versus the raised bed. Most colleges have twin XL bed frames that can be placed at multiple settings between 35 and 42 inches, depending on how high the student wants his or her bed. The University of Alabama and Auburn offer raised beds. A true lofted bed is 66 inches off the ground, like the top bunk at summer camp. The University of Georgia and The University of Tennessee offer lofted beds. There is much confusion between the two terms.
Where can we find you on your days off in Birmingham?
Jennifer: We would both love to be on the golf course.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received and from whom?
Carolyn: My mother used to say, “If you think everyone around you is wrong, you need to look at yourself.”
Besides faith, family and friends, name three things you can’t live without.
Carolyn: Coke Zero, my phone, and mystery movies
Jennifer: My pups, Pilates, and blueberries
Thanks for chatting with us, Jennifer and Carolyn! And thanks to Catherine Greene (Carolyn’s daughter) for the fabulous photos. To discover more about Dorm Decor, visit dorm-decor.com.