Practice Operations

How Studio McGee Scaled Their Design Business

How Studio McGee Scaled Their Design Business

Studio McGee was born from many big ideas in a spare bedroom with no space to store fabric samples.

As a result of many late nights of brainstorming and collaboration, Syd and Shea McGee decided to create something much more from what started out as a small business for a stay-at-home mom.

Today, the interior design firm, Studio McGee, serves clients all over the United States, from concept to completion.

With their own homeware collection and a popular Netflix series, Studio McGee has inspired many followers worldwide. 

Syd and Shea McGee from Studio McGee
Syd and Shea McGee from Studio McGee (Source: Studio McGee)

Studio McGee now has about 140 employees and generated about $59.7 million in revenue in 2020.

Together, the McGees themselves are estimated to have a net worth of $5 million.

Studio McGee statistics in 2021
Studio McGee statistics in 2021

In this case study, we dive into how the dynamic duo behind Studio McGee has taken the interior design world by storm through:

  • Clever Instagram marketing
  • Building a personal brand
  • Turning a design portfolio into content marketing
  • A scalable design business model

How Studio McGee Started

Shea McGee graduated with a degree in Communications and realized interior design was her passion shortly after. 

She had always been interested in beautiful interiors but she never had the confidence to pursue it. 

However, Shea’s burning ambition led to spending the next 2 years remodeling the couple’s first home and documenting it.

Studio McGee home on Instagram
Studio McGee home on Instagram

As one of the first Instagram influencers of our time, Shea quickly gained a loyal clientele and a prominent following.

This was all thanks to her fresh approach to modern interiors and, of course, her personable way with words. 

In her design, Shea took pride in 3 things:

  • Displaying stunning furniture
  • Contemporary lighting fixtures
  • A collection of pretty decor items

And she still does today.

Alongside her husband, Shea launched her first interior design business in 2014 and established the motto, "Make Life Beautiful."

The Studio McGee book, ‘Make Life Beautiful’ (Source: Studio McGee)

Where the McGee’s Are at Now

As the studio’s popularity grew, it paved the way for its e-commerce brand, McGee & Co., after just 2 years.

The Netflix show Dream Home Makeover has allowed the couple to continue to design homes across the country and showcase their passion and talent even further.

Netflix Dream Home Makeover with Studio McGee

While McGee's success can be attributed to heaps of hard work and determination, there are certainly tactical lessons you can take away. 

No matter the type of business you’re growing, Studio McGee serves as brilliant inspiration.

Staying true to your brand’s beliefs and dedication to marketing are just 2 key points. 

How Studio McGee Grew to $60 Million in 6 Years

There’s no doubt that hard work is the key factor behind Studio McGee’s success. 

But a sense of design talent and creativity behind their collection has led the couple to their multi-million-pound fortune in 2021. 

Shea and Syd McGee have bootstrapped their design company for 6 years while filming for their show.

They’ve also been busy... 

  • Writing best-selling books
  • Expanding product categories
  • Signing a Target Corp license 

In an interview with MYDOMAINE, Shea McGee mentioned her fear of leaping into the interior design world. 

She said, “I’ve always been enamored by personal style and design, but I was afraid to take the interior route because I didn’t consider myself a true creative.”

She added that Syd’s encouragement to go back to school had kickstarted her determination.

After receiving a flyer in the mail for a local community college, Shea took that as a sign and realized that she needed to test out interior design without quitting her job. 

This courage and faith in her abilities have helped the design company grow to what it is today.

Shea’s Leap of Faith

Within the first few weeks of buying their own home, the couple began demolishing the kitchen and taking design classes in the evening. 

The home became their first piece in the Studio McGee portfolio and led to smaller consulting projects with friends and neighbors. 

Each project grew in scale until Shea acquired a wide-reaching clientele and grew their firm to a multi-million company and household name.

The Studio McGee Marketing Strategy

The interior design industry is multi-faceted, with no one path to success.

As a Q Awards Marketer Of The Year in 2020, Shea McGee has managed to create their own idea of success by establishing a world-renowned interior design studio.

Shea McGee as the Q Awards Marketer of 2020 (Source: Utah Valley 360)

The Power of Instagram

With 3.1m followers @studiomcgee, Instagram became the driving force behind Studio McGee’s interior design empire.

3.1m followers on Studio McGee Instagram

As the perfect platform to showcase McGee’s interior design artistry, followers soon flooded the account. 

Shea McGee said she has always been a consistent content creator and loves to show appreciation to her followers by replying to messages

In response to a question about the secret behind her Instagram success, Shea said, “Just keep going! Consistency is key to growth.”

When the McGees first started their Instagram account, they focussed on posting a lot of ‘behind-the-scenes’ content. 

Today, their Instagram acts as a portfolio of sorts, showcasing the incredible work the duo have created.

Leading their followers to grow with them has built an authentic brand that creates a sense of realness online.

“My husband and I love to eat, and when we go to New York, we try out pizza places rated by a guy we follow on Instagram. His videos are not overly produced or polished, which gives a sense of realness. I like to see the person behind the brand. It builds trust. And it has led me to some delicious pizza.”
- Shea McGee, Interview with UtahValley360

The McGees also place a lot of energy into engaging their followers via Instagram stories too.

Shea McGee on Instagram Story

This has helped foster connectivity and build trust with McGee’s audience, who know they will regularly receive the content they desire. 

Takeaway: Instagram is the social media platform of choice for many architects and interior designers to showcase their work, given its visual aesthetic.

But more importantly, 81% of people use Instagram to research products and services.

If you’re not on Instagram promoting your firm, you’re missing out on many people who rely on Instagram to learn more about your brand.

81% of people use Instagram to research products and services

As designers, we can use Instagram to:

  • Share behind the scene of our design process
  • Showcase projects that relates to our ideal clients
  • And build a community that falls in love with your design style as McGee has mastered

Know Your Target Audience

Part of their success is understanding who they’re talking to 100% of the time. Shea and Syd gave an insight into their marketing strategy in an interview with UtahValley360. 

“Our audience is predominantly female, ages 25 to 45, and they are moving into their first home or building their dream home. They look to us for inspiration.”
- Shea McGee, Interview with UtahValley360

By talking to their target audience directly, they have grown both @studiomcgee and @mcgeeandco to millions of followers.

This large amount of following has naturally led to conversions and lifelong customers.

“What Shea has done is crack this code. Interior design is very intimidating for a lot of people, and Shea broke down a lot of walls. Building a following on Instagram was very timely. The conversion to a customer is much more natural. Their repeat metrics and lifetime value metrics are the biggest we’ve seen.”
- Kevin Chen, Principal of Strand Equity, Forbes Article

Takeaway: Knowing your audience matters. With over a billion people using Instagram worldwide, there are a lot of people to attract.

A billion people use Instagram Worldwide

Understanding key demographics and sharing content that is valuable to your particular audience is a recipe for success on any social media platform. 

Teaching with a Personal Brand

Today more than ever, the world of marketing is headed towards a ‘personal’ trend as social media use continues to grow. On Instagram, people love following strong personal brands and identities.

Top thought leaders, top influencers and unique brands on Instagram spend a great deal of time and energy developing a personal brand - Studio McGee being a prime example.

Creating content as a personal brand helps you establish your expertise in your industry. The more you teach, the more people will understand that you know exactly what you’re doing.

Shea has spoken of the benefits of today’s contemporary approach to branding:

“The old school model of the design was very corporate, and nobody would say anything specific about what they were doing. We decided to teach along the way and share what we were doing, which helped establish ourselves as experts. So even though I was relatively new at the game, I was teaching what I was learning, and that developed into a following of other learners.”
- Shea McGee, Interview with UtahValley360

Takeaway: Be brave and don’t hide behind your architectural design projects.

Invite the audience into your life, show them all aspects of being an architect, excite them, and inspire them through social media platforms such as Instagram.

This is how a personal brand can be built in 2021! 

Studio McGee built a personal brand over a business brand

Studio McGee’s Business Model

Scaling with Products

Most design firms are not scalable due to their focus being service-based. So Studio Mcgee tapped into products to scale their business.

In fact, 85% of their revenue comes from product sales, 10% comes from licensing, and only 5% comes from their design services (Forbes on Studio McGee).

85% of Studio McGee revenue comes from product sales

Their unique mix of revenue proves that they can scale much faster and bigger by expanding into products than only focusing on design services as a firm.

Beautiful bright open lounge by Studio McGee (Source: Studio McGee Instagram)

Takeaway: Creating a product line is a common practice for design firms to scale their business.

We see examples from HOK Product Design, BIG Architects' BIG IDEAS and Olson Kundig’s partnership with 12th Avenue Iron.

You don’t have to produce your own product in house either.

Both HOK Product Design and Olson Kundig partner with manufacturers and fabricators to create their product lines.

This way, the manufacturers can fabricate and hold inventory for you without you creating a whole new production business.

Design Service as Cost-Effective Marketing for Products

By far, the most clever strategy the McGees have employed is using their design services at Studio McGee as the content arm of their product line McGee & Co.

While most project lifecycle ends after occupancy, the Studio McGee project lifecycle continues with taking project photos, creating marketing content and, in the end, selling their products.

Design Service as Cost-Effective Marketing for Products

The beautiful interior photos from Studio McGee showcases how each McGee & Co products can be used in a home.

Shea uses Studio McGee to build audience and demand for her design by styling her products in context.

This speaks to homeowners much more than just showing items on a white background.

“When people see beautifully styled products online, they want to buy them. And I want to make it easy for them.”
- Shea McGee, UtahValley360

Turn Portfolio into Marketing Assets

Their product strategy doesn’t just end at their project photos.

The Studio McGee website - unlike most design firms - is highly focused on content that drives both their interior design firm and product collection.

First, they create blog content around their designs as tips and ideas for their audience, instead of showcasing their work as a “portfolio”,.

This allows them to educate their audience on their unique design style but also helps their website to rank on important keywords as SEO.

Using design portfolio as blog content

Their banner calls attention to the McGee & Co collection, instead of asking clients to work with them directly. 

Again, using their design service to drive business to their more profitable products.

Studio McGee Website Banner links to McGee & Co

Their Instagram showcases their product placement in their design photoshoot along with other well-known manufacturers.

Studio McGee Instagram post

Takeaway: Instead of treating your design work as a traditional portfolio, share your work as content to educate and inspire.

Some content ideas that you can easily implement today utilizing your existing project photos:

  • A collection of inspiration for your specialized project type
  • 5 design tips for a specific room (using your project photos as examples)
  • How to choose a material for a specific use (like countertops for kitchens)
  • Guide to working with architects (using behind the scene photos to show your design process)
“The social media landscape has changed everything. In fact, people look at our feed to see if they want to hire us more than they look at our actual portfolio.”
- Shea McGee, UtahValley360

Now It’s Your Turn

As a family, the McGees worked together to grow their business into a leading interior design firm. 

The best part is that you can use some of these strategies in your practice to grow exponentially.

Which strategy will you try today?

Have you already been using Instagram to build your brand?

Let us know in the comment below.

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