In small cities like Frostburg, we value our small businesses and the owners who dedicate their lives to providing unique products and services to our communities. But what happens when the small business owner retires? While Frostburg is fortunate to have several multi-generational businesses, not every business has a family member waiting in the wings to take over. Does the business have to close? Andrea DePalatis of Spectrum Design Services has found the answer. Instead of closing her successful Main Street business, she has passed the torch to the next generation, designer and Frostburg native, Heather Lancaster.
Andrea was a practicing designer for years before she ever opened Spectrum. During the late 1970s into the 1980s, the “design profession wasn’t really well formed and when you saw a woman who was an interior designer you associated that with home decorating,” she explains. But Andrea’s training and interests extended far beyond decor. During her college years at Drexel University, she was taught lighting design, industrial design, architecture, and more. She loved decorating but wanted to be involved in space planning, cabinet design, and really put her technical background to use. While Andrea enjoyed her work, she realized that everywhere she went the important decisions and designs had already been made. If she wanted to use her technical background and make those decisions, she would have to do it herself.
Spectrum Design Services opened in 1992 with Andrea’s goal being to get “in early on projects so [she] could be there right from the ground floor and the bones up to hanging the pictures.” She kept the name broad but technical and made sure to not emphasize being a female designer as women were not typically associated with technical design and architecture. She started receiving calls for work, not always associated with interior design but with other technical and design areas. She utilized her passions and skills and built a business around it, as she describes, “it’s not just decorating, it can be whatever people need.”
Downstate there are designers everywhere, but here there is little to no competition. While that can be nice in some ways, it also means being cut off from suppliers and design resources. To solve this problem Andrea needed direct contact with dealers, and so developed Spectrum to double as a design business and a storefront. Other designers have middlemen between them and the dealer, but Andrea has built her relationships directly with dealers and suppliers so she can offer competitive prices and keep the business small but effective. The dealers send her samples and deals regularly because she is a respected storefront and professional.
Little did Andrea realize at the time that this unique business model set her up to transfer her business to a new owner upon retirement. As Andrea describes, “it wasn’t until much later when I got a survey for small business owners and it said ‘what is your exit strategy,’ and I had never thought of it before!” When the time came to start planning she put out the word that she was looking to sell her business and Heather walked through her door! The way that Andrea built the business means it can be versatile and bend to the passions and skills of a new owner, easing Heather’s transition.
Heather grew up locally and originally went to Frostburg State University for pharmaceuticals but felt no passion for the field. Design had always been an interest of hers but hadn’t seemed like something she could make a career out of. She switched majors and soon transferred to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. After graduation, she stayed in Pittsburgh for a few years and later worked in Baltimore before beginning work with a model home company five years ago. The company designs homes along the East Coast for various markets and allowed her to work remotely and travel to home locations or dealerships when needed. This job flexibility allowed Heather and her family to move back to Frostburg 3 years ago.
When she heard that Andrea was looking to pass Spectrum on to a new owner she immediately knew she had to talk to her. “I have always been so amazed and fascinated with Spectrum in our little town, because it is [in Andrea’s words] the ‘design frontier.’ Trends that you see down in Baltimore, DC, NYC, take years to come to this area,” but Andrea has been able to showcase those trends and design skills in our community. For Heather, owning Spectrum seemed like a natural next step. Frostburg is her home to her family, the job flexibility allows her to keep her young daughter with her at work, and many of her family members are already small business owners.
Heather is excited to build personal connections and client relationships. She began coming to Spectrum regularly in May to start the transition and take up new upcoming projects while Andrea finishes her list of projects already in progress. The new ownership was officially announced on August 1st. Andrea leaves behind 27 years of clientele, connections, and a successful storefront to the capable and experienced Heather. An amazing example of an iconic female-driven business passing the torch to an up-and-coming female business owner and ensuring Frostburg still has its ‘Downtown Designer.’
Dana Bridges – FrostburgFirst Marketing & Communications Coordinator