Do not be afraid of failure. Failing is a part of learning. Try new things but don’t throw away successful business practices in the process.
Bruce Bernstein is the President and Owner of Sunshine Drapery and Interior Design, and The Great Cover Up, in St. Louis, MO. Bruce has been with Sunshine since 1996. He became President in 2004 and fulfilled a lifelong dream to become an entrepreneur and own his own company when he purchased the firm from its previous owner in 2008.
Founded in 1969, Sunshine is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2019. Sunshine provides a variety of products for home owners and businesses to include custom draperies, blinds and shades, indoor shutters, motorized window treatments, decorating fabric, custom bedding and commercial window treatments. Services include in-home personal design, business design, senior facilities design, reupholstery, and blinds and shade repair.
Prior to joining Sunshine, Bruce worked for 12 years at Famous Barr, then a division of the May Department Stores Company. He held several positions at Famous Barr eventually becoming a store manager. Bruce is a graduate of Indiana University where he earned a B.S. in Marketing.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
I am a “second generation” owner of the business, purchasing the company from the original owner in 2008. The original founders, Les Finkelstein and his partner wanted to get into the drapery business. They met with a supplier who brought up the name “Sunshine” in passing. Les liked the name and launched Sunshine Drapery in 1969. We changed the name several years later to reflect our expanded capabilities and added Interior Design to the title. Today it is Sunshine Drapery and Interior Design.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
As the owner, I make it a point to always be at the office at 8am. I am very disciplined this way. I start my week out with things to do on my FranklinPlanner and as the week progresses I adjust my priorities. I may get a call from a decorator who needs my help. I may need to stop and offer assistance to an employee or client. Sometimes, I need to go to one of our stores. I am a get-it-done person. I like to have a lot of balls in the air and make things happen.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The best thing about owning a company is when an idea comes across we want to implement, we make it happen. There is no so called red tape. Ideas can come from any of my staff or me, and we put it into action. Some ideas take time to implement, but we always stay with it until we get it done.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Customers understand that they need more than a simple blind or shade to make up a room. Blinds and shades are great for privacy and many of them have a nice style. But this does not always complete a room and hence a nice decorative rod with some fabric side panels completes the look. We always and foremost have been a drapery company who happens to sell a lot of blinds, shades and shutters too. Trends come and go and reappear in our business. However we are realizing that today’s knowledgeable consumer understands there are more to window coverings than just simple coverage for concerns of privacy.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I am very focused. I stay on-target and maintain consistency on everything I do. I have great work discipline and this carries through in our corporate culture and throughout the company to all of our employees. In fact, our entire mission statement is based on our corporate culture and it is posted throughout our buildings as well as in our handbooks. I live and breathe it every day.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Realize that failure is just part of learning. It does not mean full fledged failure, but business is all about staying with what works as you try new things. You will learn that not everything is going to work well. Also, learn that sometimes no decision is a good decision. In other words, staying with what you have can be very good, and not having to change, just to change things, can be ok.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
All of my friends around the country, in this business, have developed CRM systems. They utilize companies like Salesforce for their software CRM. As much as my 28 year old daughter says I have learned to be progressive, this is one area I have not. I have a very core group of individuals and run four distinct operations within my company. I basically have my own CRM systems in place to manage each and it works for me.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
First, I sign all of the checks. If I am not here, I have one person who is my back up. I review my bank account each day and look at each check that comes through. I trust my staff immensely, but I also don’t want to be that person who ten years from now finds that I took my eye off something and got taken for a lot of money.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Having the right people on the “bus” and getting ones who are not right for your organization “off the bus”. Make sure you hire the right people, with the proper skill set, to get the job done. You also must eliminate those who do not perform to your company standards.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I bought this company in 2008 and then a recession hit (we were probably already into it but no one realized it). I went into this with not enough cash. I barely made it through. I failed to react quickly enough because I was so new and fresh at being an owner. I hung on too long to things on, shall I say, the expense side. I should have gotten rid of several things a lot quicker.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I have nothing specific. However whatever business you undertake make sure you have 40% more capital than you planned for. Many entrepreneurs find they are undercapitalized when trying to bring their ideas to life.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Once in a while, I just pull some money from petty cash and I give it randomly to an employee. It’s important that each employee realize I appreciate them and, when I see exceptional things happening, I want to say thank you. It can be $100, but it can also be something like a gift card to say “I care”. I truly think our team appreciates the extra effort I take to do this.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
In 2018 we switched from using an industry software accounting system to QuickBooks. It was a challenge for us to move into this, but it really is turning out to be a very good move. Our old back up system was antiquated and we no longer could get support. We had to make a move to sleep better at night, and to make sure all of our information was there and backed up successfully.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Half Time”…..the book itself has a lot of religious over tones and this isn’t my cup of tea. However, getting through this, the theme of the book applies to business and life. It basically says that like a football game, your team regroups at half time. If you did well, how do you keep it going? If you made some mistakes, put them in the past, learn from them and move forward in the second half.
What is your favorite quote?
“If you never make a WRONG decision, you will never make a RIGHT decision.
•Do not be afraid of failure. Failing is a part of learning. Try new things but don’t throw away successful business practices in the process.
•Stay focused and maintain consistency. Establish a corporate culture and live it and breath it each and every day.
•Eliminate as much red tape as possible. As a business owner you have the ability to make key decisions and put them into practice. The objective is to avoid over-thinking, follow through and bring new ideas to life in a timely and efficient manner.