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Making it in Big Sky: Elliott Design, Lori Elliott

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Lori Elliott’s extensive background in various aspects of running a successful business—advertising, sales, marketing—allow her to operate her interior design business without any employees. PHOTO COURTESY OF LORI ELLIOTT

By Doug Hare EBS STAFF

Lori Elliott was born in Fargo, North Dakota and grew up in a small farming community 30 miles south called Kindred. Both her great grandparents farmsteaded in the Red River Valley in the 1800s. Elliott remembers them as tough Norwegians who took chances: “I think that’s in my blood.” Her experience in the business world is as extensive as her path to Big Sky was meandering.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis majoring in marketing and advertising, she went to work for Carmichael-Lynch Advertising, in Minneapolis, where she managed media purchasing for Winnebago, Harley-Davidson, McDonalds and Rapala. After marrying and moving to Madison, Wisconsin, she became an advertising manager for the Flambeau Corporation, a plastics molding business with eight various entities throughout the United States. Realizing she wanted to have more flexibility in life in order to plan for a family, Elliott decided to get an interior design degree, eventually starting her own business in 1992.

While raising four children in Hudson, Wisconsin, and growing her interior design business, she also had the opportunity to work for ABC Television, FOX Television and WCCO Radio in sales. Elliott moved to Red Lodge, Montana in 2011 to manage a design firm and serendipitously met Kira Fercho, an artist whose work she adored. In 2013, after moving to Bozeman to help her daughter with a newborn son, Kira asked her friend to manage her gallery. After a fateful meeting with Tom Simkins’ wife Rhonda in a Bozeman Bible study group, the North Dakota-native decided to take a chance and move to Big Sky.

In 2016, she moved Elliott Design out of the gallery location and once again returned to a home-based interior design business. “I often wonder how a farm girl was put on this amazing life journey. I am humbled and so very thankful,” she said with a smile. 

Explore Big Sky: Do you have any employees or co-workers currently?

Lori Elliott: I don’t. I love having a team of people though. I have found that it is more time and cost effective for my clients to not add more people to the mix. My clients, suppliers and contractors become my team.

EBS: What are your favorite activities when not working?

L.E.: I have an amazing family and amazing friends that I love to spend time with.  I kayak, water ski/surf, downhill and cross-country ski, hike, travel and spend as much time as possible with my kids and grandson.

EBS: What was the most difficult part of starting your own small business? What is something you wish you knew ahead of time?

L.E.:  I am thankful for my advertising/marketing/sales background in advance of starting my own interior design business. I learned it isn’t about me and it is about listening and helping my clients achieve their dreams. As a Professional Certified Interior Designer, I enroll in continuing education to ensure that I am on top of my industry standards and can bring this knowledge to my clientele.

EBS: Who is the most memorable client that you’ve had in Big Sky? Why?

L.E.:  I can’t possibly narrow this down. I have been blessed with amazing clients that are truly hard-working, wonderful people. I think that designing and helping clients in Big Sky has its unique challenges due to the lack of help here. Every contractor works so hard and is so conscientious, but there is only so much time in a day. The best way I can manage this situation is to set true expectations for each client and help them understand what their project involves.

EBS: What is the best business advice that you’ve received over the years?

L.E.: Constantly marketing myself has been the best way to gain business. It can be exhausting but it works! My client’s greatest compliments have been that “I listen” to what they want for their project, which allows us to tackle their goals more effectively and efficiently.

EBS: What are some common mistakes that people make when trying to lay-out and design their own living rooms and kitchens?

L.E.: I have been educated in space planning and have a strong sense of balance. I have been involved in a lot of projects, which have given me knowledge of what works and what doesn’t in floor plans and layouts. Having my design education really helps me explain why and how to make a design challenge work. It isn’t fair to call something a mistake if you don’t have the knowledge.

EBS: How has Big Sky’s rapid growth affected your business since moving here?

L.E.: It has slowed project completion dates down due to the heavy workload on our contractors. But due to wonderful client referrals, I can stay ahead of the ball most of the time.

EBS: You work on both residential and commercial properties. What current project are you most excited about?

L.E.: When I have the opportunity to make a customer happy that makes me the happiest. Each project is so unique—being given the opportunity to design continues to keep me happy.

Joseph T. O'Connor is the previous Editor-in-Chief for EBS newspaper and Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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