One Woman's Amazing Climb
Some people might say that Joni Vanderslice got lucky. If you ask her, she is likely to credit divine providence. Somewhere in between lies the truth. It was French scientist, Louis Pasteur who said, "Chance favors only the prepared mind." In other words, we have a hand in our own good fortune.
As owner of J Banks Design Group, Inc., ranked number 137 in Interior Design Magazine's listing of Top 200 Interior Design Giants, Joni stands high atop the ladder of success. Today, she not only has a thriving local design business, but a number of international contracts. In addition, she has recently launched her own line of furniture and is building Hilton Head Island's first "green" building to house her operations, including an innovative retail division. Looking back on the climb and looking ahead to the higher goal, she shares a story to inspire every woman.
The bottom rung
Growing up in Highpoint, NC, Joni knew she wanted to be an interior designer since fourth grade. "From the time I was young, if I had a project, I would draw furniture or draw rooms. I was always fascinated by it," she said.
In 1980, fresh out of college at East Carolina University, Joni headed for the beach with a group of girlfriends. Arriving on Hilton Head Island for the summer, she was here for more than fun in the sun. She wanted to work and hoped to put her interior design degree to work.
On her first weekend here, she met Mary Fraser, wife of Charles Fraser, the developer/visionary credited with making Hilton Head Island what it is today. Mary, who was in the process of renovating all of the Sea Pines commercial properties, offered her a job. "It was just one of those things that was meant to be," said Joni.
Quickly proving her talent, Joni went on to work as design manager for Decorators Unlimited. So successful was she that a client suggested he might be willing to back her in business. About the same time, her boss approached her with a proposal to sell. Considering the simultaneous offers as a sign, she took the plunge. Married at the time to Ben Banks, she went into business as J Banks Design. Divorced and now remarried to urologist, Richard Vanderslice, Joni opted to keep the established business name intact.
Growing pains and progress
According to Joni, going into business for herself was "a quick MBA." Suddenly faced with hidden debts, she found herself in a legal battle with the original owner. "I had to learn not only to read a financial statement, but to do forensic accounting pretty quickly," she said.
"The first few years, I made some major mistakes," she admitted. "I believe a lot of lessons are wrapped in the wrapping paper of difficulties. We may not like the wrapping paper, but that's the gift." She accepted the gift and did what she had to do. In 1987, she downsized and moved to Main Street (which was pretty remote) and began building on the creative concepts that set her apart.
"I saw a niche in quality resort interior design. At the time, the villa business was the big thing. No one was doing quality and traditional design here," said Joni. Her first really big job was Melrose on Daufuskie. "It gave me the venue to go in and do traditional design and quality and buy antiques and put all of that together. Doing so took the company to a quick new level," she said. "Melrose was really my launching pad."
Her reputation firmly established, Joni began doing more high-end residential projects along with clubhouses and resort properties. Word traveled and demand for her services grew exponentially. "It's a relationship-built business," said Joni, who promises her clients to deliver a look they love, on time and on budget. "Once you give that to them, repeat business and referrals follow," she explained.
One particular relationship that broadened Joni's horizons was an opportunity to work with David Burden, CEO of Timbers Resorts. Her first project with him was Indigo Run. He has since engaged her services from Snowmass, Colorado to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and currently in Tuscany, Italy. "I've had to learn to do international business," said Joni. "I haven't gone out to seek it; it's been something that has just come to me. Again, it's a relationship thing."
Up the ladder to the roof
Joni's latest venture is two-fold, the first of which is a new, personal line of furniture, the J Banks Collection, launched in October, 2007, in collaboration with Stanford Furniture Corporation. Comprised of traditional pieces in lacquered finishes, the transitional furnishings can be produced in six different colors, thus bridging the gap between traditional and contemporary styles. This month, Joni will be introducing the second phase of the collection, which will incorporate both stains and lacquers. "It just makes it more modern and fun-not so serious," she said of the concept. "And it can be yours. I can buy a chest in brown and you can have it in orange. It's fun, it has attitude and it's affordable," she said. In addition to the furniture, she is offering a line of art and decorative pillows.
Joni's second undertaking is a new home for her operations, currently under construction on Main Street-the first "green" building on Hilton Head Island. "Learning green design and wanting to be on the forefront of that is very important to me for so many reasons. I first became interested in that because my oldest daughter has allergies," Joni explained. "It started by learning to build a healthy home, and its evolved into something called green design. I'm excited to build a building that is low VOC (volatile organic compound), a place that doesn't outgas, and a place that I think is going to be healthy for my employees."
Set for completion in May, the new building will house all of the company operations, including a new retail center, opening in July which will offer an array of technical and educational services along with designer-quality home furnishings. "It will allow those who don't want to hire a designer to actually choose, buy and put together quality furnishings," Joni explained. "We hope to inform the public and touch the public a little more with the concept of retail."
What drives Joni Vanderslice?
According to Joni, the real secret to success is using your God-given gifts. "When you're using the gifts He gave you the way He wants you to use them, it's fun and you enjoy it," she said. Joni uses her gifts of visualization and interpretation along with an incredible resource base, which includes 34 talented employees. "The whole reason I believe I'm doing this business is that it is my ministry," she said. "I want to give people who work for me a place to use their creative gifts-to watch people thrive and do what they do well and to give them a place where someone cares about who they are. That's the heart of it, which is so important, especially in a business that's about 'stuff.'"
Outside of work, Joni is driven by her love of family and her faith. Joyfully married for 10 years, she has two daughters, Sarah, age nine and Grace, age seven. She admits that juggling work and family responsibilities can be challenging. "I think it is difficult for every woman who works. But I believe I am a better business owner because I'm a mom and a better mom because I work. It's made me trust and give up things-made me mentor and grow other people," she said. "Having children, you have to back off and ask yourself, 'What's most important here?' I certainly have chosen to be with my family when there seemed to be great opportunities out there. I think God honors that. And what always comes out of that is, someone else rises to the occasion. I think my children grow by watching women work and get excited about what they're doing. What they get out of that is not something they learn at school or you can teach them by talking."
In addition to on-the-job mentoring, Joni hosts a weekly Bible study in her home. "It's fun to watch it [the Bible] come alive, to realize so much is there that is practical for everyday use," she said. "To recognize that the world's bigger than we are takes so much pressure off. If I really thought I had to control it all, I would be a mess."
When she's not working, Joni enjoys travel and spending time with her family. Her special interests include Nascar racing (Her dad was a Nascar driver.), skeet shooting, quail hunting and flyfishing-"things you wouldn't expect of an interior designer," she said.
If not for her career, she says she would be doing 1400 other things. "I'm not busier than my friends who don't have a career. It's how you manage it, and I have great help," said Joni.
"I think we're all meant to do," she continued. "We're not meant to find a place that we coast." Joni's best advice? "Use your gifts and follow your heart. Do what is meant for you to do."