Teaming up for business

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Business partners Jennifer D'Zio and Sue Garland have worked together for so long, they've become like family.

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Co-owner Sue Garland (right) looks at fabric samples with customer Nancy Parks at Persnickety Interiors, an interior design firm with a 3,000-square-foot retail store on Walton Way. Garland and Jennifer D'Zio bought the business in 2007 after years of working for the original owners. They call their design style "casual elegance." They not only share the business but they also are longtime friends whose children hang out together.  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Co-owner Sue Garland (right) looks at fabric samples with customer Nancy Parks at Persnickety Interiors, an interior design firm with a 3,000-square-foot retail store on Walton Way. Garland and Jennifer D'Zio bought the business in 2007 after years of working for the original owners. They call their design style "casual elegance." They not only share the business but they also are longtime friends whose children hang out together.

The owners of Persnickety Interiors Inc. have been decorating homes together for nearly two decades.

They purchased the business in 2007 after working for the owners since the early 1990s.

They have shared many life-changing events together, including weddings and the births of their children. Their kids have grown up together.

"We were pregnant with one of our kids at the same time," Garland said. "They were a few months apart, so that was fun. Our kids are good friends. They're having a sleep-over tonight. We're like family."

This closeness has kept the business strong over the years.

"Knowing that you have someone ... if we need to fall back on one another. Sometimes I've been late from appointments, and she's had to pick my kids up from school. It does help," D'Zio said.

"You've got to be a team to run a business," Garland added.

Persnickety Interiors, at 2021 Walton Way, is a retail shop with a focus on interior design.

"We use a lot of color. We do all aspects of design. A lot of times when our clients come to us, they want something different. That's what keeps people coming back," Garland said.

After working together so long, they've developed similar tastes.

"It's funny. When we go to shows, we tend to gravitate to the same things. We know what will sell and do well in our shop. We have a particular look that we stay true to," Garland said.

While they have some traditional tastes, their designs are "with a twist," D'Zio explained. The owners strive to find unique pieces, and they don't really follow trends. They call their style "casual elegance."

Persnickety Interiors mixes patterns and finishes. The owners might combine painted furniture pieces and antique reproductions.

"We give a lot of variety to mix it up. It makes it more interesting," Garland said.

The 3,000-square-foot store carries a selection of accessories, including rugs, pillows, lamps and furniture.

"I think we've got the best (accessory selection) in town," D'Zio said.

Over the years, many of their customers have become their friends. D'Zio has been working with Velinda Walden for at least 15 years. D'Zio has decorated her Evans home, and her beach house in Hilton Head Island, S.C.

"We've added on a room, and she's decorated throughout my whole house. She's also made trips to the beach. She's become a very good friend," Walden said. "I really rely on her and trust her judgment. She's a lot of fun."

When they're working on a project, they always laugh, talk and enjoy each other's company, Walden said. She has recommended the business to several of her friends.

Garland has decorated two homes for Pat Johnson, of Aiken, and has been working with her since 1994.

When Johnson's family first moved to the area, she purchased a home that was a part of a parade of homes. Garland had decorated the house with items such as window treatments, and Johnson liked the style so much that she kept it and coordinated her personal items to match.

More than four years ago, Johnson's family moved away from the area, but they returned last year.

When Johnson was building her new home, she called on Garland to decorate the new house. Garland is easy to work with and allowed her to have input on the decorating decisions, she said.

"I've found that a lot of decorators have their style, and they want to do it their way," Johnson said. "It was a very collaborative working relationship with her. She's just great to work with."

Early years

D'Zio and Garland met while working for the original owners of Persnickety Interiors.

The store opened in 1991 in the Port Royal shopping center, and moved to the Walton Way location two years later, when the center closed.

Garland helped to open the Walton Way store. One year later, D'Zio relocated from Atlanta, where there were two Persnickety Interiors stores, including a large store at Perimeter Mall.

Over the years, the women learned the business from the owners, so when they decided to retire, it was an easy transition. They purchased the business in 2007.

"We had kind of been waiting on it. We were ready. Of course you're always a little scared, but we had a real good feeling going into it," Garland said.

They had been responsible for buying merchandise and had accompanied the owners to numerous design shows, so they were comfortable with the duties of operating the business.

When the original owners retired, they closed the Atlanta stores. D'Zio and Garland still receive calls from clients in the Atlanta area seeking Persnickety Interiors' services.

They've completed design work for several Atlanta homes.

They also travel outside the state to decorate homes, including Florida and Pennsylvania. Many jobs are for clients who have moved away, and for people who have visited the area and liked their work.

Others have second homes that need decorating, including beach homes.

"The beach homes are always the most fun," D'Zio said. "Augusta is so traditional, and it kind of gets you out of that element."

There's more competition today compared to when the store opened in 1991, but there's enough business for everyone, Garland said.

"Each designer and each shop really has their own look, so it's a nice variety for the clients to be able to choose from," she said.

The tough economy hasn't had a major impact on business.

"We're still steady. We still have projects going on. We consider ourselves very fortunate to have the business that we do," Garland said.

By design

Garland chose her career path in high school. The epiphany came after her family's house caught on fire and part of the home needed to be redecorated.

"I remember my mother was having her house redone and had a designer over. I was so interested and asked her a million questions. I decided from then on that I wanted to go to school for it," Garland said.

Garland was born in Colorado Springs, Colo. Her father, Ron Schwanenberger, was in the Army. The family moved to West Virginia when he joined the Army Reserves.

Her mother, Shirley Schwanenberger, owned a fine jewelry business in the basement of their home. Garland said that she was inspired by her mother's entrepreneurial spirit.

"It was nice to see the flexibility that she had," Garland said.

Her favorite childhood memories include swimming with her sister and brother in the family pool and waterskiing in the Ohio River in the summer. She fondly recalls attending many family picnics.

"I had a lot of cousins that lived in the same town," Garland said.

D'Zio grew up on a farm in Charleston, S.C. Her parents, Joyce and Johnny Johnson, owned lots of animals, including horses. She recalls spending many days on her parents' farm riding horses alongside her sister and cousins.

Her mother was a hair stylist and her father was a civil engineer who inspected ships. Her parents stressed the importance of integrity and manners.

D'Zio said that her mother loved to decorate and "keep her house fresh and new." As she got older, she helped her mother select items to decorate their home.

In the early 1990s, D'Zio got a job working for a designer at Wallpapers for Charleston while she attended school.

"That's kind of what got me interested in this," D'Zio said.

Every day is different at Persnickety Interiors. The owners might spend the day at their store or visiting clients' homes, showing them fabrics for window treatments or bringing accessories "that could be for one room or the whole house," Garland said.

Their clients trust their decorating judgment and even request for them to place accessories in their homes, D'Zio said.

They have been awarded best designer at several home shows.

Accessorizing is one of the most difficult decorating tasks for homeowners, Garland explained, but it's one of the most important.

"You can put in furniture and window treatments, but until you put the finishing touch with the accessories, that's what really makes an impact," she said.

The retail store at Persnickety Interiors is designed to draw customers to the business. It shows customers the possibilities of how they can decorate their home.

"We have clients that come in that are in the building stage on up," Garland said.

Having an established name in the industry is beneficial for business.

"Because we've been here so long, we've got a large client base. We stay pretty busy," Garland said.

Garland loves to see clients' reactions when projects are completed.

"It's a very personal project. We're going into people's homes. When it's done and you see their reaction and how excited they are, it's very rewarding," she said.

Motherhood

Balancing motherhood and the demands of running a business is their biggest challenge.

"You work full time, and you're a mom full time. It really doesn't leave any time for you," D'Zio said.

When they aren't working, the business owners are attending their kids' sporting and extracurricular events.

They've managed to keep their schedules to 40 hours per week.

They arrive at work at 8 a.m. and have flexible schedules to accommodate their children's activities. When one person needs to leave, the other can fill in. They also have a full-time customer service manager to assist them.

Their children have caught the design bug from them by hanging out at the store with their mothers.

"My oldest daughter wants to redo her bedroom. I've shown her fabrics, and she definitely has her opinion about what she likes and doesn't like," Garland said.

The working mothers often bring fabrics or accessory pieces home, which further exposes their children to the business.

"They like to see what the new fabrics are and to see the colors. They're very interested in art," Garland said.

The owners have discussed the possibility of opening another store, but for now, they're content with their Walton Way location.

"It would be an option, maybe when the kids are older. That would be a long time down the road," Garland said.

Jennifer D'Zio

TITLE: Co-owner of Persnickety Interiors Inc.

BORN: July 19, 1970, in Charleston, S.C.

EDUCATION: Studied at College of Charleston

FAMILY: Husband, Bob; children, Emma, 8, and Zachary, 11

CIVIC/EXTRACURRICULAR: St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church

HOBBIES: Traveling, spending time with her children

SUE GARLAND

TITLE: Co-owner of Persnickety Interiors Inc.

BORN: May 6, 1968, in Colorado Springs, Colo.

EDUCATION: West Virginia University, bachelor of arts degree in interior design

FAMILY: Children, Abigail, 12, and Olivia, 11

CIVIC/EXTRACURRICULAR: St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church

HOBBIES: Running, spending time with her children


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