Detroit startup artfully applies all-in-one solution that promotes secure collaboration, helps it redefine home décor
The Detroit Wallpaper Co. of Ferndale, Michigan, has been revolutionizing home décor since 2004. The print-on-demand custom wallpaper startup took off immediately, leaving its two founders little time to address the many IT needs of a small but vital business. Now, they use the collaborative tools in Microsoft 365 Business and apply their creative moxie to beautifying homes throughout the United States and beyond. Higher productivity and secure collaboration are fueling the company’s growth.
After two entrepreneurial-minded friends saw the possibilities in large-format printing for home décor, they made the leap from the corporate world to the wild ride of small business ownership. From their first space in a home basement in 2004 to their current 9,000-square-foot office and studio factory, they’ve worn every hat. Business boomed right from the start, but company administration was both a distraction from developing their enterprise and an increasing drain on their time for creating new designs. Now, with Microsoft 365 Business and an IT partner to consolidate and simplify everything from financial data to sales presentations, they’re free to fly as the artists, innovators, and business leaders they are. Best of all, they’ve discovered applications within the solution that help them move collaboration with their team ever forward.
Springing from dream to vibrant reality
When Andi Kubacki needed an idea to brighten the ceiling of the basement he was remodeling, his friend Josh Young had an inspiration. Kubacki was vice president of a company that supplied large-format printing on vinyl sheets for billboards. Why paint the ceiling a flat single color, Young asked, when his company could print any image Kubacki could dream of on a vinyl sheet that he could apply to the ceiling? From that first spark, the idea of creating custom wall coverings was born. The idea was timely for Kubacki and Young in their respective career trajectories. “Andi and I are both creative-minded people,” said Young. “We’d been looking for a way to move away from our jobs and work for ourselves. In the early 2000s, ‘do it yourself’ remodeling was popular. We set out to capitalize on that DIY tidal wave and offer our custom wallpaper to consumers via the internet.”
Young and Kubacki feel like their 12-person team functions as a family. But in the company’s early days, that spirit of unity didn’t apply to the devices and applications the Detroit Wallpaper staff were using. Although the business owners and many of their team were innovative and computer-savvy, no one had the time to research options and create a comprehensive IT strategy for the company. “It was like life before the Phoenicians,” says Young. “We had an on-premises server to run our website and for file transfer and storage, but it wasn’t working well. Everyone used a different email application. People used a mix of computers and operating systems.” Client artwork was stored on CDs, which were time-consuming to organize and retrieve. Because all the applications the company used were local to each worker’s laptop, discovering an issue while on site at an installation that required referencing client data meant a trip back to the office. “We made it work,” says Kubacki. “But then our volumes grew from perhaps five or six projects a day for as many clients to thirty or forty a day. We just couldn’t continue with our piecemeal IT situation as it was.”
Pulling the vision together with a shift to Microsoft 365 Business
Detroit Wallpaper was at that awkward stage: too big to run on disparate platforms, devices, and applications, and too small to justify a significant investment in IT infrastructure. So Young and Kubacki transformed the IT backbone of their company to Microsoft Office 365 in 2015 with help from local managed IT service provider Red Level. “They helped pull us out of this terminal dive we were in with outdated technology, older operating systems, and disparate applications,” says Young.
With Office 365, the Detroit Wallpaper staff could work together better than ever before; the founders no longer had to play the role of IT facilitators and had more time for the creative side of the business. After standardizing on Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Exchange Online for email and other Office 365 applications such as Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint, the team found it easier to track finances and create sales presentations. When they went to the next level by deploying Microsoft 365 Business and its additional collaborative tools, the benefits grew.
For a company of creative people, the new features were fodder for inventiveness. “That’s our mantra,” says Kubacki. “We find what works, capitalize on it, and develop it to its fullest potential. Then we make it our own.” It began with Microsoft Teams, the app that groups use to share everything from conversations and price sheets to design drawings. “With Teams, we can have a quick conversation without traversing the building,” says Kubacki. “It’s trackable, too—we can see who said what without parsing a long email thread. Everyone is on the same page instantly.” Young agrees. “What I love about Teams is that it separates our internal chatter from official client email communications,” he says. “Our sales and admin people are inundated with emails all the time. Having everything pertaining to a project in one place for the team to collaborate really reduces the pressure.”
The team eagerly adopted Microsoft Sway, too, using it to generate new ideas. “Often we get client requests for something we haven’t done before. With Sway, we can quickly research, find source material, and create a sort of illustrated report to give back to them,” says Kubacki. The team often pulls material from Sway into PowerPoint for more formal presentations, which they can share with clients over Skype for Business Online. “Because we’re such a visual company, with a visual product, it’s great to be able to show something on a Skype call. It’s also quick and convenient,” says Kubacki.
With non-disclosure agreements, copyrights, and pricing information to protect, Detroit Wallpaper relies on the security features of Microsoft 365 Business, from Outlook password security to highly secure storage that keeps documents off laptop hard drives and in the cloud on OneDrive. “All of our administrative, design, and client files are perfectly synced,” says Kubacki. “The integration makes life a lot easier.”
Strengthening eco-ethics with collaborative technology
One of Detroit Wallpaper’s strongly held corporate values is its commitment to the environment, for both the future of the planet and the health of consumers. Advances in printing technology have increased eco-friendly options—non-toxic inks and blank rolls of recycled content wallpaper, to name a few. The company recycles all waste. And the enhanced collaboration between employees helps to reduce waste and save significant production costs. “Tools like Teams have really made our people more effective,” says Kubacki. “I think we’re saving money on labor. And we’re saving money on waste; if we make a mistake anywhere along the production chain, we waste material. I would say that we have probably reclaimed at least 10–15 percent of our budget by preventing waste through timely collaboration.”
Running a creative business creatively
“Andi and I look at the business as an art piece,” says Young. “We look at it through an artistic lens—applying the classic concepts of composition and balance to the organization of the business.” The pair hires employees that they believe can run with a project, exercising spot-on creative judgment while adhering to budget and time constraints. “We really try to empower our people to make good decisions that make their jobs easier and make our company more profitable,” says Kubacki. “Rather than micromanage, we try to set up great systems to help our people collaborate. That’s where Microsoft 365 Business comes in.”