Colleen Waguespack ('97 Interior Design) is one of our Women's History month alumna spotlights. Her drive and dedication to her passion of interior design led her to the place she is today - founder and creative director of Fig & Dove as well as Colleen Waguespack Interiors. As a woman in business, she has faced many challenges, but she has her team of fellow LSU alumnae by her side to support her at all times. Learn more about this incredible alumna and entrepreneur, and how her LSU education shaped her future.
What path did your career take after graduating from LSU?
I graduated from LSU in 1997 with a BA from the School of Interior Design. I moved to Washington, DC, right after graduation and began working as an interior designer for commercial architecture firms, which I did for the ten years we lived in Washington. I married my college boyfriend, an LSU graduate, Stephen Waguespack, and had three sons while living and working in Washington. In 2007, we moved to Baton Rouge after Stephen accepted a job with the Bobby Jindal administration, which was an opportunity to raise our boys closer to our families. I then joined a New Orleans-based interior design firm, Holden & Dupuy, and opened their Baton Rouge office. In 2015, I started Fig & Dove and, after seeing some initial success, I decided it was also time to branch off and start my own firm. By 2006 I was operating both Colleen Waguespack Interiors and Fig & Dove under the same roof and, after quickly outgrowing my guest bedroom, moved into LSU Innovation Park.
TelL Us about your business, fig & Dove.
Fig & Dove began as a high-end product line of Christmas decorations designed to meet interior designers' needs and provide a color palette and quality that complemented a well-styled home. We started out intending to be a direct-to-consumer line only but, after receiving a good amount of national press year one, we realized we needed to also sell wholesale to stores across the US. We expanded year two with a wholesale collection and by year three started adding items that could sell year-round rather than focus on the Christmas season.
Today we are considered a high-end home and gifting company - a shopping source for all holidays, special occasions, and gifting. We have recently added a wedding registry and are about to unveil a line of wedding accessories.
What has been the biggest challenge and biggest reward as an entrepreneur?
The biggest challenge has been not having a model to follow. I feel like every day, we are "making it up" based on educated guesses.
We have worked hard to build a network of entrepreneurs we can call friends and lean on them for advice and guidance, but we are always aware that one large misstep could be insurmountable is mentally challenging. The biggest reward is customer feedback. I am surprised every day by how many customers let us know how much they liked something we created, send us pictures of their "Fig & Dove" in their home, or show us a thank you note they received from someone to whom they have gifted one of our signature doves or cardinals.
WhEn you were at LSU, where was your favorite spot on campus?
I ran or walked the LSU lakes daily in college and still do today. It's my favorite spot to meet a friend and walk and talk about business and personal highs and lows. It's the best exercise for the soul!
What inspired you to start Fig & Dove?
As a designer, I have often designed custom products for each project and always had a bug to turn those into a product line. Simultaneously, there are lots of furniture, fabric, and lighting companies out there, and the market was crowded. To start something, I needed to find a void in the market and found it in Christmas décor. There are loads of Christmas decorations out there, but most are thematic and temporary.
We have worked with artisans (mostly in the South) to create collectible pieces that look great in your home and that you will want to keep and pass down for generations. The light bulb finally went off when year after year, clients asked me to help style their homes for Christmas, and I said no because I didn't see many readily available options that would look good enough to complement the interiors I was working on. Finally, I realized here was my niche! We will also run a full interior design practice, and I find each business complements the other and helps keep us on top of current trends from social media, to product, to styling.
LSU Tiger Nation is made up of all the lsu alumni, fans, friends, and future alumni around the gloBe. how can lsu tiger nation help you, colleen?
By spreading the word about who we are! I think today's shopper has the discretion and enjoys purchasing from someone they know or know of. Through this pandemic, so many have acclimated to shopping online but, at the same time, when you are buying something to decorate your home or sending someone a gift, you like to have a personal connection to what you are buying.
Knowing that we are an office of women graduates from LSU adds value to who we are and gives us a personal connection to those shopping with us. Our customers feel like they know and trust us.
Fig & Dove Staff (left to right): Alaina Davanzo ('20 BA Mass Comm), Virginia Cain ('97 Business Management), Colleen Waguespack ('97 BA Interior Design), Stacy Schliewe ('95 BA Broadcast Journalism, '97 Masters Mass Comm), Stacey Moore ('98 MPA)
What has it been like watching your business grow over the years?
The first three years were nerve-wracking. Money was tight. Every misstep felt like a huge step backward and possibly the end. I feel like I worried non-stop and worked in my sleep.
After three years, the tide changed.
A call to my grandmother, who reminded me to stop counting money as success and look at all of our other achievements, really was a great wake-up call. In years four and five we have been able to add more staff and divide up the workload, so our daily operations seem more manageable. I have been lucky to have some talented women (all LSU grads) join our staff and help us grow. Some of the problems that felt monumental in the early years are small bumps in the road now- mostly because we have learned from our mistakes and realize that many things are beyond our control. I am really proud of what Fig & Dove has become and, the message of hope and peace that comes with our products. This has been a rewarding journey.
What do you miss most about lsu?
I loved that my whole world was really right on LSU's campus. I'm not a driver - never have loved a moment behind the wheel. I went from living in Miller dorm to the Chi O house and worked at the Rec Center, the LSU Alumni Association office, and the Special Olympics Pool. I thought the Fieldhouse pool was the best-kept secret on campus - like something out of a Roman ruin. The legal drinking age was 18 when I was at LSU. We walked to the fraternity parties, the Chimes, and Murphy's and it was perfectly safe at the end of the night to walk all the way home to Miller dorm.
I got to class on the Greek bus.
For a huge school, LSU never felt overwhelming. I didn't own a car until my last year of college, so the LSU campus was my world during my time there.
How has your business changed over the past year, and how do you stay motivated?
The biggest change is that we are selling year-round vs seasonally. This means we have to be looking six months to a year in advance to make sure we have a product in stock to sell for every season. In the last year, the pandemic has driven buyers to shop more often on-line, so our sales have increased significantly. Along with that, so has our customers' expectations that we have new items in stock. We have found the majority of our sales coming from Instagram, which means posting daily and having quality content ready to post daily is critical to meeting our sales goals. At this point, we are no longer "hoping for sales".
With increased staff and more space and therefore rent, we have to set sales goals and meet them, but having set goals is also an easy way to stay motivated.
What advice DO YOU HAVE foR other women who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs?
It always looks easy from the outside. I think everyone looks at everyone else and sees "easy success," but anything successful has a team of people putting in more hours than you can ever get paid for or pay someone else for. Getting a business off the ground and then making it sustainable takes patience, persistence, and passion. Make sure it's something you can see yourself doing now, but also 10 to 15 years from now.
It's easy to say you want to sell children's clothing when your kids are young, but will you really be passionate about that when they are teenagers?
What makes you proud to be an lsu alumna?
I look at the countless people I graduated with and where they are now and am so proud to be a part of that "era" of LSU. Though it is a big school, I feel like I got to know so many people from so many different paths of life and backgrounds and the different areas I was involved with during my time there. I had sorority friends, school of design friends, work friends, student government friends, etc.