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Interiors By Sandra Espinet

Sandra Espinet

Sandra is an accomplished interior designer who has successfully set up several design businesses abroad. Born in Trinidad and Tobago, then raised in Colombia and the United States, Sandra now divides her time between Los Angeles, California and San Jose del Cabo in Mexico, where her and her husband have lived for the past six years.

In the US, Sandra runs Interiors By Sandra Espinet - a high end design firm. In Mexico, her businesses are Square One Furniture, Square One Fine Art Gallery and she is currently developing a line of unique, home furnishings. Known as a designer with flair, Sandra has been interviewed several times by the Martha Stewart Living Today radio show, amongst others.

Expat Women's Interview with Sandra

Expat Women: Sandra, your strong educational background in interior design, together with your impressive design portfolio, prove that you know what you are talking about when it comes to design. But what prompted you to move to Mexico and what gave you the confidence to start your businesses abroad?

Sandra: Design is my life. It is what I studied and what I have always done. So when I met my husband, an expat from Michigan, here in Los Cabos, Mexico it was natural for me to continue with the same career I have always had. I started with a small design studio that was a perfect square and was space number one. So, I called the business Square One Interiors. Of course every six months we added more square footage and more employees. Six years later, I have two locations and twelve employees.
Expat Women: What have been some of your biggest challenges in starting your businesses and how did you overcome each of those challenges?
Sandra: Working abroad has different challenges than working in the United States. For one, the customs are different and people behave in different ways. Latin people by nature are more relaxed and friendly and every hello is accompanied by kisses and hugs. The language is more formal and is always accompanied by lots of very polite sentences. I had to get used to the slower, more formal pace of work. There are daily rituals of asking about everyone's parents, husbands and friends. They truly care about everyone and if one does not ask back in return it is considered rude and abrupt. Of course, my designers have also learned from me, and they now combine their traditions with my fast paced work. It has been a good experience for us all.
Business Ideas: Sandra Espinet
Business Ideas: Interiors By Sandra Espinet
Business Ideas: Interiors By Sandra Espinet
Expat Women: Given that interior design work is largely done by word-of-mouth referral from satisfied clients, how did you establish yourself at the beginning?
Sandra: I came to the area with a great reputation and an extensive 20 year background in design. I was not reinventing the wheel, just moving it. Cabo is a small town and our clients all know each other so yes, all of our work is word of mouth.
Expat Women: Your business is powered by ten, fabulous women. Has it been difficult for you to 'let go' of some aspects of your business and entrust certain responsibilities to your team?
Sandra: I hire people with the sole intention of one day being able to release them with all of the tools needed and carry the torch. I like independent and confident employees who know when to take control. A perfect example is my senior designer Paulina Jimenez. She is capable of visiting clients and preparing budgets on her own, and she only consults me with issues or problems. I feel very proud to have been such an influence on her design abilities. She started out as a junior designer and knew very little about client relations. Her growth is impressive and shows her huge ambitions and potential. All of my designers will follow suit one day. They are all that good.
Expat Women: Please share with us your tips for women who are moving abroad and needing to make their temporary location feel like a 'home away from home'.
Sandra: It is hard to move anywhere, much less to a foreign country, but keeping it light is key. You can not carry everything you own, so consolidating and taking only the imperative items will alleviate your load. Part of moving is also starting fresh and having a new perspective. You cannot do that if you carry around too much baggage from your past. Moving abroad is usually not a whim decision. Most people have a reason such as a job or family that helps them make the decision to turn a new leaf internationally. So rely on those work, friend or family contacts to start your new life.
Expat Women: To conclude, what advice would you give to budding expat entrepreneurs who would like to start a business abroad?
Sandra: The first thing to consider when opening a business abroad is the people in the new country. For example, I have been to Tibet and I can tell you there is no way I could ever run the type of business I have now in that kind of environment. You have to be realistic as to what the purpose of your business is.

My best friend recently moved to Hong Kong and she opened an import/export agency. She is able to travel in China and find manufacturers and ship products all over the world. She was flexible and saw the opportunity. Another friend of mine moved from Indonesia to the United States and created a furniture import company, and she now brings Indonesian furniture to the US. Creativity is imperative.
Expat Women: Sandra, thank you so much for sharing both your entrepreneurial experience and your expert design advice. We wish your businesses every success for the future.
October 2009
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