BETH ANNE BRANDEN ~Topeka Business Hall of Fame
David Vincent | Photographer
Beth Anne Branden has encountered more than one of those life- changing detours, but instead of waiting for someone else to clear the roadblock, she forged her own path.
The first detour for Branden came seven years after graduating from college.
DESIGNING A CAREER
Having been a stay-at-home mom for several years, a divorce had her scrambling to find a way to support her family. With a degree in interior design and having worked for Linda Lee as an intern in college, that was the first place she turned.
“I called Linda and asked if she had any work I could do,” Branden said. “She didn’t even hesitate, and I basically started the next day.”
Linda Lee operated her interior design business in Topeka, but her sewing school in San Francisco monopolized her time. As the only interior designer working for the company in Topeka, and with Linda Lee gone most of the time, Branden often found herself working alone.
“I had no one to bounce ideas off of and collaborate with,” Branden said.
As Branden contemplated her future, she concluded that what she really wanted to do was start her own interior design company.
She asked her father, Harry Craig, Jr., for some financial backing, received Linda Lee’s blessing, and opened BA Designs in 1995. By the end of the first year, BA designs added two more employees and Branden found the camaraderie she had been hoping for.
The complexities of owning a business were nothing new to Branden. She grew up in her family’s business, Martin Tractor, and learned not only how to run an efficient and successful business, but also how to treat employees and customers. Her father showed her every day, through his actions and words, that the first rule of business is to always treat your customers with integrity and respect.
The second detour came a year after starting her business.
CREATING A PATTERN FOR SUCCESS
“At first we planned to just be an interior design consulting firm,” Branden said. “However, we learned we might starve if we took that route.”
BA Designs began selling office furniture along with offering design services, and then in 1999, the company began offering installation service to ensure quality control in all aspects of the business.
“Now we could touch everything from design to product to installation,” Branden said. “That allowed us to offer the level of customer service that had been instilled in me by my father.”
At that point, business took off. Branden’s husband, Russ, joined the company to manage the installation side, and BA Designs thrived for the next 20 years.
Then came another detour.
RENOVATING A COMPANY
The office furniture industry saw a major shift from small design firms to national companies with superior buying power. BA Designs began to struggle to compete with the pricing those larger companies offered. Branden saw the hazard warning and decided to take the detour rather than wreck the business, so she sold the company in 2017 to Pure Workplace Solutions.
While the decision to sell the company was difficult for Branden, who stayed on as Regional President of BA Designs, she knew it was the best choice not only for herself, but also for her employees.
“I needed to find a way to keep my employees—my work family—employed and the company viable so they would still have jobs in 10 years,” Branden said.
Branden says the new relationship is working well, and in many ways has allowed her to come full circle.
“I basically gave up my design career to run the business side of the company,” Branden said. “Then I had to give up the business side, so I could once again pursue my design career.”
FASHIONING NEW IDEAS
That same detour that has allowed Branden to once again focus on interior design has also reignited her entrepreneurial spirit. She and her husband opened Built Interior Construction in Kansas City three years ago and added a branch in St Louis last year. They are currently in the process of adding architectural services as a new division.
“We are at a stage in life where we should be winding down and here we are gearing up,” Branden said. “I think we have some kind of entrepreneurial illness.”
Branden credits her father and his unrelenting demand for excellence in customer service for her continued success.
“I got to learn from the best of the best,” Branden said. “I was blessed to be mentored by such quality people.”
Branden now wants to pay it forward by mentoring others. She sees it as her responsibility to help young entrepreneurs because so many of them don’t have the background in business she was blessed to have.
“I love the enthusiasm and blissful ignorance that make young people ready to take on the world,” Branden said. “They just need someone to help them navigate their course once in a while.”
While Branden’s career path seems pretty clear ahead, she doesn’t worry about the future because those detours keep life interesting.