As a sales representative at Mercer Zimmerman, a lighting manufacturer rep in Overland Park, KS., Ryan uses his degree in interior design to partner with clients and help meet their lighting needs both functionally and aesthetically. Here, he discusses what opportunities Park provided him, what skill set is most valuable in his industry, and why it’s important to not let fears dictate your career.
Name: Ryan Farmer
Current title/company: Mercer Zimmerman, Sales
Location: Kansas City, MO
Education: Park University, Bachelor of Arts in Interior Design
What was your first job out of college, and how did you land it?
Once I finally decided on interior design as my major, I was stoked. I’ve always been excited about lights, so what made it even better was learning we had a lighting course too. I knew lighting was an obvious piece of design as you can tell just from walking into a space, what I did not know was how involved it was. During the course, we had an excellent professor that was a full-time lighting designer, and she also brought in a manufacturers representative to show us a variety of lighting types. I was hooked, I had to do this, I had to figure out how. I immediately ran up to them at the end of one particular presentation and asked as many questions as I could. This rep later reached out to me and I became their summer intern and it was everything I could have imagined and more. That internship then extended through my senior year which then became a full-time job offer upon graduating. I couldn’t have been happier. My time at Park helped me discover something I loved and connected me to the right people to make it happen.
Is there a specific experience you have had professionally that helps you in your work today? What advice do you have for young interior designers?
Networking, networking, networking. I believe this probably rings true in most, if not all, industries, but I found out it is everything in this one. As a student, sometimes it was hard to push myself to attend a professional event. You always feel you have so much to do, with projects and studies, but it is so important. Attending just a few events can potentially introduce you to just one person that could open so many doors. Having these contacts and relationships can last a long time and can lead to significant growth for both of you, in so many ways. It can be help finding a job, a contact, assistance on a project, and even become a great friendship. I would definitely encourage all emerging professionals to get out there, meet people, and learn as much as you can about the many options available. Every group I am a part of to this day I always strive for student participation because it is such a benefit to them.
Why did you choose lighting as opposed to focusing on traditional design?
I have always been excited by lighting. I am not really sure why, but even as far back as I can remember I wanted any and everything that would light up. My parents still laugh that I made a career out of it. I had lamps, party lights, Christmas lights, signs – always on and as many as I could keep in my room. Once I found out it could be a career, a real job, I was all for it. It didn’t take long during my internship to see I was not going to leave this industry. I planted those seeds with management very quickly. I am still involved in design but a different way. My job actually involves working side by side with a designer on selecting the right fixtures to create the best space they can. I just wanted to hyper-focus on one aspect and become a resource for something I am extremely passionate about.
“I just wanted to hyper-focus on one aspect and become a resource for something I am extremely passionate about.”
What’s great about this path is you always appreciate good design, regardless of the field you pursue. Design can generate a wonderful experience, it is everywhere, every day. You can appreciate and respect the design of any space, from a simple restaurant to Disney World. You view what one individual or group of individuals can do and how they transformed nothing into something unforgettable.
What has been the biggest challenge in your career so far? What was more difficult or easier than you anticipated?
Staying true to myself, not getting wrapped into certain things or pulled in a different direction. You go through school with an idea of what you want to do or where you might want to go, but there is so much out there. Things can get confusing and overwhelming. It is easy to get distracted by something because at that quick moment it can sound perfect, but it might not really be for you. Just try to do what you love and really focus on that.
Tell us about your creation process from start to finish.
This is tough. I was told very early that art and design do not end, they are a constant evolution. So I laugh as I say this because I can maybe discuss some of the start, a bit of the middle, but nothing is ever “done.” What might best sum this up is how one chair can make you want to change everything in your house, just for ONE item. And this happens to me. All. The. Time.
The start of it all is the inspiration or vision I get. Once I have that I just run with it. Even the smallest idea can have big potential. I have been inspired by a piece of art, an inanimate object, nature, a relationship, a trip, a quote, and more. Designers want to create an experience, so I always think about how a project will make people feel. All of my work is to evoke good spirits, deliver enjoyment, and just promoting happiness. Whatever it is that I am creating this is my goal. I evaluate an initial response, the potential interaction between the work and the viewer, what stages might exist and in what times, what senses are aroused, and lastly will it generate to the participant’s overall well-being. Will they leave happy?
Some of this work can be very personal and just for me and those feelings, most of the time it involves many people as I love to be surrounded by great people.
What is one piece of advice you would give to students about the design/product industry?
Find what you love and go for it! I know that sounds so cliché and I’ve used it so much, but it really is true. If you don’t have a passion for it, you won’t be happy.
Another quote I keep close is “If you love what you do, then the world will fall in love with you.” by Chuck Williams, founder of Williams Sonoma Inc. It couldn’t be more right.
In what ways do you hope to see your career evolve in the next five years?
Where I am now, a local sales representative, is where I have wanted to be since I had the internship. I saw this was my favorite part of the process revolving around lighting and I love this company. As my career path exposed me to such great experiences, it was all always applied towards my goal of being in this business. Now that I can officially call this my home again, I am set. For the evolution of it, I really want to keep learning! We all know technology these days changes every time you blink and it applies to lighting as well. I want to continue to learn and grow and be a great resource for this industry.
Best moment of your career so far?
I always look back on my first rounds of sales presentations as some really great moments. I can get very nervous before public speaking, which is funny since I went into sales and knew that would be involved. Had you asked my high school or college self this question I wouldn’t have come within 100 miles of something that involved being in front of people. It might sound silly, but as sick as I got back then, to do this as a career is something I am proud of since I overcame that challenge and fear. The very first ones that I was on I would psych myself out quite a bit. As I did those first rounds my confidence grew and I kept reaching a new level of excitement. I saw that since I love talking about lighting it started to feel easier each time and actually more fun. The presentation felt more like a fun conversation with friends than strangers. The same applies today as I still get nervous but I am excited about every single one.
Take us through an average work day for you.
Let’s see, the typical would always start with a lot of coffee! Days are usually filled with emails, sales calls/presentations, and reviewing projects. A positive for me is they are always different, you never know what might pop up. I could be starting at the office and checking emails and respond to a few questions. Then I might have a meeting or two to talk about a project. A designer, engineer, or architect may want to review drawings and look for a product to fit a space. We could talk requirements, goals, and aesthetics for example. After that, a luncheon could follow which would include a presentation on one product line or multiple as an overview. The day could wind down back at the office reviewing the morning project and sending that specifier (designer) all the details and answers to what we talked about, anything I said I would get back to them with. I am sure some more emails came in and the cycle would start all over again the next morning.
What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?
Listen to your instincts every time, don’t question or over think it, believe it and do that.
It took me a while to see the pattern but the times I did not do this, I regretted it. Now it is applied to almost every decision I make and I would say it is 99% accurate.
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