The seminal moment came as Isaac Edie laid on his bed on a Saturday afternoon, having finished a meeting with his former employer, pondering the future, wondering what he and his wife Rhonda were going to do.
He is reluctant to say too much about the meeting other than “sometimes a negative can turn out to be a positive,” but he remembers the sudden moment of clarity.
“I left the meeting on Saturday and went home. I told my wife about it. I was lying on the bed, talking to her, and suddenly it was like a light being switched on. I understood: ‘I have a skill, I know people and they like my work.’”
He had no money, but it was the beginning – and he has never looked back.
He is not too shy to say it, even if indirectly, but he pegs the 35-year success of the family-owned enterprise that is Edie’s Decor to the unflagging industry of Rhonda, his wife of 42 years, the couple’s four children, a 15-member staff, and a work ethic evident to anyone who cares to look.
Isaac, 62, founded Edie’s Decor following eight years of learning the trade – installing carpets and “doing a bit of everything” – under the late Kent Rankin, founder of Paramount Carpets.
“Mr. Rankin could always find something for me to do: installing drywall, cleaning, anything. I got my training, my foundation” at Paramount, he says.
He and Rhonda met at Paramount, working together five years and marrying in 1974. Not long afterward, he realized he needed to do something more.
“I was having a family. I needed more money. We found the demand for earnings was not keeping pace with the bills, and I was building a house at the same time. So I took an active step of faith and started looking for something different.”
It was a slow beginning. Six months of training with Cable & Wireless, he found, “was not my calling, sitting in front of a switchboard.
“So I started other jobs,” doing some freelance construction and carpet installations – and then came the meeting with his former boss.
“I had no money and no tools. I found the information to get the tools, I did a business plan, including the need for transportation, and I went to the bank.”
Cayman National Bank approved the plan – and the $3,000 loan Isaac sought.
“I bought a plane ticket to Miami,” he says, bought his tools, then found transport locally. “When I returned, I started calling on developers,” people he knew and had worked with.
His Saturday afternoon insight proved prophetic: “They wouldn’t have anyone else do the work, and the doors started to open. I was doing mostly labor services at first, installations, carpets, vinyl sheeting, lots of little things.”
A visiting salesman from the U.S. asked if he would like to sell some carpets. “I started with a few samples, working out of the laundry room” in his new Prospect Park home. “We stored product on the porch, then outgrew it,” and, all at once, Edie’s Decor was born.
“In 1980, we purchased our first building. It was 840 square feet,” on the same No. 64 Eastern Avenue premises where the business stands today, “and on March 12, 1981, we opened and started a retail business,” doing carpets, vinyl, draperies, kitchen and bathroom mats.
The children started to come: Devon in 1976, Karen in 1977, Jonathan in 1980 and Teresa in 1982.
Edie’s Decor rapidly became a full-on family enterprise: Karen, now Karen Edie-Turner, is the company’s accountant and advertising, marketing and human resources manager. She recalls, “We would all come home after school and do homework in the offices, then we played in the carpets. As we got older, we wrote up sales slips and did a little bookkeeping.”
The business quickly outgrew its 840 square feet.
“Early on, we saw the need to expand,” Isaac says, “so [we] built a warehouse in the late ’80s. We worked out of that for a while, then had to expand again in the ‘90s,” driven by rapid economic growth as Cayman’s tourism and financial services industries – and its population – soared.
“In the ‘90s, we got a new warehouse and converted the old one for more showroom space.” The family acquired the adjacent duplex, converting it into a shop and more showroom space.
As the company expanded its service and products into hard surfaces, customized furnishings, blinds, bedding, valances and draperies, a new workroom accommodated the additional demand. Rhonda brought in a welter of high-profile international brands – and the work poured in. Isaac and his staff worked 16-hour days.
“Because of the demand, we had 18, 19, maybe 20 staff during some of the larger projects,” he says. The company supplied the materials and labor for the Grand Pavilion hotel, the Great House condominiums, the Marriott and the Hyatt and the original Holiday Inn in 2001.
“We fit out all the rooms, did all the tiles, the carpets, the wallpaper, whatever was required. It was a lot of planning and energy. We would finish and I’d come back to sleep, then get up early to do the orders and set up for the new day.”
For “a good 10 years, 12 years,” Isaac says, he slept four hours a night. “We did the airport, the fire stations in George Town and Cayman Brac. We did UCCI [the University College of the Cayman Islands]. I’m proud of what we did. Some of those floors are still there – the airport, the foyer in the Grand Pavilion and UCCI.”
The last expansion came in 2000 with yet another property acquisition, yielding a total of 12,000 square feet of workrooms and retail space.
It is no surprise to learn that after a dozen years of unremitting pressure, the family felt a little overwhelmed: “It got to be a little much,” Isaac says, “and it changed the way we did business.
“Instead of supplying all the materials and all the labor for everything, we started to do more supply than fitting out,” and that, he says, has given Edie’s Decor and its 15 staff a contemporary sense of identity. “It’s allowed us to have better management, and it encourages some of the installers to take on the jobs.”
Boosting creation of new businesses, promoting local entrepreneurship and employment, and offering a kind of economic springboard for ambitious Caymanians is what drives Isaac today.
“It empowers and boosts the whole small-business community. We do subcontracting, and, for us, it makes ‘HR’ less burdensome,” he says.
Daughter Karen agrees: “We see ourselves as part of the community. We are here for the long haul. We invest in the community. We have only two work permits, so promote local talent and training.”
The family has also gained a solid foundation. Oldest brother Devon is operations manager and works in both IT and flooring sales; Jonathan has a law degree and, though resident in the U.K., is the company’s legal adviser; Teresa manages the flooring department; matriarch Rhonda manages soft furnishings and helps out everyone else as they need it.
“She is the most knowledgeable person in Cayman about blinds, draperies, soft furnishings and window treatments,” Karen says. “In the early years, she was the ‘right-hand man,’ doing administration and working shoulder to shoulder with everyone else.”
For five years, Isaac employed a brother; one of Rhonda’s nephews works in the flooring department; another is an independent installer and subcontractor; Devon’s brother-in-law is involved and even “Aunt Cindy comes in afternoons to help with administration and support,” Karen says.
Isaac eagerly points to two non-“Edie” staff, who, he says, nonetheless qualify as family.
“Angela Bryan has been with us 21 years, in the drapery workroom and upholstery, and Dalton Passley also does draperies. He started six months before Angela, but had a couple of breaks in between. He’s been with us 19 years in total.”
Finally, Isaac and Karen have some ideas for the future: “It’s more for the children to take over,” he says. “Me and Rhonda try to delegate and to pull back, but it’s hard to do, so it will be gradual.”
Karen anticipates changes, but nothing fundamental: “We’ll rebrand and freshen up our image, tweaking some of the ways we operate. We want to keep that family feeling, though.
“We will keep up with what’s going on, but mom and dad have always been very open to our ideas, always very generous,” she says.
And that 35-year-old $3,000 loan from CNB? “Today,” Isaac says, careful not to give away too much, “we started on the front porch in Prospect Park, and now operate out of 12,000 square feet. Our revenues? Well … Cayman National is still our bank and they are very happy.”