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Feng Shui For Real Life helps people, businesses make their spaces better

From New Mexico Business Weekly, August 7, 2009
By Rachel Sams, Associate Editor

Thirteen years ago, Carol Olmstead was a public relations consultant whose desk was facing the wrong way.

A friend was reading a book on a concept with a funny name: feng shui. She told Olmstead that according to feng shui principles, she should sit facing the door, so that things weren’t happening behind her back.

Olmstead turned her desk around. Two weeks later, she got a great contract to work in Hawaii.

She could barely pronounce feng shui, but she thought she might be onto something.

Today, Olmstead owns Feng Shui for Real Life, advising homeowners and businesses how to make their space work better for them. In January, she published a book, “Feng Shui Quick Guide for Home and Office.”

She explains feng shui as arranging furnishings in a way that will help bring what you want through your doors — whether that’s love or security for a homeowner, or prosperity for a business owner.

“The main thing I’ve discovered is how much I had to work at getting people to understand that this was not New Age ... that this was based on art and science, and that people are profoundly affected by their environment,” she said. “It’s a matter of learning how to talk to people in language that they would understand about something that there are a lot of misconceptions about.”

Before launching the business, Olmstead researched and took classes on feng shui. She holds a certification from the Feng Shui Institute of America and a “Red Ribbon Professional” status in the International Feng Shui Guild.

She recently worked with the Celebration of Excellent Women to plan the layout for the group’s September networking expo at Sandia Resort & Casino. Often, vendors at such events are arranged along walls or in straight lines. But Olmstead says those layouts discourage people from stopping and browsing. So she designed a layout that looks like a sunburst, with rows of booths surrounding a central area where the food will be located.

When Olmstead first approached the group, members were skeptical about feng shui, says founder Diane Furie. But Olmstead joined a planning committee for the event, and as members read her book and learned about her approach, they began to see its benefits. Booths for the event were nearly sold out as of late July, and Furie thinks that’s largely due to the open, inviting layout that Olmstead designed.

Olmstead also advised Jilli Kae The Chic Boutique in Albuquerque how to catch customers’ eye after a relocation. Proprietor Jill Winburn said Olmstead helped her rearrange display cases so customers would linger in the store. She also recommended that Winburn overhaul the store’s back room, which was in an area of the space that signified wealth.

Winburn came in on a weekend when the store was closed to paint one of the room’s walls deep purple, which symbolizes wealth. While she was painting, customers began knocking on her door.

“I ended up making $500 in that little bit of time,” she said. “The abundance started pouring in almost immediately.”

In the PR world, Olmstead did a lot of editing, and she still thinks of herself as an editor: “I help people and businesses achieve their goals by helping them put the pieces together in the right place.”

Roughly 60 percent of Olmstead’s clients are homeowners, and 40 percent businesses. Olmstead typically charges homeowners a flat fee starting at $400 to $500, and businesses an hourly consultation rate starting at $165. She says business has slowed during the recession, with fewer homeowners seeking her out.

That’s one reason she wrote her book, which includes a calendar with 366 feng shui tips. She wanted to get her name out and offer suggestions to homeowners who didn’t feel like they could pay for a feng shui consultation. She is also holding more workshops to keep her name out there during the downturn.

Olmstead is doing more work with businesses lately — a longtime goal. When she launched Feng Shui for Real Life, she intended to work primarily with businesses. That market was hard to penetrate at the time, but now that businesspeople such as Steve Wynn and Donald Trump are using feng shui concepts at their properties, more companies are open to the idea.

She has seen her clients’ goals shift along with politics and the economy. When she started the business, most clients wanted help finding wealth and relationships. After 9/11, people were looking for harmony, security and serenity — and that is the most popular theme again in the recession, she said.

Olmstead works from home and has no employees, which keeps her overhead costs low. But she has learned that while advertising can be money well spent, it needs to be targeted to a particular audience, rather than saturating the market.

“Talk to people in similar professions, and find out where they’ve been successful advertising,” she advised.

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