Vicki Norris: Aiming to organize the world

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Call to order

Vicki Norris aims to organzize the world, and become a one-woman brand doing it.

By Christina Williams

The organization expert is laughing as she answers the front door. Real laughter — more giggle than guffaw. Charlie, the small beige mop of a Lhasa apso who was barking at the bell, has been restrained.

“The dog is such a love,” says Vicki Norris, extending her hand and offering up an explanation for her mirth. “He would have covered you in kisses.”

She’s dressed impeccably and her bright pink toenail polish matches her blouse, but the personality matches her blond curls, heading in 100 different directions at once.

Out of her home in Sherwood, Norris has built a six-employee company that helps the disorganized — from housewives to executives — mend their ways. Restoring Order served an average of 14 clients per week last year and the founder aims to make it 20 per week in 2006. From Norris’ perspective, getting organized isn’t just about clearing the clutter off the desktop or the kitchen counter; it’s about arranging priorities around personal and professional values and then lining up the details to match the priorities.

But beyond her role as a consultant, the 32-year-old is an author and public speaker. She appears regularly on television including HGTV’s Mission: Organization and KATU-Portland’s AM Northwest. With the help of her husband, Trevor, she designed and is now marketing a line of office organization products.

Her hybrid business model is unique among her peers in the National Association of Professional Organizers, most of whom are sole proprietors. And she’s not done yet.

For all her levity, Norris is very serious when it comes to mapping out her career trajectory. She wants to be a nationally — maybe even internationally — known organizational expert. She’d like Vicki Norris to have the same kind of brand cachet as Martha Stewart or Jenny Craig. Don’t laugh.

“What I don’t want to be is Ask Eloise,” says Norris, rolling her eyes. “The world doesn’t need another home economist. I want to be a thought leader on setting priorities.”

Today, Norris is holding her monthly consultant training, gathering her company (three consultants and two administrative types, most of who work remotely) around the table in her roomy, cement-floor office behind the kitchen. A bowl of Wheat Thins and another of miniature chocolate bars anchor a table runner while Norris presides over the white board. She asks the team to review together the organization services they provide for different kinds of business customers — the home-baser, the sole proprietor, the corporate executive.

“We’re just trying to be more self aware about the services we’re offering,” Norris says, prompting the women to speak up about how home business clients need more attention to managing the confluence of their personal and professional lives and the small business person most likely needs to spend time on setting up workflow systems. Her thumb and forefinger get smudged as she erases words mid-thought; an assistant plinks away at a laptop, taking down the minutes for later discussion. 

Getting her team to use a common language and employ the same strategies is imperative for the company that’s starting to use the full name Vickie Norris’ Restoring Order. These days, Norris limits actual consulting with clients to about four appointments per month, devoting the rest of her time to public speaking, television gigs, promoting her first book (Restoring Order — Organizing Strategies to Reclaim Your Life, published in January by Eugene-based Harvest House) and writing her second book,  which deals specifically with corporate organizational strategies.

“It’s not going to be a two-book series,” Norris says. “I want a 10-book series.”

Norris credits her Christian faith — after graduating from University of Puget Sound with a communications major she worked for several years for a nonprofit ministry — with her desire to instill hope in others. And as a counterpoint to Martha Stewart’s polished persona, Norris says she doesn’t strive for perfection — in her book she cops to being lax about taking down Easter decorations and unloading the dishwasher.

“I want people to see me as someone who’s not perfect, but who’s approachable and friendly and authentic,” she says. “I want to help people be aligned with their values so I need to live what I’m saying to people.”

Norris started out as part-time organizational consultant in 1999, while working as a receptionist at Portland law firm Lane Powell. “I got a website going and I got cards printed. I’m a huge believer in execution.” By 2002, she was going at it full time and couldn’t fit new clients on her calendar.

She started her business, Norris says, “in typical me style.” It’s a phrase she uses often. As in: “In typical me style, I went from zero to three employees.” Or, “In typical me style, I volunteered to be a vice president of the professional organizers group my first year in business.”

When she wanted to put label holders on her office supply line, she bought a $3,000 mill to cut out the prototypes. The retro design is very 1950s library card catalog.

To the people who advised her against getting into the product business, Norris was probably polite. Now she tosses back her head to laugh and says “That is like telling a woman in labor to close her legs. It’s not going to happen.”

But it’s with a completely straight face that Norris says: “I cannot fail. This is what I’m called to do.”

 

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