Every day, hundreds of people walk among Steve and Kathy Joss's handiwork.
The village of Long Reach couple runs the Vertical Connection in Columbia, and their interior designs can be seen throughout thecounty from Howard County General Hospital to the Bagel Shoppe, fromthe Eyre bus terminal to the Rouse Co.
Since starting as a two-person home business 14 years ago, the Joss' company has grown to an 8,000-square-foot office in Columbia withseven designers.
The couple takes pride in the Vertical Connection's unique touches: the custom-designed carpeting they had made to match the fan motif of one customer's wallpaper; the braided fabric cornice in a display window with matching draperies; or the painstakingly coordinated wall coverings, blinds and floor tiles, all with the same speckled design.
The business name comes from the early days, when the couple specialized in blinds.
"When we started, we only knew from verticals, and my cousin was involved with making blinds, so that was our connection," said Steve Joss.
Both graduates of the University of Miami in Florida, Kathy Joss brought skills in design, and her husband brought a marketing degree to the partnership.
After carving a niche in the miniblind market, the Josses gradually brought in wallpaper and draperies, and began to dabble with carpets a couple of years later. They opened a 4,000-square-foot storefront in 1980.
Only 35 percent of their business is commercial. Most of their jobs come from customers looking for wall coverings, window treatments and carpeting. And most, the Josses say, come in looking for quality and a good price.
All Vertical Connection merchandise begins at least 30 percent below the suggested retail price, and the marked prices for carpet include padding and installation, the Josses say.
"No one here is looking for the heavy kill. We're a good place to buy if you don't want the games," said Steve Joss. "But you can't base business on price alone."
The store is arranged to demonstrate design possibilities. Several styles of blinds are installed at the windows, with other samples on display through the store. At the rear of the store, a wall holding thousands of books is for customers who want to thumb the pages for ideas on wallpaper, drapery fabric, blinds, shades and carpeting.
The store now takes in as much business in eight or nine days as it did its entire first year, the couple said.
The Josses' partnership lets Steve Joss handle marketing and be the "idea man," while Kathy Joss runs the store and carries out the ideas.
The couple handles the diverse workload by subcontracting the carpet, drapery and wall covering installation, which frees them for more creative aspects of running the business.
"We have everything here -- it's a one-stop shop," said Kathy Joss.
Both say they are committed to customer service and overseeing the total design from concept to completion.
"Service is just a word until you need it, thenyou find out what service is," Steve Joss said. "When you order blueblinds and they deliver blue binds, that's not service. Service is 10 years later when you say the blue blinds aren't turning right. The difference we provide is caring.
"A successful business today is not going to meet customer expectations, you've got to exceed their expectations."
It's this attitude that makes the first sale and results in referrals and repeat customers.
"The smartest way to deal with customers, is to give them what they want in a form that works," Steve Joss said.