Draw Profit

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In-house design is more than a sales tool for Cathy Gaspar of Gaspar’s Construction—it is a source of revenue.

February 01, 2001

From the first day after an initial meeting with a client, the remodelers at Seattle-based Gaspar’s Construction begin earning income. By charging hourly rates for her in-house design services, Cathy Gaspar increases her company’s profits and improves the closing ratios of her projects.

Gaspar, co-owner and designer at Gaspar’s Construction, estimates that about 7 percent of her company’s gross income comes from design. She charges clients $60 per hour for her services, and has done so for the past seven years. Gaspar began working for her husband’s company in 1993, having worked on cabinet design for two other companies previously.

Before Gaspar began offering in-house design services, her husband, Rich, designed or worked with architects. By hiring Cathy as a full-time staff designer, Gaspar’s was able to increase average job size as well as the number of projects it was able to complete each year.

“It was a much different company. We did smaller projects and a lot of service work.” She estimates that the company completes less than 20 jobs each year, but the average size of their largest jobs has grown from $30,000 to $750,000 over the past seven years. Gaspar credits creating an in-house design department for the increase, as the company can now tackle high-end projects without relying on architect-generated leads.

 

Gaspar’s Construction

Location: Seattle

Type of company: Full-service design/build, primarily residential with some commercial work

Staff model: Three office, five field

Annual jobs: Less than 20

Sales history: ($ millions)

Work week: 40 hours

Software: Windows, MasterBuilder, Microsoft Office, Chief Architect.

Bio: Husband started company 27 years ago, with Cathy joining him in 1993. Prior to working at Gaspar’s, she trained as a designer and worked for two cabinet companies. Cathy began working in the business as an accountant, but a desire to design led her to hire an accountant so she could design full-time.

Key to success: “We’re really consumer-oriented and thorough with a strong conscience to make projects happen.”

Contact: cathy@gaspars.com, www.gaspars.com

“I feel like we would’ve been eaten up and spit away if we had to rely on architects,” she says. “A lot of them will design projects and put them out to bid; then they’ll select the low bidder and work with the contractor until they get what they want. We’re not the low bidder—what we want is what’s best for the client, and we wouldn’t get those kinds of jobs from an architect.”

By communicating with the client on designs from day one, Gaspar can work closely with homeowners to create projects that best balance desire and budget. Most of Gaspar’s design work takes six weeks to complete, and she keeps in constant communication with the customers throughout the process.

“When I go in for an initial consult, I’ll get an idea of what [the clients’] needs are, as well as a sense of what they’re trying to accomplish. This includes both function and aesthetics.” She then does all her own measuring, on site, and will gradually work up to a design. The first designs begin as preliminary floor plans, or even perhaps space planning.

Using these first designs, Gaspar will then create a set of complete drawings that the customer will purchase when they sign the job contract. Complete permit- and construction-related designs are created after the job is fully secured.

After the initial client meeting, Gaspar will often go with her clients to look at various products, closely guiding them through the selection process. “We make our selections together based on what I bring to them, or what we go and see together,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll send them on their own. Some clients don’t want to be hand-held, but we’ll still talk about selection enough that I can send them to the right locations to look for products.”

When products are selected, the Gaspars work together to obtain prices from subcontractors and create the job contract. In the contract, all pricing elements are included for the customers to see, including markup, overhead and taxes, as well as design services. Before this contract is finalized, Gaspar will have met four or five times with the client, including meeting with all the trade contractors on the proposed jobsite.

For the client, the process allows them to carefully control the project within a solid budget. In addition, the direct communication allows the remodeler and homeowner to work together creating convenient work timetables. “We’re working with one architect now who has taken over a year on the design, and he’s still not finished,” says Gaspar. “In our case, we want to build the project, so we do what it takes to move the process along. If I need to hire someone to help me make that happen, then I do.”

On the flip side, in-house design has not only allowed Gaspar to keep her projects from going out to bid and increased her job size, but it has also granted her company more control throughout the construction of each project. When jobsite unforeseens occur, superintendents can call Gaspar for an instantaneous answer for each immediate issue—there’s no delay in communication as there is when an architect must be contacted.

 

Specifying an In-House Designer

For companies looking to develop a staff design position, Cathy Gaspar recommends the following:

Hire a designer with remodeling experience.

Specifying an In-House Designer

For companies looking to develop a staff design position, Cathy Gaspar recommends the following:

Hire a designer with remodeling experience.

Specifying an In-House Designer

For companies looking to develop a staff design position, Cathy Gaspar recommends the following:

Hire a designer with remodeling experience.

Specifying an In-House Designer

For companies looking to develop a staff design position, Cathy Gaspar recommends the following:

Hire a designer with remodeling experience.

Specifying an In-House Designer

For companies looking to develop a staff design position, Cathy Gaspar recommends the following:

Hire a designer with remodeling experience.

Specifying an In-House Designer

For companies looking to develop a staff design position, Cathy Gaspar recommends the following:

Hire a designer with remodeling experience.

Specifying an In-House Designer

For companies looking to develop a staff design position, Cathy Gaspar recommends the following:

Hire a designer with remodeling experience.

The profits from design work are merely an added bonus, according to Gaspar. Her hourly rates make her time profitable, but she also offers to charge per project if the client is amenable. “I think our profits from design are probably going to grow, but we didn’t start doing it to make a profit. We did it to get into a different market. From 1993 to 1995 we’ve probably more than doubled our income, and that’s the real profit center,” she says.

“I want the design to be a value in and of itself, so I’m truly looking forward to having more work that I can design, and having that be an efficient process. I’ll raise my prices as I see fit. People are skeptical if the design price is too low—customers worry about what they’re going to get.”

Although she’s now experienced with remodel designs, Gaspar notes that her success was dependent upon close work with her trade-savvy spouse. Her training had prepared her for interior designs, but structural drawings intimidated her. Encouragement combined with careful explanation augmented her interior experience, and now Gaspar can tackle second-story additions without worry.

But Gaspar insists that the personal responsibility is the best bonus that comes with in-house design. “The real advantage is that I’m a primary in this company,” she says. “I have a vested interest in every single one of these projects because my name is attached to them.”

Also See:

Sketch to Finish Project

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