Classic storytelling demands a hero, a villain, a conflict. The roles that the characters play, and the nature, even the outcome of the conflict are apt to change depending on who’s telling the story. When remodelers tell tales about their work, they tend to cast the remodeler as hero. The role of villain goes to a wide range of players, but many times, it’s the architect who ends up with that title.
Beautiful ideas that are ugly to build; a lack of specifications; prices told to the customer without contractor input; poor communication: These are but a few of the crimes leveled against the architect-as-villain.
I'd like to propose a different role for architects: that of potential client. A source of new business. Someone to target, educate, sell. An individual with whom you are cultivating a relationship by communicating, delivering on promises and exceeding expectations, all in hopes of creating a satisfied customer who will be a client for life.
There are several reasons for making an effort to woo architects. One is that consumers are most likely to hire architects for large-scale, big-ticket projects. Making your company top-of-mind for those architects can bring in business you never would have received, or more of the kind of business you’re already doing. Especially in a time when most remodelers’ average project size has shrunk, that kind of revenue shot in the arm, plus the potential for a high-profile job with great photos for marketing purposes, is very appealing.
Another reason is that the next time a homeowner comes to you with an architect’s plans and asks for a bid, you’ll already have done your homework. You’ll know whose plans you can bid on accurately and whose designs are a good fit for your company’s capabilities. This can prevent serious project scope creep and profit slippage down the road.
Developing relationships with architects also means that you’re more likely to be brought into the design and planning process sooner. This inevitably makes for a smoother production process, better communication and a happier customer.
Then there’s the fact that your in-house design ideas may not be enough to satisfy the typical homeowner any more. High-concept design has become increasingly important in this country to consumers at all income levels. We see this in fashion, where manufacturers turn out affordable knockoffs of glamorous Oscar gowns the week after the big night. We see it in furniture, with the proliferation of Ikeas, Pottery Barns and Crate & Barrels. Target has been a great proponent of bringing design to everyday household items, even partnering with architect Michael Graves on a line of home goods.
In fact, this spring Graves and Target branched out into remodeling, offering a series of customizable additions that can be ordered online and installed either as freestanding or attached structures. (See "Great Practices" on page 73 for more information on this initiative.) My point isn’t that you should try to get into national retailing, but that design is more and more often a deciding factor on what consumers choose to buy — and from whom.
In this month’s cover story, contributing editor Stan Ehrlich gives voice to a handful of architects who specialize in remodeling. They haven’t made themselves into heroes, or contractors into villains, but they do share what remodelers need to know and to do if they want to get business from an architect.
As the remodeling market grows ever more competitive, it becomes impossible to ignore other industry players, regardless of your company’s size or time in the business. Allies are critical to your success.