At first the team had to educate clients about design/build. “Now it’s become a buzzword, so it has lost its uniqueness,” McConaughey says, noting that he is currently trying to set his company apart as “true design/build,” especially since the firm works with clients for three to four months on just the design stage.
He says that other firms in the area call what they do design/build, even if it’s just getting a draftsperson to draw a 16-foot-by-16-foot addition. “We look at the architecture of the entire house and try to address the client’s needs. We talk about their lifestyle and how they want to use the house,” McConaughey says.
“You’re designing for now and for 10 years from now,” Rothman adds. The team usually comes up with three ideas — the three best concepts that they feel will solve the client’s problems with the original house. They then sit with the client and pull what they like from the three to create the final concept.
On one recent project, the clients came to HammerSmith asking for an addition. After reviewing the house, the team reconfigured the interior and added only a 3-foot bump out, “a design [that] was more energy-efficient and did not take up so much of the yard,” McConaughey says. But, he adds, it would have been easier to just tell the client that a 16-foot-by-16-foot addition costs $X. Saying, “We see your issues — let’s work together to find a good solution,” he points out, “is a much harder sell.”
Part of McConaughey’s reason for in-house design/build is for control of the selections process. “There is nothing more disappointing,” he says, “than sketching an idea for a design, then having the client visit tile shops, cabinet places, etc., and have them start changing plans.”
The HammerSmith team tries to get a feel for the client’s style and to then present two possible interior design schemes. They use local showrooms, the Internet, and suppliers to finalize the list, and then mount the selections on a board to show all the elements in one place, including paint chips, door samples, and countertop samples. “We ask [clients] to let us take them through the entire grouping, so they can get a feel for the overall style and design,” McConaughey says.
In 2004, the Atlanta Business Chronicle rated HammerSmith No.1 on its list of A+ employers with fewer than 100 employees.
McConaughey realizes that high-quality design/build work requires a high-quality team, and he has made the effort to create a supportive environment for his staff.
He says that beyond salary, employees appreciate flexibility. “No one punches a clock. If employees need to leave for doctor’s appointments or for their kids or to work out in the afternoon, they can do that,” he says. “It’s not about hours you put in — it’s about what you produce.” Rothman says employees appreciate that McConaughey encourages life outside of work. “He believes a healthy, happy employee is more effective.”
HammerSmith staff also like knowing how they fit with the whole and being part of a group. The company is open-book and has quarterly meetings to review its business plan and finances. The firm also hosts casual get-togethers, usually based around employees’ birthdays.
To maintain the company culture, McConaughey invests time in evaluating job applicants. He asks them to take a personality test so he can see how they will fit with the other employees, and he has them meet with either the production manager, the office manager, or Rothman as well. Additionally, he asks applicants for carpenter or project manager positions to complete a three-page construction test.
To show how much he values Rothman’s contribution to HammerSmith over the past 14 years, McConaughey made Rothman a minority partner in the firm several years ago. “He is a critical part of the company,” McConaughey says. “It just made sense.”
Rothman says that McConaughey has an energy that drives the company and its employees. The designer is also proud of the company’s low turnover. “People have been here three or more years, which is unusual in construction,” he says.
Over time, McConaughey has noticed that employees have gradually moved to live closer to the company’s office. “Now, about half our employees live within a 5-minute drive,” he says. “It is a vote of confidence for our company.”