By REMODELING Magazine Staff. Let the architect do the selling

About 10 years ago, we stumbled by chance on a local architect and started doing work for him. His projects soon grew to be 15% to 20% of our sales, and then, the next year, somewhere between 60% and 70%. As the business manager for our company, I recognized how dangerous that was. I thought, Why not spread the risk and get involved with, say, a half dozen of these guys?

Today, 40% of our work (we anticipate sales this year of $4 million) comes from architects' projects that we bid on. We have about six or seven architects we work for regularly, and these are almost always our biggest projects. It's meat on the bone.

There are many advantages to working with outside architects. For one, the architect's referral gives that client a total comfort level. More than that, clients come to you with a set of prequalified drawings. They're committed to going forward with that project. In 10 years, I've only had two back out, and one was a relocation. Letting the architect lead the way frees me up from hand-holding the client. I don't need to be the No. 1 player on that team of three.

Rule No. 1: Never sell out the architect

Let's face it: Every design has issues. The key factor in working successfully with architects is to always support them in their dealings with the client. Don't finger-point. If there's a design flaw, call the architect and work that out.

My suggestion is to allow architects to let their creative juices flow. Respect the role they play in the process. Then, let them play that role.

Mike Owings

Owings Brothers Contracting

Eldersburg, Md.

Big50 2001

Control is the issue

I think a lot of architects are really out of touch with certain remodeling costs. Often, projects get overdesigned for the client's budget.

The last time I looked at an architect's plans to do an estimate, I said, "This is going to cost $400,000." The homeowner started to cry and said, "We only have $250,000." I hate being the bad guy when it's not my fault.

The first issue, for me, is control -- of the budgeting, selection, scheduling, and payment processes. Take the budget. There are 10 ways to skin a cat, and budget always tells me what kind of cat it is. If you're doing an addition, the budget dictates how big to make it and how many bells and whistles to include.

Flexibility in building

I design and build to solve clients' problems within their budgets. What we build may not be the prettiest thing on the street, but it's what the client wants. We respect that.

Because we design our own work, we can move a little faster to make changes. That also applies to change orders. We can give owners an up-front cost, and let them decide. This system allows us to be more flexible in making the design work, and in getting it built faster, for the least amount of money.

One last note: Remodeling is about relationships between contractors and homeowners. That relationship can fail to develop when you throw in a third party. Sometimes you have two against one, and you don't know who the two are going to be.

Cindy Knutson-Lycholat

Knutson Brothers II

East Troy, Wis.

Big50 2001