I’ve just researched an article on architectural and store planning technology – all those programs and platforms that allow designers to create their plans digitally, without once having to stick a pencil into a pencil sharpener. You’ll read about it in the October issue.
One of the advantages cited by the designers I talked to was the ability to communicate their plans to clients around the world without having to get on a plane – without even having to get on a phone. That’s especially true, designers told me, with the increasing book of overseas business.
Imagine all the money that saves. Imagine all the potential business that loses.
Daniel Montaño, Spanish-born architect working for Charlotte, N.C.-based Little, specializes in the firm’s Latin American business. (You’ll hear him talk about opportunities in those markets at IRDC.) Montaño told me that one of the keys to being successful down there is being down there. “Feet on the ground” is the way he put it. In some cases, Little partners with local architects, engineers and contractors. But even then, Montaño says he is a constant presence on site and at meetings. “Clients have to know you to like you,” he says, “and they have to like you to trust you.”
That means being there when decisions have to be made or problems addressed. But, he says, it also means going out to a play or out for a beer. “Relationships are king!”
The personal touch is what grew the U.S. business for most architecture and design firms. Most deals were local and sealed with a handshake. In Dallas, Robert Young built his firm doing work for Neiman Marcus. In Cincinnati, Kevin Roche, Ed Hambrecht and Jim Fitzgerald served Federated Department Stores. In Seattle, it was Callison and Nordstrom. And as they filled the stores with fixtures, signage and displays, they as often as not turned to local manufacturers and suppliers, for dependable quality and on-time delivery.
Principals were around the corner. Meetings were lunches and dinners. Names became faces. Faces became friends.
Today, much interpersonal business is done via a set of initials, @ signs and .coms. It’s efficient, marvelously intricate and as fast as hitting “send.” Until there’s a problem. And then, says Montaño, all the technology in the world doesn’t replace someone you know standing next to you on a construction site or across a table – even a dinner table.