A perfect storm has developed and we are taking advantage of our opportunity to be more efficient, more effective, more flexible and have more freedom.
First, A Bit of History
In 1999, we launched Fivecat Studio from a makeshift studio in the basement of our 1934 stucco cottage in the woods of Chappaqua, New York. Annmarie and I were both 29 years old, full of enthusiasm for the future and kidless. We had no clients, little money and were filled with confidence. We would be successful.
In 2003, with many accolades and a determination to take our firm to the next level, we moved out of the darkness of the basement and into a light-filled 2,000 square foot office space in Pleasantville. Our first child was 2 years old and another would soon follow. The basement had served us well, but among the sounds of babies in the background, we felt that our client base would view our home studio as a weakness; a symbol of young “wanna-be” architects.
We have been in Pleasantville for a full decade. We’ve grown to a staff of six and a revenue with seven figures. Our reputation for finely detailed residential architecture and our care for clients throughout the process of design and construction has established Fivecat Studio as a leading firm in the Westchester County region. We have attained many of the goals set within our business plan. Success is no longer a figment of our dreams, but a reality of our daily process.
But It Has Not Been Easy
In 2008, after nine years of hard work, long hours and tremendous progress, things started to change. The economy was showing signs of the approaching storm clouds.
During the five years that followed, with the storm destroying everything in its path, we shifted to “survival mode” and hunkered down. We reduced expenses, expanded our market and relaxed our focus on our target project type.
We were transparent with our situation and shared our plans for survival with our staff. Those plans included reducing hours and cutting salaries. They did NOT include reducing fees or reducing staff. We would survive, and we would do it together as a team.
Survival is Success
Today, the sun is shining. Remnants of the storm still linger, but our boards are full. The large residential additions and alterations projects in which we specialize have returned. We have refocused our marketing efforts and revenues are slowly increasing to necessary levels.
The storm has left behind much damage though. We have shifted from “survival” to “recovery” and have begun to rebuild. All but one employee has chosen through the years, to move on to other opportunities. We are once again a studio of three. With limited resources throughout the downturn, we have taken on significant debt and we are working toward “debt zero“.
We have survived and living through arguably the worst economic failure in American history, survival is success.
Every Cloud Has its Silver Lining
We now find ourselves faced with tremendous opportunity.
Throughout the past five years, while the storm was wreaking havoc upon businesses around the globe, technology continued to advance and life-changing tools, resources and platforms have evolved. In the wake of the storm, we find ourselves looking at a very different world.
Online tools such as Skype, Dropbox, Evernote and Freshbooks now allow us to work from any place offering an available WiFi connection. Business growth through remote access to staff, reduces the need for expensive office space. With a renewed societal focus on family and work/life balance, home-based businesses are no longer viewed as the domain of immature business development. Smart businesses everywhere are launching and remaining close to home.
The $3,300 per month lease for our Pleasantville studio, all 2,000 square feet of it, expires in November.
We employ one project manager and have a full roster of projects. We are blessed with many fabulous clients. It’s time for us to grow and we are presented with a very unique opportunity; a perfect storm.
Our New Chappaqua Studio
As I write this post, a new custom built studio is being constructed… at our home.
With 15 years of experience, a portfolio of target-market projects and a solid reputation, we are taking Fivecat Studio to the next level and back to where it all began. We are shifting to a new business model, available to architects only in light of the recent technological developments of the internet and its ubiquitous “cloud”.
Unlike the previous home studio, the new studio is filled with natural light, has a separate business entrance and is large enough for a limited physical staff. It comes with a high-speed broadband internet connection and an immediate $3,300 monthly increase to our bottom line.
As we grow to meet the recovering demand for our services, we will do so via the internet. Our remaining associate will have a place at the new studio, but will more often work remotely from his own private office or from his recently completed home in Montauk (with a view of the Atlantic Ocean). As we welcome additional project managers to the firm, they too will be hired locally, but will work remotely.
Staff meetings will be conducted at our new studio, at shared local office space or online via Skype. Services such as CAD drafting, computer modeling and administration will be provided by consultants located anywhere in the world. The pool of talented architects from which to align ourselves has grown from a 30 minute commute to a virtual endless list of possibilities. The many advantages from going digital will benefit our clients as well as they will benefit us.
A digital filing and archive storage system, with reduced paper consumption, will be implemented to limit the need for the massive (and expensive) storage rooms full of rolled drawings and file folders. Every aspect of the business will be evaluated and improved using new digital tools and resources.
Oscia Wilson, the founder of Boiled Architecture, calls this business structure a Distributed Model. I recently spoke with Oscia about her business on the podcast and learned how she successfully built her firm from scratch with remote access and digital connections. I believe this model is the future of small firms.
Flexibility and Freedom
The future of Fivecat Studio is bright.
With our new efficient business model, Annmarie and I will have the flexibility and freedom to pursue our growing passion for residential architecture, strengthen the fabric of our family and continue to build an enduring practice that will thrive for decades to come.
In future articles, I will document and detail the systems we will implement and update you on the progress we make with our new structure; the good, as well as the bad.
Do you use the distributed business model? Do you plan to? I would love to know your thoughts. Please share your comments below. The more we share, the stronger our profession will be.
… or just call us crazy and wish us the best : )