If a Shark Eats a Pilot Fish

Occasionally, I imagine a perfect world in which our top creative designers partner with our amazing builders from time to time. The mirage generally appears on a building site where these two professional groups come together with their extraordinary design talents and building skills. Working together like a well-oiled machine, they collaborate with each other in both good and not-so-good economic times. Then it’s time to wake up.

2009 has been a challenging year for most companies that are directly or indirectly connected to the residential construction market. Some of us have felt the financial sting more than others, but we all have felt it just the same. What is more disturbing is how designers and builders have been handling the stress of securing and producing profitable projects.

A few years ago I wrote an article titled, “The Shark and the Pilot Fish.” The article made a simple analogy of the working relationship between a pilot fish and a shark. The article expressed how the pilot fish helps keep the shark clean after its dinner and in turn the shark chooses not to eat the pilot fish. This relationship is very much like that of a designer helping a builder design and produce great projects.

What would happen if the shark decided one day to eat the pilot fish? The shark would enjoy a convenient and tasty morsel. Good for the shark, bad for the pilot fish. The delectable treat would last for a few hours until the shark felt hungry again. What will happen to the sharks after a few weeks of food building up on their bodies? Will the sharks survive without the pilot fish? What will be the long-term effects on the ecosystem if the sharks started to disappear?

Builders and remodelers need to consider how important their professional relationships are with professional designers. Many builders and remodelers are producing their own designs due to the lack of work in their pipeline. We all understand and can relate to the reasons why they are choosing to keep design in-house, but consider this: As a design/builder has it occurred to you that you may have eaten your pilot fish? Are your customers noticing a difference when communicating and presenting design ideas? Do you have the same design vision like your designer? How long did it take to find the right designer for your company and for your clients?

In these uncertain times the phrase “united we stand divide we fall” echoes loudly. Design/build is a process built on integrated business systems working in harmony to produce a common goal. Dismantling your business systems at this point in the game will only delay the inevitable.

Today many contractors are looking for any type of work, from selling small repair jobs, siding, windows and any other type of work just to keep the lights on. Designers understand their services are not needed when it comes to small repairs, but have you asked your customers if they would like to meet your designer for any future projects? In a one-hour design consultation he or she could help your customers plant a seed for future projects. This keeps your design services and designer playing an active sales role while adding value to the small repair project. More importantly you are creating a business opportunity with your second salesperson — your designer! As a design/build team you must continue to nurture your business relationship to continue to support each other’s business.

Designers design and builders build and together we are an invincible force that has no boundaries. Schedule a meeting with each other and create an agenda that outlines the business issues you would like to address. Develop a strategic marketing plan, create a simple one-page joint business plan and discuss how you can create a long-term symbiotic relationship in good times and bad.