How many times have you met with prospective clients only to have them pull out a set of plans and say, “Let me show you what we are going to do.” If you have a design-build firm, this could be perceived as a significant roadblock to moving forward. They have already retained someone else to do the design work. All they need now is someone to handle the construction and that is not a project for a design-build company, right? Unless, perhaps, you are not opposed to trying something a little different.
If a design-build company is willing to work with homeowners who already have engaged a design professional to assist for the duration of their remodel, there is an opportunity to move forward on such a project — an approach I describe to prospective clients as collaborative design-build. In essence, collaborative design-build is a team approach to the design process, with both a design-build firm and an independent design professional providing design input. The chance to participate in this type of arrangement typically comes to a design-build firm in one of two ways. Either the homeowners contact the company directly or are introduced to the company through their independent design professional.
The potential role of the design-build company on a collaborative design-build project depends largely on the specific services the design professional has been hired to perform. The design-build company is simply retained to provide the additional design services needed to complete the picture and then handle the actual construction to completion. Identifying which design services this might include can be quantified during the initial conversation with the homeowner and discussing the potential benefit of adding the design-build company to the team. Alternatively, on projects where the design professional makes the introduction, you can let them explain how they envision dividing up the design function on the job. Either way, it requires a willingness to surrender some control.
The payoff of a collaborative design-build project is the additional work it might provide a traditional design-build company. Instead of turning down a project for a homeowner who already has engaged someone to assist with design, the company has a chance to participate in the job. It even offers the opportunity to convert a competitive bid process (initiated by a prospect with incomplete plans, but an established relationship with a design professional) into a collaborative design-build project. All it requires is the willingness to enter the discussion with an open mind.
After becoming comfortable with the collaborative design-build concept, a firm can begin marketing its services to design professionals. Potential targets would include architects and designers who lack the time, interest or experience to handle certain aspects of the design process. This could be an architect that enjoys doing construction plans at a macro level, but not getting bogged down with the finish details. Alternatively, it might be an interior designer that likes to do space planning and material specification, but does not feel comfortable doing construction drawings or addressing engineering issues. Although not all design professionals will be receptive to the idea of collaborating with companies they may view as competitors, there are many that will. But be prepared for some unique challenges.
Although they have not been insurmountable, we have had our share of issues on collaborative design-build projects. Without overall control of the design process, we have had to deal with project delays when independent designers or architects failed to meet their design deadlines; frustration within our design team when the design professionals interjected themselves into every aspect of the project; and cost control issues when working with a designer who was constantly changing the design throughout construction. Yet, my firm continues to pursue and participate in collaborative design-build projects because we’ve had far more positive experiences than negative, and it has given us the chance to work with some great clients, designers and architects.
Although it will not be appealing to every design-build firm, collaborative design-build may represent an untapped opportunity for additional work for those companies willing to give this process a try.
Dan Weidmann, CR, CAPS, is president and co-owner of Weidmann & Associates Inc., a Georgia-based collaborative design-build firm that has been on the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s list of Atlanta’s Top Residential Remodeling Contractors every year since 1997. A Past President of NARI Atlanta, he combines nearly 20 years of remodeling experience with a background in aeronautical engineering and the practice of law to bring a unique perspective to the creative process.