In this series of interviews, called Industry Insiders, we talk with business owners from various industries to get some insight into their respective fields. Mark Grisafe is the owner of the Long Beach architecture firm, Grisafe Architecture.
What would you say is the biggest challenge in your industry?
Our clients come to us from a variety of perspectives. They’ve had different life experiences, varying abilities to visualize, different tolerances to stress, and often have strong emotional reactions to their building or to some aspect of design. Many times, they don’t even realize that these preconceptions impact their decisions. Then they ask us to design the home that they have dreamed about for years (no pressure there!) and oh, don’t spend too much. All of that is challenging, but I would say that our biggest challenge is getting our clients to trust us with their dream.
How can a small business like yours compete with larger, more well-known architecture firms?
Our clients have diverse needs. Usually our services fit those needs, but sometimes they don’t. That is why we maintain good relationships with smaller and larger firms. When we receive a call for a project that is either too small to economically take on or too large given the size of our staff, we reach out to these other firms. We’ll either hand the job off or offer to partner on the job.
What is one thing you wish your customers would understand about running an architecture firm?
I wish our clients had a clear understanding of just how much the layers of regulations add to the cost of their project, at least in California. Our commercial clients tend to have a better sense of this than our residential clients, but it can still come as a shock when they see these added fees.
What misconceptions do you think people commonly have about architects or architecture firms?
I was once at a comedy club and the comedian on stage was going around the room asking a few audience members what they did for work, then he would make fun of their jobs. When he got to me, I told him I was an architect. He went silent and then moved on to the next audience member without comment. So, I image people think that our job is somewhat serious.
Many people also think that we should be able to answer any question having to do with buildings. The fact of the matter is that most of the codes are constantly changing and each jurisdiction views the code in a slightly different way. The two take-aways from this: It’s impossible to know everything about the building code and the code is open to interpretation.
What do you think are the keys to success in your industry?
I think one of the main reasons that we have experienced the level of success that we have is that we will not compromise on the quality of our work. Even when a client has tried to encourage, or outright bully us into cutting corners that might cause them future problems, we hold firm, while we attempt to educate them on the dangers of that particular short cut. In the end, when everything works the way it’s supposed to, the client tends to forget why. They just remember that they made good decisions during the construction of the project….and that’s good enough for us.