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Projects act as calling cards for local firms

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by Jan K. Allen

SBJ Contributing Writer

Local architects are widening their spheres of influence.

Every architectural firm has an area of influence, according to Geoffrey Butler, principal and senior architect at Butler Rosenbury & Partners Inc.

An architectural firm relies heavily on successfully completed projects in areas outside its marketplace to bring in similar projects from still other regions, Butler said.

Becoming known for a certain type of structure, such as schools or hotels, generates interest among potential clients seeking the same type of building, he added.

"Everyone markets as a specialist in outside areas," he said.

Butler Rosenbury designs medical buildings, schools, offices, retail stores, hotels, restaurants and other commercial buildings.

Recently the firm designed a courthouse, constructed at Columbia, which has sparked interest from other regions needing the same type of structure.

Entities with a common need will often seek out the architect who has proven he can fill that need. It is sometimes useful to attend conferences and seminars in the fields of interest, Butler said.

There is a difference between working for someone located in your base area who builds in other areas, and someone from outside the area, Butler said. But one usually leads to the other.

The firm recently completed a hotel project for John Q. Hammons in Omaha, Neb., which earned the attention of developers in Lincoln.

Butler summed up the marketing effort for architectural firms succinctly: "Identify the market people who build a certain type structure. Present yourself to those people."

Though architects rarely advertise through the media, firms still concentrate on getting their names before the right people.

"As with any professional, we're always marketing," said Ed Waters, principal with Marshall-Waters-Woody Associates.

Waters said most of his firm's out-of-state business comes from referrals or repeat clients who are building the same type of structure in various parts of the country.

Two major clients have provided Marshall-Waters-Woody with continuing business for a number of years, one of them McDonald's. The firm has completed 75 restaurants for McDonald's all over the continental United States.

From this association, especially through designing some of the fast food projects on military bases, the firm developed a rapport with the civilian branch of the military in charge of construction.

The relationship has brought the firm contracts to design shopping malls in Georgia, Maryland, Kansas, Arkansas, California and other areas where military bases are located.

Waters believes quality of service, dependability and meeting schedules are among the reasons repeat business keeps coming his way.

Ripple or spin-off business accounts for most of the firm's other out-of-state business not directly connected to an established client, Waters said.

Contractors are also sometimes a good source of business when an architect is needed for a project. Other architects may also share projects on a consultation basis.

Waters noted one unexpected source for out-of-town business was the yellow pages. He recalled a contact from a New York restaurant owner who saw his ad listing restaurants as a specialty. The man wanted to establish an eatery in Springfield and phoned from the ad.

"Become known for a specialty," is the key to national attention, according to John Fuller, principal for DLR Group, ranked the sixth largest architectural firm in the country.

DLR owns 15 independently run offices around the United States. Fuller is a marketing specialist with the Kansas City office of the firm.

The company is known for race tracks and other sports facilities, prisons, schools, hospitals and other institutional buildings.

Fuller markets his firm's expertise at conventions and trade shows, through direct mail and among other architects.

"We often work on a consulting basis. The local architect as the main player we're the expert," he said.

Building a name through past performance is the way firms build their reputation and expand their reach.

"Our calling card is on the street," Waters said.

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