Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sacrifice, Adapt, Stay Afloat

That the economy isn't coming around anytime soon seems to be working for some people and they are the ones making it work for me. I'm drawn to unstable ground which is what attracts me to water and sailing; the constant adaptation required to maintain balance my steady state.

I am back to working some regular Saturday hours unless I'm doing a show. Business was slow last Saturday, but one person came in looking for design help for a new family-owned restaurant, and she hired me to come out to consult on the spot. Turns out it's her retired parents who are spearheading this venture, ran a restaurant in this space for 40 years, and hope to start a new version of it up again after a 15-year hiatus. What? Why? Because their last tenant failed, and they are covering a big nut and it seems like doing what they know or used to know is the best way to cover the bills while trying to sell the building which is their ultimate goal. Got that? The daughter is a stay-at-home mom of 4 under 13, she's trying to help save the nest egg by handling it all herself including cleaning the filthy huge place. The change in the direction of the wind is easy for me to negotiate and I put the design hat back in the bag, synthesize the facts, impressions of the family players as described and intuit the feelings of mother and daughter in front of me. I call in my man-of-action contractor, Dave Carlin and his son Allen. Cost reality check, ouch, I propose the minimalist low cost "perk" and style staging to get the place sold (which hasn't been vacant long), while making it easily adaptable for a restaurant, if that's what they want to do. I'm happy for the vote of confidence and to be of service.

Next up, I am sitting in on a design meeting between a couple opening a 7000 sf coffee shop/retail operation and their architect. It's in an 1880's building in a prominent historic area of Detroit. They want to remodel it while keeping the historic character intact. Budget is tight, new is necessary in places, but where to make style sacrifices and still have historic reference and the authenticity that enhances the customer's experience and the bottom line is the trick. The architect has designed what looks like a suburban, made-to-look-old, but is obviously not, not cheap solution. I take this all in and determine that what I've got to sell is salvage solutions strategically placed to balance budget and look. This means finding them on my time and getting paid only if they buy something, probably sight unseen. Not the smoothest waters, which means I gotta focus on the tack or my small craft will capsize.

Meanwhile, I'm fielding text messages from other clients trying to open a new retail concept in Birmingham before Christmas. It involves multiple tenants with my clients controlling the look of everyone's build-out. They want the industrial Heritage Co 2 stuff they've used successfully in their other two stores. They know first hand that creative use of salvage contributes positively to the customer's overall impression and in a fickle economy, being the kind of place people feel good to come to and support is key to survival. No, it's not as easy as ordering from the retail display catalogue. Some hand-holding is required on both our parts to convince tenants, some without the ability to visualize, how repurposing rough-looking stuff can be adapted to suit their taste and will meet their needs. This is ultimately a matter of trust, they are buying into what I say we can do. There are sacrifices of certainty with the unknown and when things change so can the cost. I have to convince them of the value of uniqueness, sometimes over savings, ease and instant gratification. It's worked well with these clients and making them look good motivates them to sell me. That's smooth sailing.

It's Saturday again and here I sit on another slow day with not much to show for it this time. I've sacrificed a day with my family to sell this package in a not easy time or town. It can look like fair weather when you set sail, but a seasoned sailor is always prepared for the storms that come suddenly out of nowhere. When it's sink or swim, you better be ready to swim.

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