As the saying goes, “You have to start somewhere.” For me (Mark), I started my Long Beach architecture firm after several years of working for larger architecture firms in the area. Deciding to leave my job with its steady paycheck and go out on my own was exciting, but terrifying at the same time. Fortunately, the day after I left my job, I got my first project as an independent architect. It came from a neighbor who wanted to add a second story onto his house. (We are still friends to this day, so it must have gone pretty well.)
In the beginning, I had a small office set up in my son’s nursery. I made it work because it was just me, and I wanted to keep expenses down as I built my new business. It wasn’t until years later that I was able to build a dedicated office space in my backyard, and then eventually move into a larger commercial space.
For the first several years, I was doing only residential design work. If you recall, the early 2000s were some good years for the housing industry! People were able to use the large amounts of equity in their homes to turn them into their dream homes. I was designing whole-house remodels and ground-up custom home builds. But then, in 2008, when the economy and the housing market came crashing down, I had to reevaluate. Residential design work dried up almost completely, but I still had a mortgage to pay and a growing family to feed. I made the decision to get into commercial design work. Fortunately, I had knowledge and experience in commercial architecture from the previous firms I had worked with, so I was able to confidently take on tenant improvement projects. At that time, many businesses were downsizing and consolidating, so there was a lot of tenant improvement work out there. Before long, I had more work than I knew what to do with! Not only did this shift in business get us through those tough economic times, but it also opened the door to a new stream of business that we still have today.
One of the challenges I experienced in my years of operating as a sole proprietor was the feeling that I was “running in place.” I was constantly designing, but I didn’t have a lot of time to focus on business development. It wasn’t until I hired my first employee that I was able to take the time to really evaluate what I was doing and put the plans in place to grow my business into what it is today.
I had some wise mentors that helped me along the way in my business journey. Early on, I had a very challenging client. After working with them for a while, I started to feel more like a hostage than a valued business partner. A consultant that I was working with saw what was happening and encouraged me to not compromise my principles. Those words really impacted me and have stuck with me over the years. Since then, there have been other clients who have asked me to make compromises in areas that I wasn’t comfortable compromising. I have chosen to stand by my principles and have never regretted it!
I have also made a point of surrounding myself with experienced, ethical professionals who hold themselves to the same high standards to which I hold myself. In my line of work, it can be tempting to use engineers or draftsmen who work overseas for a fraction of the price of local professionals in an attempt to boost profits. However, I have found that working with the best in the business is a better long-term strategy. Our clients get a better experience and a better end result when we utilize local experts who provide high-quality, personalized service. Working with experienced professionals has also allowed us to take on complex projects that other small architecture firms might not be comfortable with.
Looking back over the last 20 years as an architect in Long Beach, I can see how far I’ve come personally and how much my business has grown. We now have a staff with diverse skills and experience. We have adopted new technologies that have made us more efficient and that have allowed us to provide our clients with better service. Our portfolio now features a wide range of projects that highlight our work.
Today, we are proud to be regularly grouped with some of the top architects in Long Beach! Perhaps most gratifying is the steady stream of glowing testimonials we receive from past clients and the referrals they give to their friends and colleagues. We’ve come a long way in 20 years, and we aren’t done yet!