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Delivering Passion, Dedication … and Profits

“Delivering Passion, Dedication … and Profits” Dan Maginn, Douglas Stockman, Jamie Darnell and David Dowell started architectural firm El Dorado Inc., Kansas City, Mo., in 1996 to create smaller-scale projects from schematic design through construction. The firm wildly exceeded revenue goals in 2000 — $894,000 — more than double what they anticipated. Revenue goals for 2001 exceed $1 million, but the four partners are wary. After their high-growth phase, three problems have reared: How do they articulate their identity? How do they better manage cash flow when accounts fall through? How do they rectify the fact that several of their clients — other architects — are sometimes their competitors? Here, Maginn and Stockman explain:El Dorado outfits commercial office space with custom space-planning systems, staircases and furniture,” Maginn says. “Instead of turning to high-end distributors for off-the-shelf furniture, for a more competitive price, we’ll custom design and build not only furniture but an integrated system of space partitions.

“We’ve modeled ourselves after the Bauhaus and mid-century design pioneers Charles and Ray Eames: Our office includes a workshop and studio where we craft our own Modernist-inspired designs. Interior architecture and furniture is completed entirely in-house — a rarity for most firms, which usually hire a construction manager or general contractor to build designs. Our turn-key strategy leaves less room for error,” according to Maginn.

Douglas Stockman says this holistic approach has evolved from a design philosophy to a nebulous marketing strategy. The fear? “We may boggle customers with more than they want to know,” Stockman says.

“Our second problem: On January 3, the firm lost a $300,000 account — a dot-com client who fell victim to the new economy’s slowdown,” Stockman adds.

“We were banking on receiving that revenue, but it slipped from under us. Now we know better, and we’re soliciting other current clients for more work and more money down. Within the first week of asking for help, we received $25,000 in one day — a scenario like the last scene in the popular movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’”

Lastly, most of our clients — larger architecture firms — are also our competitors for space-planning jobs,” Stockman explains. “These larger firms sometimes refer work to us or subcontract us, but they can also be a thorn in our side. How do we continue to walk the line between ally and competitor?”

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