Business of Design

“My business is not doing well”

That was exactly how the conversation started when I picked up the phone while I was in the middle of trying to finish one of many deadlines I was working on at the office.  For a moment, I thought the caller dialed a wrong number, so I started to answer with an automatic “you must have called a wrong number.  This is an architecture office….” reply.  When I was about to hang up, the caller said that he called the right number, and said one of my past clients had given him my contact number.  I was intrigued…..

Business and Design:       While speaking with this potential client, I learned a few things about the reason for his phone call;  restaurant owner in Toronto, his business not doing well for the last couple of years, restaurant customers, as well as the street passers commented that the restaurant is not ideally designed for attracting more people: too dark, too narrow, not enough street presence, etc.

My initial reaction to his business bottom line was to suggest him of a really good accountant has to be changed quickly after listening to him for some time.  It was clear that he was worried about his business state; however, he was also suspicious about how the building / restaurant interior improvement can make the difference in his business revenue.

Design guidelines based on $$$:     Typically most clients come to our office ( with clear vision of what  to improve on the existing building or what they like to see in a new building which can compliment the surrounding area.  It can be small as deciding how many rooms to have in a house, or how tall the building can go in a certain city within the city height requirements.  There are many studies and researches go on before the substantial design work starts; in writing, it would be like a creating a massive “outline” before the writing gets started.

Our office typically starts working from these clients “outlines” (wish list / design guidelines/ etc), and start planning the project around it.  It is the checklist we constantly go back with our clients to see if our design is heading in the right direction.

However, with this potential project, our “outlines” are created with more emphasis in monetary value (return).   We started looking at the various factors that might have contributed to negative impact on his business; number of customers at the various times of the day, people’s non-responsive reaction to the restaurant (some people did not know that there was a restaurant), and the restaurant itself.

Location! Location! Location!     The first time I went out to see the restaurant, I missed the building!

After good 10 minutes of walking past the restaurant, I looked up one of the building addresses and realized I missed it.  With my handy iPhone in my hands, I started looking at that blue dot on the map, rather than looking for the restaurant!  It was an obvious design item that needs to be corrected fast!

Huge Open and Dark Concept     The obvious glaring problem I saw at the restaurant was that the it was not being used well; the biggest open space which can accommodate the large group of people was totally empty most of the time, and the owner said the space was being rented out for a couple of times of a year at the most!   As the photo indicates in this blog entry, the space was unsuitable to attract customers: dark, dull, dingy, etc.  With some minor upgrades (without coming up with huge renovation budget) such as better lighting, bright/ airy interior finishes could completely change the feel of the restaurant. In addition, with bigger renovation budget, brining more daylight into the restaurant space by either through different window design or even with introducing the skylight at strategic ceiling locations could make the huge difference in creating the bright and airy restaurant.  It was unfortunate to see a potentially great entertainment space for the restaurant being completely wasted, and sitting empty and definitely not contributing to the revenue.

Good Design = Good Business     After sitting down with the owner and trying their favourite dishes, it was clear that the food was not the problem!  In fact it was one of the great meals I had in  a long time….however, I was not sure if I would come back to eat at the same restaurant because of all of the issues I saw at the restaurant.  Conveying those feelings (mine, probably the most customers) to the owner in a detailed manner was an absolutely necessary step in guiding him with the right future decision.

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