As I work with integrators, there is a recurring theme regarding how to best work with the architecture community. When a potential client hires an architect, they likely will conduct a large-scale project, the structure will be built from the ground up or completely opened for a gut renovation; budgets tend to be larger, and there is a dream/vision that is trying to be realized. It is an ideal time to be front of mind with a potential referral source who can connect you to several high-quality projects each year.
However, those relationships seem to be illusive for most integration firms. Begin by reviewing what is important to architects and make sure your company provides what they need. Here are a few approaches that work well.
Architect – If a general contractor were simply asked to “build a house,” the results would be disastrous. They need to know mass and scale, materials, layout, alignment to the user; and all issues must be resolved prior to project commencement. The architect provides this and charges accordingly.
Integrator – How can we best fold-in the technology solution to this design process? Mirror it! Begin each project with a Design & Engineering Phase. The process takes the plan set (usually floor plan and the reflected ceiling plan [RCP]) and overlays the various subsystems in a comprehensive document set.
Lighting, shading, audio, video, network, control, climate integration, etc. are all resolved in the space before a project begins. Rack elevations and other details are provided before a contractor is ever chosen. Charge for this service; the architect does!
This level of execution is required to create accurate proposals and inform the project team from project managers, Technicians, Programmers, and Service Technicians. Begin with it.
Architect – There are certain aspects of projects that consistently present architects with challenges, and most are not interested in having them on their plates. They have seen the issue on other projects and know it is likely to occur on others. They would love for someone to help them.
Integrator – Ask them! I found that lighting design was a massive headache for most architects. They might be happy to help pick the fixture style, but they really didn’t want to think about the fixture itself, drivers, wiring type, dimming modules, circuiting, load calculations, etc. Align all elements or we will have an unhappy client.
As project changes occur, the ripple effect of one element to the next is nearly impossible for the architect to manage (in addition to all other project details) and the implications are massive. When asked, architects are happy to have the additional resource available. Have a conversation with each firm to find where they need help and offer that service suite.
Architect – They are concerned with aesthetics, functionality, and blending the client’s lifestyle with the physical space. This is not about brands, products, technology, or “cool factor.”
Integrator – This focus on look and feel allows for so many opportunities to present unique solutions to common problems. Avoid the temptation to name-drop your preferred vendor in favor of handing them an amazing sample for them to touch, feel, use, and allow them to imagine their client using every day in the space. Lighting/shading keypads are a great example. Fewer, larger buttons with larger fonts allow for easy use and are available in glass, metals, and high-quality plastic finishes that can be matched to the design palate of the space. Further, the actual tactile sensation and audible “click” are part of the experience and vary widely. Present a premium solution that becomes a part of the design rather than taking away from it.
Architect – As members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), architects are required to attend sessions every year and must receive Continuing Education Units (CEUs). In New York, the requirement is 18 hours per year with 12 hours being a specific type of Health, Safety, Welfare (HSW) course. This makes great sense! It keeps architects at the top of their game while building spaces that are not just beautiful but keep occupants safe to promote quality of life.
Integrator – Respect their time. Audit courses (both the material and the presenter) before offering to a firm. Is it visually stunning? Does it have great information regarding common problems? Is it accessible rather than highly technical? Does the presenter truly know the material while being personable and engaging? Have we avoided the temptation to make it a thinly veiled sales attempt? If the answer to any of these is anything other than “Hell, yes!” we have missed the mark, and you are wasting their (and your) time.
Even better, create your own content and provide high-value, visually stunning, compelling presentations not offered by others. The bar, set by others, is quite low – stand out!
Following these simple steps will create meaningful lasting “annuity relationships” with architecture firms that will provide mutual benefit for decades to come.
Chris Smith is the principal and founder of TheCoTeam. Bringing 20 years of industry experience to the custom installation space, they Coach | Consult | Collaborate with integrators and manufacturers to solve problems and run a more efficient business.