Friday, January 23, 2009

What, did you see a Design Associates coupon in Sunday's paper?

I recently got an email from the facilities manager at a hospital for whom I did some life safety plan work last year. (I sent the guy a personal Xmas card, so I'm hoping that's at least part of why he'd give me the shout out to do the work.)  He mentioned that his facility wanted to change around a few rooms in their emergency department (ED), and he wanted to meet with me in the coming days and go over the project and get a proposal from DA to do the work.  After I confirmed a data and time for the initial scope meeting, he sent back an email describing in further detail some issues about phasing and what he needs to see in the proposal in order to send it to the health system's corporate office and get it approved swiftly.  In the email, he asked about discount pricing, since he had worked with Design Associates before.


I'm reflexively offended by a request for discount pricing, especially on such a small project.  It's easier for me to give you discount pricing, as it were, on a larger project (like for an entire department or patient floor renovation) because I can roll all the uh-ohs into one price, or maybe I just take me fee from 7% to 6.5%.  However, when you give me four rooms to remodel and add a door and wall here and make this door a window there and turn this into that, I still have to do certain tasks and do them well, and there's no room for the uh-ohs: finding pipes or odd things in walls that don't show up on plans, discovering new loopholes in the local building department's rules, or even the client suddenly realizing that they needed to ask for x or y and forgot to so they'll just ask at the last minute, you don't mind do you?  No, not at all, we don't's just that what you're suddenly asking for takes your pharmacy from a low-risk CSP to a medium-risk CSP and my engineers have to provide for twice the airflow and filtration than before.  But, no, not at all, you go right ahead.

I'm also reflexively offended because it costs what it costs to run a business and to pay professionals to do what needs to be done and do it correctly.  My billable rate is set based on my experience as well as DA's need to keep the lights on and the water running and a little bit of profit that keeps everyone happy and the cash reserves stocked a wee bit in case of emergency.  Again, it costs what it costs to do business.  

Now, I undersatnd that it's a really tough economy and everyone wants to try to see if they can get a deal, but this is an architecture firm, folks, not Circuit City.  This is not an "all endoscope procedure suite designs marked $1 over invoice!!" sale; it's a business.  It's a firm with highly- and specifically-trained people that provide design services for a very technical building type.  And it costs money.  Deal with it.

Jann and I figured out a couple of ways to show them that we're trying to work with their budget.  First, we ask them what number they have in mind.  That tells us if they're completely delusional.  Second, we provide them with a few options of how to work the project, as in how much time do I spend versus Jann versus an intern working on the drawings and construction administration and so on.  Third, we tell the facilities manager that if he has any qualms about the proposal when we send it to him that he let us know and maybe we can tweak something or change the wording on something, whatever.  Let us work with you--we don't want you to pay a bill and go away mad.  We want your business again and again.

Hopefully, these strategies will work for everyone.  I mean, we want to do the work, totally.  It's been a dead few months.  But we can't shortchange ourselves with cash, neither can we shortchange the client by not puttin genough time into the project to do it right.


Small Town said...

That's priceless. Must admit, in 15 years at this, I've never had that request.

Anonymous said...

as a structural engineer I have to admit that we've gotten that request from architects more than once. Typically it's phrase something like "Your office is really great to work with. You get back to us quickly and work out great solutions in fewer hours than most engineers we work with, however, we were wondering if you could lower your billing rate so we can use you on this project."

Mile High Pixie said...

Small Town, you're lucky. I wonder if you'll be seeing that request more in '09, though?

Anon, I'm embarrassed that my profession has done that to you, especially when we complain about how underpaid we are. Good work costs money for a reason. It's like the old saw about good, cheap, and fast: you can only pick two of those at any given time.

St. Blogwen said...

Damn. I wish I'd read this post earlier.

I followed up on a proposal today (small job, non-profit institution) and the now-no-longer-potential-client said their board decided our price was "too high" and since it's not an "emergency," they won't do the project right now, if at all. We were talking less than a week and a half worth of work at my billable rate. I totally should have asked them what number they had in mind. I would have enjoyed assessing their delusionality level.

This is the second time in a month that I've had to explain to a non-architect that architects' fees include nugatory trifles like overhead and supplies and equipment and totally inessential things like that. Most people seem to think the cash goes straight into our private pockets. And they have no clue what goes into providing them a good design. After all, don't architects just pull code-and-construction-ready drawings out of the ether? (speaking atmospherically, not anesthetically!)

The ignorance frustrates me more than not getting this particular job does.