RSArchitects will celebrate 30 years in business during 2019. Gary Stanley started the firm in the summer of 1989 and we’ve asked him to reflect on the progression of the business during those years.
What was your biggest challenge in starting your own business?
The biggest challenge every new business has is maintaining financial security. It is especially true in the business of architecture. Many firms start with inadequate funding, and without the foresight to properly market future work. When that first project is completed and the revenue from that venture has been exhausted on start-up costs, there’s not an adequate backlog to pick up the on-going costs of rent, utilities, and salaries.
RSArchitects started in my home. We had no rent or extra utilities to pay. I didn’t take any salary and we paid for part-time production services. We didn’t hire any permanent staff until we had a positive cash flow. My wife, Myrna, provided clerical and administrative support. When we moved into town, we partnered with another firm that helped reduce equipment investment and provided production support.
Is there any piece of knowledge you wished you’d had at the onset of establishing the business?
We were very fortunate when we started in 1989 that we had several important client contacts that transferred ongoing work to us because of our personal relationship. I only wish that I had worked harder at establishing more contacts, especially in the public sector. I also wish that I had been more receptive and knowledgeable about the technology that was sweeping our industry.
Did you have a moment when you realized you were a successful business owner?
I’m not sure you ever can say “I’m a successful business owner” – especially in the profession of architecture. There are constant challenges, from competition to an ever-changing client base. Clients we worked with 30 years ago have retired, sold their business, or turned them over to younger family members who sometimes like to start fresh from top to bottom. I guess the closest I could come to having that feeling occurred many years ago, when I sat down at the end of the year and realized I had paid all the firm’s obligations and still had money left.
Prior to establishing RSA, you were already an established architect in the Sioux Falls community. How did architecture become your chosen path?
It’s difficult to say what drove you more than 50 or maybe 60 years ago. My dad enjoyed building things – houses, barns, sheds, but I realized he wasn’t very good at planning those projects. Some of his creations didn’t make a lot of sense and didn’t function very well. I tried to offer advice, but he wouldn’t listen. When I was in high school, I read an article on F.L.Wright and thought that architecture was the direction I should go.
Did you ever consider any other careers?
My dad owned a commission company at the Sioux Falls Stockyards, and I worked there during the summers. I had one older brother who was to take over the business. My dad thought it would be great to have his two sons involved in the business, but I had other plans. The only career that I was interested in was architecture.
If you hadn’t chosen to practice in Sioux Falls, what city would you have chosen and why?
When I graduated from UNL in 1967, I wasn’t planning to return to Sioux Falls. I did send a couple applications home, including one to TSP and I received an offer from them, starting at $600/month. I had made a commitment to visit options in Milwaukee and the Detroit area, receiving a similar offer from a small firm in Detroit. I’m not sure what influenced my decision, but decided to take the offer with TSP in Sioux Falls. Looking back these 50 plus years, I’ve never regretted that decision. I had great mentorship there, and was able to work with Harold Spitznagel for eight years, until his passing. As a side-bar, in 1967 the city of Detroit experienced major unrest and was almost burned down.
Looking back on the past 30 years, what do you attribute the most to the company’s longevity?
To be a viable architectural firm for 30 years, you need to build great relationships with your clients, and you need a very loyal and dedicated staff that responds to the clients’ needs. I believe that most of our success over the years can be credited to our staff. Staff members that have been with us for 10 – 15 – 20 years and understand what our clients are expecting. Our firm is successful because our staff forms positive relationships with our clients. Clients enjoy working with them and know what to expect.
Looking to the future, where do you see the firm headed?
I see the future of the firm as very positive. My involvement will continue to diminish, as it should. Under new leadership and control, advanced visions and approaches will be implemented to better compete in this ever-changing profession