As I speak with more and more business owners about resiliency in this economy, I continue to be surprised by some of the great strategies I find among entrepreneurs, especially those in hard-hit industries. I recently spoke with Sulan Kolatan & William Mac Donald of KOL/MAC LLC, an architecture and design firm that has expanded into furnishings and other interior elements as new construction in the private sector has fallen off. And in their new work, I found a visual, literal example of a truly inspiring business transformation.
The image shown here is of their rootChair, inspired by Asian root furniture crafted from “found” natural tree roots. This rootChair, however, is “grown” to fit a customer’s parameters using artificial intelligence software and innovative materials. It represents a distinct shift in the design and manufacture of furnishings – and in Kolatan and Mac Donald’s business.
“We’ve had to look at where investment is still being made,” Sulan told me. “People are still investing in interior architecture and furnishings.”
In addition to exploring new products, they’ve also made a number of other changes to cut costs and develop more sustainable work that they believe will help them emerge from the current economic crisis in an even stronger position, as well as further build their reputations as innovators in the field.
They shared with me the following strategies that have helped them transform their business:
1. Look where the investment is still flowing – in products and regions. Not only did KOL/MAC look at new product lines, they’ve also looked at geographical regions less affected by the economic crisis. They are currently in the process of opening a second office in Turkey.
2. Diversify your products. Look to products that may serve as test cases for innovations. “Given the lower production levels, furniture manufacturers are more attune to bringing material innovation to market in a relatively short time frame. This gives us an opportunity to experiment with design and materials that we can then think about applying to architecture on a larger scale.”
3. Look at where you can add long-term value. Think about your products in relation to the community and the environment. “We’ve always been interested in design’s capacity to improve life. And the new technologies and materials we’re using in these new projects allow us to pursue ecological strategies that the construction industry is slower to move on.”
4. Be open to learning laterally. William and Sulan referred to cross-platforming – looking at innovations in other industries that can be adopted in your own. They utilize advanced 3-D software tools from outside the field of architecture in order create more intelligent architecture.
5. Operate in partnership with vendors. For example, rather than work with traditional, off-the-shelf materials, KOL/MAC work directly with scientists to produce materials that will better serve their designs – and the environment. They recently worked with DuPont on the design and development of a high-performance ecological “skin” for buildings that has the capacity to recycle water, cleanse the air, and convert light into energy.
6. Look for efficiencies. Unlike many architectural firms, KOL/MAC operates as a “distributed office” by forming project-based teams that collaborate locally, nationally and internationally. They said that with current technologies, they work more virtually – allowing for greater flexibility and lowering overhead costs.
When I asked Sulan to tell me what drove these strategies for them, she said, “The crisis makes you stop and think about the way you do things. I’d tell others to look at what you do well and what you don’t. Then focus on what you do well.” Like for Sulan and William, it may help you transform your business.