March 18, 2020

Transcript of Episode 22

David Supple:
I’m here with Jim Doffet, and Tom, and Colin. Thomas Wilhelm and Colin Hand from Blade of Grass. This is an amazing company. I don’t know how many projects we’ve collaborated on now, but they’re always amazing. And Tom, I’m going to give a shot of Tom, because Tom introduced me when I just started my company, started to introduce me to clients who really valued and appreciated my skills and talent, and really helped.

Tom Wilhelm: We went to some fun parties.

David Supple: Yeah, we did. So really love working with you guys, really. And at the foundation of that, is design-build, and this philosophical accountability for a project. And Jim’s the founder of the company, and you come from the design background, right, as I did?

Jim Doffet: Yeah.

David Supple: Is that right?

Jim Doffet: Yeah. We started build pretty early on, and just added to the scope of what we could do over the last, maybe 10 years, like full hardscaping, construction and everything really now, irrigation, everything under our docket.

David Supple: Yeah. Awesome. And you mentioned that design-build is happening now. People are becoming more aware of it. You mentioned a group that you’re a part of.

Jim Doffet: Yeah, a really solid group that I met through the national APLD conferences, and they’re all similar. We all have the same business model and then we’re all design-build. And so, we got together and started doing monthly conversations, which has been really helpful. [crosstalk 00:01:28].

David Supple: Oh, awesome. What’s APLD stand for?

Jim Doffet: Association of Professional Landscape Designers.

David Supple: Awesome. Oh cool.

Jim Doffet: Yeah.

David Supple: So it’s a design group, but a lot of them are design builders.

Jim Doffet: They’re all design build.

David Supple: Yeah.

Jim Doffet: Yeah.

David Supple: And we talked a little bit about just letting clients know about design build. I love when a client is speaking to us in architect. And I don’t know if that’s a common element for you guys because you do a very high level design. I think it’s similar to us where we’re presenting ourselves as designers and architects who also build. But can you talk about that, how that indicates to clients, how that makes sense to them?

Tom Wilhelm: Just one thing vI was just going to say, within the APLD, there’s both designers and there’s design-build companies and I’ve found over the years the design-build companies are much more cognizant about costs. They understand costs. There’s been numerous occasions where we’ve gone into projects that people have had just a designer design and then they had numbers run and the costs were astronomical, far outside anything they’d ever wanted or envisioned.

Tom Wilhelm: And that’s because in a lot of cases, designers aren’t quite as familiar with costing as we are. So that’s a big plus to design-build is we can start talking right out the gate, from that initial meeting when we go to a client’s house. Oh, you’re talking about a swimming pool, you’re talking about a fireplace. You’re talking about … These are the kind of costs you’re talking and it’s interesting to see how it either stays in play or immediately goes, oh, well we don’t need a fireplace that much or whatever.

David Supple: Yeah, totally.

Tom Wilhelm: So I think that’s a great piece of-

David Supple: As opposed to getting doing full documents, getting it out to bid, only to find that same thing out. Yeah.

Jim Doffet: I was going to actually ask you how you do that, like the whole navigating those waters? We have a pretty good system I think, set up and how we do it. And so, I mean do you want-

David Supple: Yeah.

Jim Doffet: [crosstalk 00:03:26] Did you have time to hear those?

David Supple: Yeah, I would love that. Yeah.

Jim Doffet: So when we meet clients for the first time, we tell them they’ve got a couple of different ways that they can go and when they’re working with us. And one is if they have a set budget, to let us know what that is and we’ll design to that. And then in some ways, it’s easier for us because we know how to get the most impact for any budget. Right? And we’re not putting a lot of time into something that’s not going to happen possibly. Right.

Jim Doffet: And the other option we tell people is if you can go and do every idea we can think of, just go a little bit crazy and then put associated costs with each part of that. And then they can pick and choose when we present it. And we say, and it’s true, like 90% of people will go with that option. What I like about it is it took a lot of the pressure out of … When we let them have a opportunity to pick and choose what they want and we took the stress off of like, we’re not showing up and saying, here’s a $400,000 project. Basically, we need you to do all of it.

Jim Doffet: It puts the onus back on them. It takes a lot of the stress off and a lot of times they do a lot if not all of it, but that really helped a lot. See people that go in, like some of the non-design-build companies go in and they do the same thing where maybe it’s because it’s not as important to them that they do the install and we really want to have that happen. But they go in and these clients get some just outrageous number and they’re just completely caught off guard. Really unpleasant for them and it’s embarrassing really.

David Supple: Yeah. I mean, I think our process is similar and I think philosophically, the product of just an architect or designer is the plans, right? It’s not necessarily, where it’s for all of us, it’s the build.

Jim Doffet: Right.

David Supple: So we need to think with cost to get to the build, right, in an efficient manner I think. And you can still get there without a design-build, it’s just not as efficient.

Jim Doffet: Right.

David Supple: So why wouldn’t you want a roll?

Jim Doffet: And we know what to take out to get the same general look or feel, but something that’s not … Take a wall out and put box woods in or something that’s 80% less expensive, but you still get the feeling of the outdoor room.

David Supple: Yeah, totally. And I’m just like, see this work, it’s a high level design. It’s not builder grade, contractor grade. But I think sometimes, design-build can have a negative connotation of that. But true design-build is having all elements at a high level, bringing the optimal design, but cost is a factor even for clients who have the means to do a significant project. If you ask them which way they’d like to go, would you like to find out costs and have options presented to you so you can make logical decisions as you go or would you rather fall in love with something only to find out at the end and then have to revisit and what have you.

Jim Doffet: So we make a joke when we tell … We give them the option of let us put together … What I like about the putting together all of the ideas and then letting them pick and choose what they want is that a lot of our clients do, many of them do have the budget. If they can see what it is that they want, a lot of times they can’t even imagine.

Jim Doffet: So if we can go in and just put together all the cool, the best use of the property we can think of, a lot of times they get really psyched about that and they want to do it or some version of that. Right. And if we didn’t know that it was okay to just put together all those ideas and hadn’t already navigated some of the repercussions of that budget wise, then we would be a lot more restrained and they wouldn’t get as much of that really cool project.

David Supple: Totally. Totally.

Jim Doffet: Really, a lot of times it ends up, that they do some version of, if not the whole thing.

Colin Hand: The other thing too I find is a huge benefit in design-build is how do you discuss phasing when you’re not in communication with the people who are actually building it. Whereas when you have a design-build, you can talk about 2020, 2022. How do we make sure that 2022 doesn’t have redundant costs? All that is really inefficient when you have an architect and a builder. You might not even have the same builder on the second phase. So I think, considering that, personally and in my life and what I’ve experienced with clients, nobody bites the whole apple at once. So that is a huge value to the client.

David Supple: Yeah, totally. It puts them in control.

Colin Hand: It puts them in control.

David Supple: And if you’re not able to, if you’re just showing designs separate from costs, a client is bound to have to maybe revisit that once cost is put there. So giving them all the information at once allows them to be in control. And I think that just makes sense. It’s simpler.

Jim Doffet: We do make a joke about when they get that number and we joke about it, but we’re really pretty serious. It’s like, so if we’re putting together all of our ideas. When you get to say it, like almost exactly like [inaudible 00:08:26]. When you get that number, it’s going to totally blow you out of the water. It’s going to be a horrible number and just be prepared for that. If we’re not holding back at all, then I’m literally going to put in everything I can think of.

Jim Doffet: But we can take out like 40% of the costs. We can figure out how to do that quickly and still have integrity of the design. But if you’re okay with that, just let us come up with everything. And I think giving them that fore warning and we send them the cost before we meet them, so they get a chance to digest it.

David Supple: Yeah. That’s awesome.

Jim Doffet: We always joke, but they always are still like, okay. Come on over. [crosstalk 00:09:01]. We’ll still meet with you.

David Supple: Right, right, right. Yeah.

Tom Wilhelm: I think the other thing that’s really important about design-build is that we’re often asked to curate what it is that they’re looking for in terms of material choices. Surprisingly enough, we have very few of our clients that ever say to us, oh, well I don’t like X or Y or Z that you put in my design. Because they’re less familiar with outside stuff, they have something, the Magnolia or cherry tree or something, they love and want to have.

Tom Wilhelm: But for the most part, they’re depending on us to curate the materials that get chosen. The paving around the pools, the decking materials, the stair casing, that we’re finding the materials that aesthetically work, given the design of their house, the style of their house and their lives and stuff like that. So that’s fun too. And then as design-build, we can change things up as we’re going into the process, has a lot more flexibility than having to go back to an architect and then go through the whole-

Jim Doffet: We’re trying to get better about that because it is true, we can flex and bend onsite, and a lot of times, we’ll … But we’re trying to get better about it. It’s like, oh, I actually don’t like that wall exactly like that. We’re trying not to do changes like that. But we could and cover and if we’re far enough ahead of it, it doesn’t necessarily cost us or the clients.

David Supple: Right. And the client will never get stuck in between the architect and the installers and that is huge. Yeah.

Jim Doffet: Yeah.

Tom Wilhelm: We hear that all the time. They get whipsawed in between those.

David Supple: Totally. I mean, it’s just set up that way.

Tom Wilhelm: Yeah.

David Supple: It’s an adversarial setup.

Colin Hand: I mean, there’s also a part of it too, that’s really beneficial for us too because you put a lot of heart and brain power into crafting a design and working with people over a design for a couple months and it really stinks when you get to an impasse and say, this isn’t going to happen or we’re not going to be going forward.

Jim Doffet: And that doesn’t happen-

Colin Hand: It doesn’t happen as much in design though.

Jim Doffet: Just because we’ve figured out how to navigate all that.

Colin Hand: We get to maintain these great relationships with our clients years beyond the initial design, which is cool.

David Supple: Yeah, it is.

Colin Hand: You see their kids grow, you watch the properties change.

Jim Doffet: Right.

David Supple: Yeah.

Jim Doffet: I don’t think we have any interest … I don’t personally, and I wouldn’t have any desire to put all the time and energy into a really cool design and not be part of the whole process. I can’t imagine just turning it over and that’s it. No interest in that at all.

David Supple: Totally. I mean, that is the product, right? So as an artist, our product is not the plans. It is the actual creation and being able to see the effect of the day to day use, when folks get home, they brighten up, their lives are better for the spaces that-

Jim Doffet: You find some really cool Magnolia with the yellow flowers, right? You can do these variations, stay within the budget, but that’s just like that little extra something, that you wouldn’t get if you just went off some plan that you just passed off.

David Supple: Yeah.

Tom Wilhelm: Yeah. And we often say, a plan is just a 2D representation of a 3D product. So it’s open to interpretation and if a plan gets out of your hands and out of your control, then it’s wildly open to interpretation because it’s design-build. We don’t do a lot of CDs, we don’t do a lot of construction documentation.

David Supple: Right.

Tom Wilhelm: So we’re not specifying the fireplace is going to be X, Y, Z height. We know that in house, we’ve shown pictures of that. So clients have a very clear sense of exactly what we’re building them. But we don’t produce a lot of construction documentation. So if they go off to somebody else’s hands, then it’s open to their interpretation of what that should look like and how that should work.

David Supple: I’m just thinking, more so with you guys than me I think because I have a fixture, where you have live living-

Tom Wilhelm: Structures.

David Supple: And stone, which you can’t particularly, it’s not going to [crosstalk 00:13:07]. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, so just setting expectations, but the fact that you, it’s the same entity. I mean, that is huge. I mean, especially in landscaping I would imagine.

Colin Hand: Yeah. We know the masons we’re going to send out and we know what their skill set is. It’s not going to be the lowest denominator that was found in a couple of phone calls that says, oh yeah, I can do it.

David Supple: Right.

Colin Hand: No, you can’t. Not the way that it’s supposed to look. Yeah. So that’s a huge benefit for us, but also for the clients too because we are safeguarding the budget. We are safeguarding the quality of the project from start to finish as much as we can.

David Supple: Cool. Awesome. Well, thank you guys. Really appreciate it. Really trying to educate folks out there because I think in our industry, it is aware it is happening, but I think society at large could become more aware of it as just what it is and how it works.

Jim Doffet: It’s changing fast though. I think when we first started doing this, it was a lot more where people didn’t get it. And I think now, I mean, a lot it has to do too with the client has to trust you, right? If they’re locking it with you at the beginning, they have to know that they’re getting into something that feels right in the bigger picture.

David Supple: Yeah.

Jim Doffet: So it’s good.

David Supple: Awesome. Thanks guys.


Published March 18, 2020 | By

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