Continuing the publication's tradition of dialogue, ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING magazine held its 2009 roundtable discussion during the American Institute of Architects (AIA) National Convention in San Francisco this past April. With the economy central to everyone's concerns, A|L gathered a group of highly respected members of the architecture and lighting communities, representing both design and manufacturing, to discuss the economy's impact and strategies for emerging from the downturn. Moderated by ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING editor Elizabeth Donoff, participants included:
Patty Glasow, principal, Auerbach Glasow French, San Francisco
Kami Kinkaid, project manager, Pfau Long Architecture, San Francisco
Ken Lewis, principal, AC Martin, Los Angeles
Primo Orpilla, principal, Studio O+A, San Francisco
Peter Pfau, principal, Pfau Long Architecture, San Francisco
Reed Powers, executive vice president, Insight Lighting, Rio Rancho, N.M.
Alice Prussin, principal, Alice Prussin Lighting Design, San Francisco
Jim Young, director of sales & marketing, Peerless Lighting, Berkeley, Calif.
What is the biggest impact of the downturn on your businesses and on the profession? Peter Pfau: I'm kind of sick of hearing about [the downturn]. But the silver lining is that we all have to return to the essentials of good practices, purge the unnecessary. I also think it is a driver for green technologies. Suddenly people are realizing, “Hey, green technologies save money.” In the realm of lighting, there is a tremendous amount of technological innovation going on right now. Interestingly enough, the economic downturn is a driver for innovation.
Patty Glasow: People in our profession are not good business people; we have to learn how to be good business people. It means not expending into credit, it means keeping cash in our companies. Collections have been a problem; it is hard to get people to pay. This is my fourth recession, and it is certainly the worst I have experienced, but it reinforces what we already knew as important: relationships, diversification of project types, and, if you can, diversification of geography. This is going to shake out a lot of practitioners.
Alice Prussin: I actually chose to grow. I hired another person and had to live through some panicky feelings afterwards, but it was the right thing to do. It has pushed me into learning a lot more about running a business.
Ken Lewis: For us, so far, it has not been as severe as the 1990 recession, which hit Los Angeles hard. We had much better prediction and control systems in place this time and saw it coming. We set aside a good amount of money from last year toward this year, and we were fortunate in having some big commissions. But at the same time, it is a lot of belt tightening. We had to lay people off. One of the mistakes of the early '90s was that we held people for a month, and we dug a huge hole.
How long do you think your businesses will be affected? Peter Pfau: We create predictive models and the minute we create them, they are out of date.
Patty Glasow: It is much more fractured. Lack of new work is one of the biggest impacts, and the kind of work that is coming in is smaller. We had a period of time when no one called. We usually send out multiple proposals a week. For two months, we sent out nothing.