Chamber member Kent Spurgin, owner of Spurgin & Associates Architects shares his business insights.
What inspired you to start your business?
I was blessed by the good Lord to know beyond a doubt as early as 8th grade that I wanted to be an Architect. From childhood, I enjoyed art of all kinds, but I couldn’t meet my own expectations with proportions when I tried to draw people or animals and such, so I started to focus on architectural drawings, I started noticing building structures more and paying attention to materials, textures, and various details, and how buildings had their own rhythm and proportions, etc. and I developed a pretty good eye for being able to envision in 3 dimensions what I was drawing in 2 dimensions, and it just grew from there. It was exciting to realize that rather than simply viewing the kind of artwork I created in my youth, that in my career people would actually live or work or play and just ‘do life’ in the structures that ultimately started as an idea in my head.
What services or products do you offer?
My firm offers interior space planning, site planning, and master planning to indicating the potential for maximum development of the owner’s property, together with full architectural design services which takes the project from the programming phase through schematic design, design development and construction documents, assisting the owner in receiving competitive bids when appropriate, assisting the owner with selection of finish materials and color selections, checking contractor supplied shop drawings, and regular construction observation to ensure that construction is following the construction documents until substantial completion of the project and final approval and owner occupancy.
What is unique about your business?
My firm is not really different from other architectural firms in the general practice of architecture but my original dream was for Spurgin & Associates Architects to be the next really big architectural firm in the metroplex employing dozens if not hundreds of design professionals. But as I met and got to know a few of those ‘big boys’ from the large firms and came to understand the stresses of managing a firm that large and keeping enough work in the office to provide that many people with steady work, and after hearing of and seeing firsthand what those sort of time commitments may cost in terms of a happy and successful marriage, spending time with your children and their various events and endeavors, and just enjoying life in general, my goal changed somewhat and I decided that having a smaller firm which provided a good income but allowed time for family and fun was actually a much loftier goal. So there have been times when I had CAD draftsmen working for me but right now, I am just a one-man shop and I do everything myself architecturally speaking; with the help of consulting structural, MEP and civil engineers trained in their respective disciplines. ‘Doing it all’ keeps it more exciting and prevents boredom from doing the repetitive tasks because I am doing something different all the time, keeping numerous projects, all in various states of progress, moving along steadily and (hopefully) efficiently. With all the responsibility falling on my own shoulders, it requires that I stay focused, and it forces me to exercise caution when chasing new projects or accepting new opportunities because I would much rather under-promise and over-perform than bite off more than I can chew and disappoint my clients by doing less than they expect and deserve.
How does your business give back to the community?
Both professionally and personally, I just try to be a positive force for McKinney and Collin County and the surrounding area. I’m a minority around here now in that I was born and raised in McKinney, and when I graduated from McKinney High in 1977 and went to UTA for college, McKinney had a whopping 17,000 people so I’ve seen my beloved hometown grow 10-fold and while I have seen a lot of changes in that 40+ years, I still believe McKinney and the surrounding area is the best place to grow a family and a business so I just try to be an advocate every chance I get.
What obstacles did you have to overcome to get where are today?
I had two wonderful parents and a great sister growing up in a small two-bedroom, wood-framed house in McKinney, and my dad was the sole bread-winner in the family, selling automotive parts from a store one block north of the downtown square and my mother was a stay-at-home mom who took great care of the family, so we weren’t poor but we didn’t classify as wealthy by any monetary definition. My father passed away from cancer just a few weeks after I started 8th grade so we money got even tighter living primarily on SS. Fortunately a wonderful family man I knew from McKinney and FBC offered me an afterschool job at his company in town, which became a full-time job in the summers and I worked for him until the week I left McKinney for Arlington to start college. Since God had clearly told me he wanted me to be an architect, and you had to go to college to get there, I knew I would somehow go to college and just trusted God would provide a way and he did; an uncle by marriage offered to pay my way and he gave me a check at the beginning of each school year which paid for tuition, books, living expenses, etc. for 7 years while I earned a BS and MA in Architecture from UTA. If it weren’t for God’s provision via a wonderful uncle who had been financially blessed in life and wanted to share that blessing with his family, I would not have had the college opportunity. The scary part of that story is that the total amount I was given over that 7 year period, which again, paid for virtually everything, will buy you a single year of tuition only at an out-of-state university nowadays.
The second big obstacle to achieving the title of Architect was a 34-hour exam offered in 9 divisions given over 4 days, only once per year in Ft. Worth. Any section of the test you failed (including the 12-hour building design test on day 4) you waited a year and tried again, and again, until you had passed all 9 divisions, at which time you were finally awarded your license to practice Architecture. I spoke with one gentleman at the testing facility who was there for his 10th year in another attempt at passing the 12-hour building design test. After 6 months of study (and prayer I might add) I was once again blessed beyond measure to pass all 9 divisions of the test on my first attempt.
What methods have you used to grow your business?
Basically the good old golden rule; I treat my clients the way I would like for them to treat me. And I try to spend the extra time necessary to explain things to them and walk them through the design and my ideas, but I assure them that THEY are the expert on their business and project, not me, but the more they let me crawl around in their head and learn what they want out of the project, along with any preconceptions they have about it, the better I can give them the project they desire which will help them achieve their goals, within their budget and in a timely fashion.
What is the secret to keeping happy customers?
Same as above. And I would add that while I try to arrive at a pleasant design that will be an asset to the client, the community and those who work, dwell, play within; my ultimate goal is not to create something that will impress the next client in a color glossy portfolio, but to give the client a quality project on time and within budget for a fair fee. My small firm typically is not awarded those ‘crown jewel’ type of projects that primarily larger firms work on but this business model has served me well as evidenced by the surrounding municipalities that I have been honored to work with on multiple occasions and by Collin County in particular for whom I have been privileged to provide professional design services on over 90 projects since starting my firm.
What is your most/least favorite thing about your business?
While fully understanding that building codes are necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public, and prevent building catastrophes from reoccurring, there are just so many codes nowadays that dictate virtually every portion and phase of design that it has taken some of the fun and creativity out of the process. So much of the design of a project is now prescribed by myriad building codes, accessibility codes, sustainability codes, energy conservation codes, etc. that it sometimes feels like as the designer you now have less to say about your project than the code writers do.
Where do you see your business going in the future?
I believe that the future will continue to be bright for Spurgin & Associates Architects. The economy is a huge driver for building projects, both in the private and the public sector and my workload has historically been pretty evenly split between the two but leans more toward the public sector. I am currently wrapping up my largest project to date; a 5-bay 15-man Fire Station for the City of The Colony to be located behind Nebraska Furniture Mart with an estimated construction cost in the $6.5-7.0 million-dollar range. Typically, nice projects like that breed additional projects as surrounding local government entities notice the project and start enquiring about it when considering similar projects of their own; it has been my personal experience at least that work spreads by word of mouth more than anything else and as our economy continues to pick up speed, I anticipate that projects will continue to abound and keep our market strong.
How are you involved in the chamber and what is the effect on your business?
I guess my primary involvement in the Chamber is to support the businesses that make up our Chamber, so personally and professionally I ‘keep it local’ and ‘shop McKinney’ and at every opportunity. I do all types of business with the locals and hope they return the favor the next time they need or know of someone who needs an Architect, and I’m pleased to say I have received several commissions from local business folks so it must be working!
What’s the best advice you would give a new chamber member to get the most out of their membership?
Be involved in the Chamber’s activities when possible and ALWAYS be an advocate for the Chamber and for your city, county and state. If you see something happening you don’t like, talk to others or better yet, work to correct it yourself in constructive ways; not by degrading the Chamber, the City or our leaders. We’re doing something right or 153,000 people would not have moved here in the last 40 years.