Samantha Struck: Design Documentation

Episode 10 November 03, 2023 01:00:20
Samantha Struck: Design Documentation
The Interior Collective
Samantha Struck: Design Documentation

Nov 03 2023 | 01:00:20

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Show Notes

Construction documentation is the most critical piece to executing designs of the highest caliber. We searched far and wide for examples of the very best in construction documentation and were wowed when we saw the materials presented by Sam Struck at StruckSured Design. In today’s episode, we’re chatting with the mastermind behind the documentation, principal and lead designer of the Hood River based design studio. From initial client education documents all the way through to Construction packages and everything in between, you’ll want to listen to this episode in entirety first, then come back a second time to take thorough notes.

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:08] Anastasia Casey: Construction documentation is the most critical piece to executing designs of the highest caliber. We searched far and wide for examples of the very best in construction documentation, and we were wowed when we saw the materials presented by Sam Stuck at StruckSured Design. In today's episode, we're chatting with the mastermind behind the documentation, principal and lead designer of the Hood River based design studio. From initial client education documents all the way through to construction packages and everything in between, you'll want to listen to this episode in its entirety first, then come back a second time to take thorough notes. Hello, Sam, and welcome to the show. This is a pinch me moment. It's like so full circle. I'm so happy to have you here. [00:00:54] Samantha Struck: Thank you. I'm so excited to be here. Thanks for having the opportunity for me to get to chat. [00:00:59] AC: We are eager to dive in, and in the intro, I mentioned to everybody, listen to this episode start to finish. Just listen, then go back and take notes because I feel like if you're trying to write everything down the first time, you're going to miss some key information. So let's go ahead and dig in. But I'd love if you could start us off with a little bit of background about your studio. What do you specialize in? How many people are on your team, how'd you get started? [00:01:24] SS: Sure. So we are a boutique interior design firm in a little town called Hood River, Oregon, which is just about 1 hour outside of Portland. Our town is a lifestyle oriented town, so about 30% of our homes are second homeowners, and so they're vacation homes. So we are a business that is situated to serve a lifestyle market. We serve a luxury market as well, and it's just a lot of our mainstay. Our bread and butter is really just about servicing people that are building or remodeling from outside of our community. And then our team right now currently has four full time people. We have a couple of other secondary consultants that work with our team in the form of architects, engineers, or renderers that we use. But four full time employees in the office every day, day in, day out, doing the grind. [00:02:14] AC: Amazing. And how did you get started and how did you get started in your little town an hour outside of Portland? [00:02:22] SS: So I went to school for interior design. I went to Oregon State University. So I have a bachelor of science in interior design. I graduated in 2011 with that, and then I actually took like, a little side detour and worked overseas in Singapore for a couple of years and did interior design there, and then came back and worked as a freelance design assistant for the Portland market for roughly three years before I decided to move to Hood River. The original reason for moving was because my husband is a fifth generation orchardist, and his family was ready to retire. So it was sort of this millennial moment of just, okay, I guess we're going to move to a small town and become farmers and see what happens. And so we moved here in 2014, and then from there I took a year off when I had my first born son. And then it kind of just organically grew. We live in a market that is very underserved, so people, just through word of mouth in our small town, heard that I did interior design and started asking if I could just help with small things here or there. And so it kind of organically grew right around 2016. And then I essentially had kind of a business partnership that floated the business from 2016 to 2019. That partnership didn't end up going well, so it was like a learning lesson. We all have bad breakups. It was one of those. And I decided in 2019 to sort of stand alone myself. So in 2019, I started just coming more direct and more open with the community about what I do, not relying on a partnership to float the business, and from there have just kind of grown to a team of four plus people, and it ebbs and flows. We sometimes have a couple of extra help as needed, contract labor and whatnot. But ultimately it was just kind of this random moment that brought us here and then I've just kind of chased the market ever since. As a team, we talk a lot about the fact that if we were in Portland, that's a very heavily saturated – big players in that market. And if the world hadn't have brought me to Hood River, Oregon, and I hadn't, like, just really delve into what the market needed and it being an underserved lifestyle market, I don't think we would be getting the same caliber of projects this early on in our career that we have right now. So a little bit by happenstance, a little bit by hard work and grit and then a lot of just like staying humble and asking builders and contractors and what people needed in order for us to be an essential in the projects that we're on, if that makes sense. [00:05:14] AC: Yeah, absolutely. One of my favorite books is Luck by Design by Richie Goldman, and that sounds like that's exactly where you were at. I think about you launching on your own in 2019 in a lifestyle market, and 2020, everything shut down and everybody wanted those second homes. So it very much was a serendipitous timing for you and your business. And that's really exciting. Totally curious, on average, how many projects is your team carrying at one time with the understanding that some are in the design phase, some are in procurement, some are in construction. [00:05:46] SS: Yeah. So we carry ten to twelve projects at any given time. And that just varies in scale. We tend to only take on three really large, full service new construction projects at one time, and then the rest of the projects are smaller, like remodel fill-in projects and whatnot. So, again, because our services mostly are centered around really intense construction detailing and really heavy project administration, we can't really carry more than three new construction, full service projects at a time unless we brought in more team and whatnot. And so we just ten to twelve is like a good sweet spot for us right now. [00:06:25] AC: That feels really good. Thank you for the perfect segue to my next question. You talked a little bit about what your background was in. I'm really interested in the fact that you started a bit of your career in Singapore because we had spoken to Megan Grehl earlier this season, who had spent a lot of her career working in Asia and how different it was. I am curious as to how has extensive design documentation become such a key component of your business? And do you credit it to either your Bachelor of Science or that time in Singapore? And where did that really stem from? [00:07:03] SS: Sure, yeah. That's a really good question. It definitely evolved, I would say. So I started drafting in high school. I just so happened to be in a technical high school that allowed or that had a drafting program. So I tested out drawing and drafting in college, my first term of college, because I was like, I already had four years of drafting. I know cat already. And so I just hung out in the class and did homework and stuff. So I went into college with a lot of drafting and technical experience. My dad is a TIG welder, so blue collar tradesman. I grew up reading his plans and him just instilling the need to detail things clearly was a big part of it. But then I worked for a designer. The first designer I worked for when I came back from Singapore, she had a background in hospitality design and more commercial related interior design. And that is an industry that is heavily reliant on construction detailing and documentation because there's so many stakeholders in a commercial project. So we just really although she did residential, she managed her projects with that kind of commercial mindset and expectation. And so I learned a lot of my detailing from her specifically and the expectation of it from her specifically. But ultimately, when you do that more and more and you start to flex that muscle of really intense detailing, you start to see the benefit of how much it reduces, how many questions you get asked in the field, how many site visits you need to have. And so we just, over time learned that the more information that we could put into plans up front, the more information we could assimilate and organize for the build team, the more it just made the process a lot easier for everyone. So it just became essential. And a big driving factor also for us was that the builders that we work with typically don't have really great organizational backgrounds with that. And so they're the type of guys that we're building $5 million homes, but yet they're like, what kind of tile do you want? You should go to Portland and drive around some showrooms and pick one. And you're like, Please don't do that. That's crazy. So the more that we would help assist a client through those decisions and then provide the support documents to the builder, the more the builder would come back and actually tell the client, like, this is an essential service and I won't build your project without their services. So it kind of was coupled with the need to just make it easier for the client and then also the need to establish our need on a project from a build standpoint so that we would solidify that contract and make sure that we had those services secured. [00:09:56] AC: Amazing. I'm just wowed. So before we dig into every single nitty gritty detail about your design documentation, I'd love to know, how have you trained your team to be as detail oriented as you are on those construction documents? What is your training process like? And also what is your hiring process like? Do you have really rigid requirements for anybody who's looking to work at StruckSured? [00:10:24] SS: Sure, yea. It's definitely been a learning curve. We've tried every sort of option possible when it comes to employment and hiring people and definitely have made some not great choices and made some excellent choices. And I would say I'm a big believer that anyone can learn this industry. Although I have a four year degree, I don't expect people on my team to have a four year degree. My expectation is just that they're willing to learn and are hungry and are eager to do that. So we have myself and one other person on the team that have formal degrees or training in interior design. And then I do have a junior designer that came in as a design assistant with no CAD experience. And then we put her on a track to be able to move into junior design and be able to learn CAD. And a lot of that for her just looked like me paying for a LinkedIn learning subscription and me paying for a CAD seat for her and telling her she can give 5% of her work time to CAD training. And then any additional time that she wants to put in at her own expense to fast track that movement and get her to that position would obviously help her because there's difference in pay. There's a difference in expectation. And so if you're eager, then definitely do it, and then we'll create the spot for you. And she did that. So she is fully trained and learned in CAD. She can do all of our red lines. She can do electrical plans. She can do any of the things that I could do in CAD. For me, it doesn't really matter if you have a degree or not. I am fully supportive of anyone that just wants to be in the industry. And then in terms of training them specifically, a lot of it is like trial by fire. So it's a lot of just like, pulling up existing documents, pulling up existing packages, and sitting down with the team and going through them and saying, this is how we do this. This is the process for how we do it. Here's how we put together our specs, here's how we put together our drawings, and then walking them through that so that they can understand it. And then we do have a really good mentorship relationship within the team. So the senior designer oversees the junior designer, and she knows that equipping her and training her and helping facilitate her learning is helpful for everyone. So it's just a lot of hands-on collaboration, sitting together, going through it, learning, and then kind of just working it out. I don't know if that answers your question. [00:12:56] AC: That absolutely answers the question. And I love that you're like, I'll pay for the LinkedIn training, I'll give you 5% of your time. And then beyond that, if you want to expedite this, you can just do it after hours. And Sam, I think that's such a powerful thing, and it's really refreshing to hear you say that you don't feel like everybody has to have a four year degree to be able to learn these things. I very much stand by that, and I really appreciate you sharing that with us because I feel like particularly people who have had technical know, they earned that, they worked for that, they went through that, they paid those loans, they went through that. But to hear someone who has such incredible technical skills to say that there's other avenues to get there, it's just really great. [00:13:37] SS: Well, and I would add to that too, just really quick that in my story, I was the first person in my family to attend college. So that was why it was important to me. I really wanted to have that for myself. And then I hired people that definitely valued their education as the pinnacle of how we define what an interior designer is. And that created a rub for the people that joined our team that had not had the formal training. And so that dynamic is no longer at play. But my point is, I, as the leader and as somebody that has the degree, was like, no, this is not the only way. I'm fine with standing behind my degree and letting that be enough for the whole team, if that's what we need. And so I don't know from one business owner to the next, I would just encourage you. If that's your heart, then definitely make sure you're hiring people that believe also in that, because it will create a rub if you have senior designers that are training junior designers that don't have a degree and they feel like they're giving their education away, if that makes sense. [00:14:45] AC: Definitely does. Okay, so let's dig into the technical. We are very big on client education both at IDCO Studio and at Design Camp, which we went through with you. And if we wanted to really talk about documentation, I think it's important that we start at the very beginning of your client process. Documentation. What is the first piece of formal documentation that a client receives from you? [00:15:14] SS: So the first piece of information that we send our client when they send an inquiry is an investment guide, and it's your investment guide that you designed. So that was new after Design Camp, but we would send over proposals or whatever. It used to be the first thing. It was just the kind of like a generic piece of paper that was like, here's your scope and here's a proposal. Now it's the investment guide where we give just a little bit of a teaser of showing our work a little bit, and then also a basic idea of what the fees are or what it takes to work with us, and then just kind of gets them primed for the actual proposal, which is to follow and is usually more meaty and heavy and really expensive. So the investment guide is the first thing for sure. [00:15:59] AC: How important do you feel like the investment guide is in your particular market, where it is a lot of second or maybe third homes, and those people don't live locally all the time. Has that helped, I guess you could say weed out not the best fits? Or has it also helped you get to yeses quicker? What is that dynamic when you're dealing with people who aren't necessarily across the street from you all the time? [00:16:22] SS: Sure, yeah, it's across the board. We've had many experiences with it, and I would say for the local consumer in our area, what it does is educate them on what design fees typically look like a general sense, because again, we're in a market with 10,000 people that generally there's no design services, so there's not a lot of education here for them. Usually it's shocking. It feels expensive because, again, we're just a small town with limited resources. So, I mean, just to be transparent, we charge 150 an hour. That's like the top that our market can handle, our local market can handle. That feels like if we move above that, we're maybe going to price ourselves out of it. And so we charge usually 150, sometimes 175. Just depends on the project. Now, if it's going to be a second homeowner, the investment guide serves a totally different purpose, which for them, these people typically do have designer experience. They're coming out of major cities, major metropolitan areas, so we get a lot of California residents moving up to Hood River or retiring in Hood River. Same thing with Seattle, the Seattle area in general, we get a lot of people from there. So these people tend to be very educated. They know a lot about design, the design world. They've been through remodels or new construction homes. And so for them, it serves the purpose of, number one, educating them that we're not a podunk, like, small town little company, that we are professionals situated in a small town, which is very different than just being a small town company. And then the second thing it does is it helps them see our pricing is competitive relative to if they're looking at their normal design fees in San Diego, San Francisco, and those fees are higher than what they typically see with us, then that helps them feel good about that decision. So then they're like, oh, this is a great deal because it's less than what I'm used to paying in my area. So that's really helped move that conversation along, especially with our larger paying clients from out of the area because they love the price point. [00:18:33] AC: The Interior Collective is thrilled to now accept Project Tour submissions from our listeners, log on to theinterior.co and scroll to the footer to submit your latest work for consideration. Once selected, your project will be featured on our new website, The Interior Collective, along with extensive social media coverage, dedicated newsletter features, and more. We are eager to showcase great projects from around the world and continue to build a platform that highlights and uplifts our community in that investment guide. Like, at this initial point of education, are you breaking down any other type of pricing aside from just the design fees? Like, are you giving any sort of in general scope, it's this much to build, or this is how we do procurement, or this is what installs like, do you break all that down or is that kind of like for the next round? [00:19:22] SS: We do give a general overview of procurement, which is essentially retail less 15% plus a 10% procurement fee. So right below 5% below retail is the way we structure it. And then we also do give installation costs, which are just daily flat rates and half day flat rates, which those are definitely. Thank you, Lindsay Brooke, for all of her knowledge and expertise. That all came from her, so I will give her all the credit for that, for sure. [00:19:52] AC: Great, and that process has been working for you? [00:19:54] SS: Oh, yeah, absolutely. The clients love it. And procurement is like a newer thing for us. In the last probably 18 months that we brought in, and again, that was just from us listening to the market. We don't have a receiving company in Hood River at all, so we decided to position ourselves to be able to receive product here ourselves. So we rented a 3000 square foot warehouse with a garage loading dock and we order for builders so that they can get the material here and we manage getting it to the job site. So we do all of the hard surface ordering for all of our interior projects, cabinets, tile, lighting, all of it flooring. So just having the builders need it and then again, them telling the client, no, I just want you to order it through your designer. It makes that sell really easy and it closed that loop for our clients and then they feel like, oh well, it's all just being handled. So that information is still in the investment guide too, so that they can see the breadth of services that we offer. [00:20:57] AC: So one thing that particularly stood out to me in your investment guide, because I love the way you worded it, even though it is just what we always teach. The way you worded it was so great. I'm just going to read this part out loud and it's not the entire paragraph, but it gets the essence. We expect you to put in the effort with your assignments to keep this project on track. Additionally, we are a family run small business. Work life balance is important. We do not schedule meetings, answer emails, or respond to projects after hours or on the weekend. On the rare occasion that we need to be outside of normal working hours, we will do so at an additional expense. Yay, Sam. Go girl. But I have to ask, how do your busy working clients, especially ones who this is possibly a weekend home, take those boundaries? I know a lot of designers listening would worry that those clear communication guidelines in the investment guide would potentially turn a client off. [00:21:57] SS: Yeah, we've never had a client question it. And I think again, there's two different types of headaches that we encounter in our market. One is the small town headache, which is usually just frankly a lower budget client that has really high expectations. We all know what that feels like. The second is second homeowners, vacation homeowners that are usually very high up in their companies. They have a lot of expectation and they just are used to getting what they want and demanding what they want out of people. So I am a big believer that our office is a sacred space and that I want it to be a sacred space. And so we are just a company that is comfortable with the idea of terminating relationships, saying no, and just being direct and upfront. Those things, although they're scary and they take a while to practice and do, they just set you up for so much success later. So if that feels too direct for you at the beginning, I think you could even just start with like we don't answer calls after hours and we don't schedule meetings on the weekends. My statement is very direct, and I understand that, but there's ways you can word it more softer that still send the message. But we have clients that push that boundary all the time. So we go back to that same investment guide, and that paragraph is also included in their proposal. It's also included in our contract. So that is the same thing that they see three times before they sign. So if we have to remind them of that, then we do that. And we're nice, of course, like, hey, it's the weekend. Sorry, I'll get back to you on Monday, whatever it is. But generally our clients respect it enough to back down when we're like, okay, you're pushing this boundary. And they do. I'm a big believer in not having any of my cell phone, my team's cell phone numbers accessible to my clients. And so they are not to have direct connection with the client so that the client isn't just texting them or whatever. And so we create guardrails around it. And our clients, for the most part, pretty much respect that. We have fired clients over it, though. And I'm okay with that too. [00:24:17] AC: Yeah, it's fantastic. I'm so proud of you for doing that. Okay, let's move on to proposals. This is the estimate of the time it'll take you to design the space. It does not include an estimate to oversee construction, et cetera. So at what point in your process are you explaining how you bill for project management? [00:24:37] SS: Yeah, so the proposals that we do now are totally in flux. They're like a new system again, because we're implementing all the wonderful things that we learned at Design Camp. So it's like one of those transition points that we're at right now. We haven't had projects that we have proposed on in the new format that have project management as a part of it. And so if we did, then that would still be in the proposal. And it is still just an hourly bucket project administration, and it's like a really wide swath. But I did take a look at sort of general ideas of how we put numbers to that. And so on a new construction project, we typically work on a flat fee. I know that's like, controversial, but it is so much easier for us to do it that way. And we've tracked how our profit margins work in it, and it just works out okay. So let's say, for example, we're doing a $3 million new construction home. We will typically do it depends on the scope, but usually 7% to 10% in a flat fee. And then if we do that, 20% of that fee is project administration only. And that does not include the detailing, the construction detailing that's just like us to manage it, be present, answer the phone calls, do all the things. And it's kind of that general project management, project administration bucket and then of that design fee, another 25% of it is just construction detailing. So it's a big chunk of the overall fee. And we are able to do that and justify it because it's such a hidden service. We talk about that a lot in our office. It's not glamorous, it's nothing that the client is going to be excited about. They're not going to look at their CAD electrical plan and be like, yes, this was worth every penny. It's just not that thing. So we are really intentional about coupling the client experience and making that very robust to justify the expense of the construction detailing. So we set the mood every time we have client presentations. We've got wine, tea, coffee, like an essential oil diffuser going and all the materials laid out. And we take them on this really romantic journey because they're happy to pay for that service even though it's hidden, if they feel like they're engaged in a luxury service along the way, if that makes sense. [00:27:10] AC: Yeah, absolutely. So let's talk about construction detailing and fast forward to the actual design documentation. So you were generous enough to share the back end of your client portal with me. And so I just want to explain what that really looked like. You use a password protected page on your website, and I believe you're on squarespace as a client portal for all design documentation deliverables. So we have an included templated client portal page, just like yours in all of our IDCO website templates, but really, really glad to see that other people are using it, that same system who aren't IDCO clients. So it was really just beautifully done and so well executed. Who has access to this password protected page? Is it clients, your team, contractors? Only one, not the other. Who's looking at this portal? [00:28:00] SS: It is the entire build team. It's the stakeholders, the relevant stakeholders. So that could be architects or engineers that are also participating. It's the clients and then our team. So it's all four of those that are privy. [00:28:15] AC: Okay, so then why do you use a client portal page on your website instead of sending off individual PDFs or access to a folder of PDFs to clients and the other design stakeholders in the build? [00:28:29] SS: Yeah, I don't know. The industry average was Excel spreadsheets and PDFs. And for us, when you're talking about, I have one project that is right at $5 million, and it's 28 rooms. So when you have that level of material management that you're doing, and then one small thing affects many other packages, it leaves a wide room for potential hiccups to just have one file that you have to send out and hope that they're working off of the most recent. So we've switched to a cloud based system. We use Folio for all of our spec management, and then we switched to having the websites because we didn't want to send out Google Drive links. And originally the 1.0 version of what we did was creating free Google Sites. And then when we tested that, it was fine. The clients thought it was fine, but they started to ask about if they could send them to their friends. And then that became one of those things where it was like, okay, well, if you're going to show your friends, I really want this to route back to my website. I would like this to be a marketing tool then. And I want this to be something that if you're going to be happily showing it off to people because you like to show off your renderings and whatever's going on, that it could be a potential to get more clients. So it was really just trying to elevate it to where it could be a marketing tool in addition to being the thing, the hub of information for their project. [00:30:05] AC: So freaking smart, Sam. Okay, so for those listening I mentioned in the intro, we'll go ahead and make this a complete blog post because there's a lot of things I'm going to include a few screenshots and just a few things that we can't talk about clearly without getting to see it. But just so you know what this page looks like, Sam has the project name, the client name, one single image, a little introduction, and then it gets broken down into columns. And you have three columns, I believe the first one, which is where your hyperlinks are a little bit bigger. And I feel like I need to open this up, so I'm looking at the right thing. But you have on stick with me, stick with me. Jesse, edit this part out. [00:30:45] SS: I can tell you what the three columns are if you want. [00:30:49] AC: Perfect okay, so in the first column, you have sort of what I would call, like, your headline links, and that's to follow your build schedule and your Saga Base Camp. Tell us what Saga Base Camp is. [00:31:01] SS: So that's actually the builder on that project. Saga is the name of him, which is fun. And then he uses Base Camp for all of his management of his project. So, again, just like solidifying who we are as the stakeholder on a project means creating access to all of the touch points that a client has within their project. So we will link the builders Gantt chart if they have one, if we're lucky enough to get one, we'll link it. If they use Base Camp or BuilderTrend, a lot of builders use BuilderTrend to track their information. We'll put the link to their client or their project portal in there. If the client's comfortable with access, with people being privy to their studio designer and their payment portal, we'll put the studio designer portal link in there as well. So it's really just the major external links to the touch points that they would have outside of the construction packages or like our deliverables if that makes sense. [00:32:02] AC: Makes perfect sense. So then in the two remaining columns, your second column is client packages and I'll have you run down everything you consider a client package, but as I look at this I think another reason why this iteration or this version of a client portal is so great is because as I'm looking at all of these individual packages, you can just update those if you need to make a revision. Those automatically get updated, and they don't have access to any other past iterations or versions of a document. They're only seeing the most current. So if you can and I'll help you out if you're forgetting any of them, take us through what is in that client packages column. [00:32:45] SS: So client packages are anything in client presentation that don't necessarily fall within a construction document or a construction detail. So oftentimes that looks like furniture plans, furniture boards, mood boards, selections, could be the material boards that a client sees. So the digital collection of the material selections that are the visual representation of it, that are not the Rundown Excel spreadsheet list of materials. It's the beautiful things that a client sees. We also put in there anything from miscellaneous things that we need them to decide. If it's like we're trying to decide the height of a fireplace detail, and we need to just put that in front of the client. We'll put that under the client package until they have approved it, and then it moves to a construction detail or document after that. [00:33:39] AC: Where in that process Sam yeah, that makes perfect sense. Where in that process are you getting approval? Because as I click through opening documents, I don't see a place for a signature. So how are you getting those approvals, if you will? [00:33:51] SS: Right, so right now, we do approvals in Folio. So they'll actually go into their Folio, the external client side of it, and then they'll toggle approvals on their materials. We're in flux with that. That's one of those things where I'm like, I'm not sure that's the best method for it. It would be easier if they could batch approve things. And so we're looking at the idea of maybe playing with Dubsado for approvals or different things, but at the same time, right now, that's the way they do it. And so once it's approved, it stays in their material boards, and that's what goes onto the website for them to be able to refer back to all the time. [00:34:32] AC: Okay, so on the back end, when I'm looking at your client packages, I'm seeing cabinet accessories, elevations, your furniture plans for your homes. You're doing furniture plans inside and out. So you have two packages for that. Materials renderings, furnishings, complete set. This is a great example. It looks like you had them choosing between vent options. So that was listed in there. Art and art placement, soft goods. You're even sourcing plants and planters for interiors and exteriors, like literally full service. So as I look through that list, I was curious as to why you had one single item of documentation that was materials renders, furnishings, complete set. What does that look like? And how does that differ from how you broke everything else out individually? [00:35:19] SS: So that materials renders and kind of master package is a fully approved package. So that means everything in there is approved, it's been proposed, it's been invoiced, and that is what is going in the house. And so it's not going to change. It's like the final set. Now if something is still like in flux and being decided, that's where you see a more broken down package that's like, oh, this is still something we're presenting, that we're talking about that doesn't have an answer yet. And then we also were not shown on that website because that project was pretty much done. But under that section of client packages, we would have client homework. And so if it's a package that has homework attached to it or we're waiting on an answer approval, it actually would be in the homework category with what the expectation is for the homework or what the question is. And so that category goes under the packages. And we put questions in there. We put like running note logs from site visits, whatever it is, just miscellaneous information that we need from our client or builder or build team. It would go under that homework section that's under the client packages too. [00:36:32] AC: Amazing. So how often would you say that your clients are looking at these packages on their client portal? Like, you guys are in this every day. How often are your clients? And I'm sure it varies a little bit, but you're obviously putting an incredible amount of detail and hours into making this delivery feel really beautiful and special and luxury. And I'm just curious as to how are you verifying that it's worth it because anybody's even opening it. [00:37:02] SS: Yeah, I mean, our clients are in there all the time, so they are really excited when they see their renderings, when they know that there's updates in there. Again, we didn't even really expect our clients to love it as much as they do. So then for them to be like, I just showed my mom all of your website, our website, and the renderings and the packages, and she's so excited. And for them to have access to it at any time and know that it's there and it's all put together and they can click through them easily is a great tool. So they end up using it all the time and then they ask questions all the time. So we just had another project that we had designed this project probably six, eight months ago, and we just had an electrical walkthrough. And so the clients pulled their website up, they pulled out their electrical drawings, they got ready for the rough in walkthrough and they referred to their drawings that they had and had questions for us. And that's just a normal part of the way the website has worked. And so we do get requests from people, builders, more so than anyone, builders and tradespeople that are like, can you send us this package or this package? And we go back to like, here's the link to the website. The most current information will always be there. We do not send out packages via email. Please refer to the website if you want that information. So we're just constantly kind of rerouting the team back there and people use it a lot.It's been a great tool, for sure. [00:38:37] AC: Amazing. So, speaking of builders, let's move on to t\he actual construction packages. Can you list out each file that would be provided here? [00:38:50] SS: Yes, we do it in alphabetical order and they start essentially from accessories. If I'm going to try and do this off the top of my head, let's try it's Accessories, appliances, and then cabinets, cabinet hardware, doors, door hardware. I'm thinking through the letters of the alphabet in my head as I do this. Then let's see, fireplace details. Fireplace details, yes. Millwork or trim details go in. There is also tile, slab, plumbing, lighting and electrical. And then sometimes we have also just like, window and siding because we do get asked to help with exterior selections. So then those would go in there as well. Wall finishes, which would include paint wallpaper, wall textures, accent walls, things like that. And then I don't know what else off the top. [00:39:46] AC: Yeah, no, you did great. I think we'd also have plumbing in there. Flooring. I noticed that you had glass, so anywhere you have sheet, mirrors or shower doors, that is all listed. Also, I saw at least in this particular project, you had window shades and switches. So everything is itemized individually. And it's so different than other spec books I've seen from people, from designers who have this all certainly tabbed out and navigable, but they have it all in one single binder or document. And this actually makes it so quick and easy to find. [00:40:23] SS: Yeah. Interestingly enough, when we approach spec management and packages, we debated as a team, like, is it better to do it by room and all the specs in that room, or is it better to do it by trade? And I keep coming back to the decision to keep it by trade, because when the plumber shows up to the job site, he doesn't care about what the wall finishes are in the space, he just wants to know where he's putting the toilets and the sinks. And so to give the tradespeople the information they need in a digestible way and give them just what they need without having to be looking through other people's information is, again, just one of those ways that we serve the build community and that makes our position essential on the project in a way that helps upsell our services. [00:41:17] AC: That's so brilliant to break it up that way instead of by room. I feel like from a designer standpoint and probably even a client standpoint, it would make sense by room. But when you're really thinking about who's utilizing those, who's pulling those out, and who's calling you with the questions, that is a great way to position it. So by keeping these things in the portal, when an update is needed, you just keep the file the same and save over it so the link auto updates, or do you relink the new revised file on the back end of your site every time so that you have every iteration saved somewhere else? What is the process for keeping that functional yet speedy? [00:41:57] SS: Yeah, so we manage all of our file and data storage through Google Drive, and then we have essentially just really small rudimentary folders that we keep in there because a lot of our information is stored in other software systems. So we have one folder that is labeled Packages Do Not Delete, and that folder contains the most recent packages that are live on the site. They just get saved over. So those ones, we don't keep the old ones because we don't need them. Or if we felt like there's so many changes that we want a record of those changes, then we'll move the old one out and archive it and then just put the most relevant in. But it's saved with the same file name so that it auto. Just as soon as you put it in that folder and it has that same name, it auto pulls that new file on the website so you're not actually having to go relink things. We will add dates at the end of the hyperlink if we need to, because sometimes builders want to just know, like, well, when did you last issue this? And so we will update the date if that's helpful for the builder. It's not relevant every time, but sometimes it is and we do that. But generally speaking, there's just one file folder in the drive that links all the final packages, everything's in there, and then we just save over and rewrite over those files so that they just auto pull on the website. [00:43:24] AC: So everything feels super digital at this point. I am curious because I know that some contractors are reluctant to digital things. As you mentioned. You have to keep rerouting them. Do you also print everything out on site? Are you telling them to print it out on site? And if so, how often are you updating those? [00:43:46] SS: We do not print anything. That's totally up to the clients and the builders and their trades members. A typical plumbing package for us is over 200 pages. So if we do that, it feels like a waste of paper if they're not going to use it. So most of our tradespeople will spend the time to review the digital package and print out just what they need from that package. And we can talk a little bit more about how we arrange those packages and whatnot. But they'll print out the essential pages and then if they've got questions or they need clarifying documents, of course they'll request them from us. But they essentially manage all of the information from the digital touch point forward. And I would say most of the tradespeople that we work with do not print them out. They just have an iPad or a computer and they're just like they're working and doing it based on that. [00:44:40] AC: Great. Are you providing I mean, your process is so, so detailed and we just chatted about this on a different episode. So I'm wondering what your answer is. Are you providing contractors files as to build or design only plans? And what does that differentiation look like in your documentation? [00:45:02] SS: Sure, it's such a tricky question and it's a little bit like of a hot button topic, I know, but in our contracts and in our design detailing, it still says that our documents are for design intent only. So they're not technically construction documents. We do that because there are field changes that happen that we don't get told about. And so I can't be held to a design change that I am not aware of because I'm not the builder. So those things happen. They're never fun, for sure. But we have worked really hard with our build teams that we work with to really educate them about like, hey, if you want us to provide this level of detailing and it be accurate, you also have to tell us when framing changes happen or when things happen in the field that are not in the plans so there's like a two way street on that one for sure we want our drawings to be really accurate and we want them to be able to use them in the field and have them be a resource for the tradespeople that are using them, but we can only deliver to that high level of detail if the builders are also giving us that feedback loop to say by the way we needed to move this wall 4 and a half inches in the field because of this or that. And once we get that info, we're happy to make sure that the drawings reflect that, if that makes sense. [00:46:26] AC: Yeah, for sure. So do you require your trades to come and take all their own measurements in addition to yours after the design packages have been delivered? [00:46:38] SS: Yes, they do. You know, the tile guys, the plumbers, all of those guys, we will walk through at Ruffin with them. We will walk through with the drawings and they know they can call us at any time. And if there's like a discrepancy that we will troubleshoot with them but yes, they are required to measure everything and see if what's in the drawings is actually executable from a build standpoint. And if it's not and there's going to be something that's different, then we talk about that before work is performed. And our guys are just really because we do make their lives easier, they love to just at least give us a call. So I feel very grateful that we've established that type of relationship with the trade community, and they do really desire to make sure that it's done how we want and that they aren't going to be asked to move something later or whatever. So it's been really great. [00:47:34] AC: Honestly, I'm so glad to hear it. It's wonderful to hear a love story with your Trades. Instead of the alternative, I will say. [00:47:42] SS: It does really help if you show up with pizza and beer occasionally. We do that on a Friday at 03:00. We will show up with a 24 pack of beer for all the guys on a drop site and just be like, thank you so much for your hard work. Here's some pizza, here's some whatever. I have taken the Trades guys from a crew to breakfast and just been like, all right, let's all go to breakfast right now. And they're like, what? Your design team wants to go to breakfast with us? And we're like, yeah, we all live in this small town together. We love serving this community. So I do think for Tradespeople, it's my experience that a little bit of hospitality and investment in them goes a long way. And I think maybe just my background with my dad being a welder and understanding tradespeople comes into play there. But we definitely are a team that loves and values our trade relationships and have really tried to cultivate community there with them. [00:48:40] AC: I love that. Thank you, Sam. So let's talk nitty gritty and let's just assume that someone who's listening has no idea what these look like. Take us through any example of these construction package PDFs. You explain it. I'll fill in if I notice something that you skip over, but you explain when you're opening. What is your sequence, what is the order, what is included in that 200 page document for that single package? [00:49:07] SS: So we start with drawings. So the drawings are always the first thing. That's always the thing that your trades people want to see first. They want to know what the house looks like. They want to know what the expectations are for what's going in that house. And so we start with depends on the package itself, but we'll usually start with an overall layout, and then from there we'll go into individual blown up room layouts with their relevant elevations. And just to be clear, all of the dimensioning and the plans for each package are dimensioned for that package specifically. So if we're talking about a plumbing package, we're doing centerlines to all the plumbing fixtures. You're not seeing dimensions on there for lighting fixtures. Or for the cabinetry. That stuff is all turned off and the only relevant information in there is for the plumber. So we do the drawings, elevations, and then after that is the exported spec list from Folio. So that's just the list, like your typical Excel spreadsheet list of all 200 plumbing fixtures, whatever that's in the house. And then from there behind that are the actual tear sheets along with the manufacturer install docs. So we'll typically name our plumbing fixtures P One through whatever the last one is. And then the first tear sheet would be for P One plumbing fixture, one with a blown up picture of that particular plumbing fixture and then whatever the manufactured specs or docs are behind that one. So we do that for every single plumbing fixture, so that is how we sandwich everything into one package. AC: Do you have anything, for lack of better words, like a table of content so someone could quickly get to P 16? Or are we scrolling through everything right now? [00:51:08] SS: We're scrolling through everything. So that would be a great addition to it. We're not there yet for sure. [00:51:15] AC: That sounds amazing. So let's just go through the columns that you have on your traditional spreadsheet for your FFE schedules, what column is included, and if you need me to, I have it all written out for you as well. [00:51:27] SS: Yeah, I will need that. But usually it's the item name or like the category that it's in the tag. So that would be like P one, p two, p three. Whatever. If it's a lighting package, we do L one through whatever tile, t one through whatever, the picture of the item, the name of the item, the manufacturer, the supplier, if it's different from the manufacturer quantity, meaning the takeoff will do the takeoff for the builder. Even if we're not supplying the item, we'll still do the takeoff and then the dimensions, the color or specification of the item itself, any notes that we have for installation that are not going to be clear in the drawings, and then also the links to the specs or the manufacturer's docs are also in that spreadsheet. [00:52:18] AC: I believe you also have a column for area, so if it's the downstairs half bath that's included there. [00:52:24] SS: Yes, totally. [00:52:25] AC: So brilliant. I know. Everyone's fingers are, like, killing them at this point. We have just a few more to get through. Thank you so much for your time. At what point in the project are you supplying this client portal and all the client and construction packages to the client? [00:52:42] SS: Yeah, so after the material presentation, we're just presenting the materials themselves in a client meeting, whether that's like, in person or virtual. And we're showing the canva boards of this beautiful space and the renderings. Once we have approval, then we move that into construction detailing and then from there, we'll spend the time to do the construction detailing, which is lengthy. It takes a long time, it takes at least a couple of months of just detailing to get to that level of detailing. And then from there, as we are finished with the packages, then we roll them out as we get done and we just go ahead and link them on the site. Most of the time the clients don't really know how to read that information or even know what to do with it. But it does really help in your projects if you are a company that assists in helping your client get a grip on budget, having those packages done early, and having a builder be able to look at them before they're even breaking ground. Helps them to get pricing from their traits and get realistic numbers and helps bring clarity to what that cost is going to be. So that if you have to ve or value engineer things or make swaps to help your client navigate budget, you have the time to do that. Because sometimes as designers, we don't know if this tile that we're picking is going to be super expensive based on the install methodology that we're recommending. So to have clarity for that client and for them to feel good about it, we just really try to be proactive about getting it in front of the builder as quickly as we can so that they can start to price it out and get clarity on that. [00:54:25] AC: What would you say is the most important step to staying organized with so many moving parts [00:54:34] SS: Just like a really good team that can help you get through it? I will say, believe it or not, even though we have this high level of detail and organization, I do not claim organization as my number one skill set. I will say that we have a member on our team that she is literally a systems and processes goddess and I don't know how I would survive without her. So I tend to couple her knowledge and her skill set and organization with my passion for elevating the client experience and coupling through expectation of deliverable with her knowledge of organization. So I think just like finding the right team of people to help you really dial in your systems and processes so that you can manage that information well is essential. And we use Clicka for all of our project management or task management internally. So, if we didn't have that and we didn't have three other systems to support the information and the flow of it, for sure it would be way more difficult and cumbersome. [00:55:44] AC: One of the lessons I feel like I've learned so many times during these podcast interviews is that when you're looking for that person to be doing systems and processes, that hire should not be someone who wants to be a designer. And often that can sort of be the avenue that someone's willing to take because they're like, I can totally do systems and processes because I want to work for Sam and I want to be a designer at some point. And I think what I've heard over and over and over again just as you're saying is it's really someone who's going to complement your skill set and complement the things that you already know how to do and are? Really happy doing those to make sure that you're not constantly funneling people through to the design team when you're really looking for someone to have that great organizational structure. [00:56:29] SS: Totally, yeah. [00:56:30] AC: What would you say is the biggest lesson you've learned when it comes to construction documents? [00:56:38] SS: Oh jeez. I would say just like, the biggest lesson for me is always, and what I encourage the team always is to just stay humble when you're getting into construction. Detailing. I don't know. It was a very vulnerable experience for me. I graduated with a four year degree and did not feel comfortable in a job site. So I know that feeling of walking through with a bunch of dudes that know a lot about construction and then you're coming in, trying to supply them with information that you're hoping is helpful, but yet you don't necessarily understand all of the nuanced complexity of how it comes together. So, for me, my biggest lesson is really I just think through the school of hard knocks and just being able to accept if a tradesperson is like, this is not right, I can't do this, and you just are like, okay, cool. What can you do? How can we make this work? And then ask questions, really seek to understand how they do things so that you can know when it's appropriate to question and lovingly question your tradespeople versus you needing to actually reassess how you're doing it so that it's helpful. So I think just my biggest lessons have always just been learning and being open to the trades, giving me feedback, and coming from a place of how can I make your life easier so that we can continue to be of service and in need for the projects that we're in. [00:58:15] AC: Fantastic. Sam, with every episode, I always love to hear of exciting things you have planned for the next year. So can you share anything upcoming in the pipeline for projects or benchmarks that you see in 2024? [00:58:30] SS: Yeah, so we're currently recording this podcast in our brand new office that we're remodeling right now. So one of the biggest, most exciting things for us was that we are moving from just like, our small, little cute little office to a really beautiful luxury boutique showroom studio that people can come to and really experience our services. So that's been really exciting for the team to be able to dream and think about bringing clients here and having events and just doing different things. So that's definitely massively exciting on the horizon and then by the time this episode comes out, this will have already happened. But we're going to design Chicago next week to present with one of our vendors. And I mean, to be asked to present was just like mind blowing for me and crazy. So I don't know, it's just been such a great year of growth and just learning and I'm just looking forward to this next year and who we have on the team. We just hired a senior designer that I feel like was just like the missing link that we've been waiting for. So I feel like this next year is just going to be so fun with our new space, the team that we have and everything that we've got going on. So it's all just really great, I don’t know, I’m just so grateful for all of it.

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