• Sophia Fang

8 Reasons to Hire an Architect to Design Your Next Brick-and-Mortar

Updated: Oct 31, 2019


The Whitfield at Ace Hotel, Photo by mossArchitects

Opening a new storefront is an exciting undertaking for any small business. However, it's important to start off with a solid foundation to avoid the pitfalls and headaches down the road that small businesses often experience, such as construction delays, cost overruns, permitting issues, and design flaws.

Fortunately, one simple move can help reduce many of those risks! We recently sat down to discuss best practices with Andrew Moss and Katie LaForest of mossArchitects, a leading Pittsburgh-based architectural firm that has worked with many local businesses to design their brick-and-mortars, including Burgatory, Mindful Brewing Company, and the Schoolhouse Detective Building.

Here are 8 reasons why hiring an architect will help you build the dream space that your business deserves, while saving you time, money, and energy!

1. An architect can help you translate your vision into reality

As a business owner, building the brick-and-mortar of your dreams can seem like a big challenge.

Katie shares, “A lot of business owners come to the table knowing what they want in terms of image, but they don’t know how to get there, how to take that into a built environment.”

An architect serves as the middleman who’ll manage both your big picture vision and all the nitty-gritty bits and pieces of the project. They will help you identify your wants vs. your needs for the location and identify the tangible steps to get to your dream space.

At mossArchitects, the design process kicks off with a candid conversation between you and the architect. The architect will ask questions to better understand your story, business plan, product, and vision for the brick-and-mortar. Through this deep-dive, they will help you define your goals for the space and what success looks like. Starting off with these priorities clearly determined will make your brick-and-mortar design and construction process less daunting and far more manageable.

The Bureau Coffee, Photo by mossArchitects

2. An architect knows the practical nuts and bolts of constructing a space

The work that goes into designing and constructing a brick-and-mortar is a lot more than what meets the eye. Designing and constructing a brick-and-mortar requires practical expertise in a broad range of areas. Architects are well-equipped with knowledge of construction methods, electrical & plumbing systems, acoustics, lighting, legal compliance, and more.

3. An architect brings creativity to the table to craft your customer experience

Along with the practical knowledge, an architect will bring in a strong creative background to design an aesthetically pleasing and on-brand space for your brick-and-mortar. What’s more important is that an architect will know how to design the space to optimize both customer and employee experiences.

The experience that your customer has in and around your store plays a crucial role in their overall impression of your business—and while it’s what’s inside that matters, the outside is just as important this time.

The exterior of the building will be your customer’s first impression of the space. An architect will consider the experience of your customer walking through the front door, seeing the interior for the first time, and moving around the space.

With these basic concepts determined, your architect will work creatively to create the rough schematic design for your review.

Schematic design of Row House Cinema, Photo by mossArchitects

4. An architect knows how and when to consult trusted specialists

To build your dream space, it’s likely that you’ll need to bring in trusted experts from a variety of fields to work on different parts of the buildout.

“The further you get into the project, the more that you are coordinating with other people,” Katie shares. “Operationally you might not know all of the answers at the beginning of a project, so there is a constant back and forth.”

An architect can help you manage these relationships with these outside consultants and continuously refine the design and buildout plan based on their insights.

“We have worked with restaurants before where it’s not until later in the design that they decide that they need more POS stations or other elements. We refine that information and keep the budget in check.”

Rather than having to restart the store design from scratch, an architect can take the expert feedback and craft the next iteration of your store design.

5. An architect will ensure that your space meets building codes and city regulations

In order to legally open your doors, your space must meet the building codes of your city and undergo inspection. Depending on the age and the previous usage of your building, you may need to get new approvals for water lines, sprinkler lines, sewer lines, and electric service, amongst other things. Getting these approvals requires working with organizations on the county, city, and state level.

A local architect will be very familiar with the zoning & planning requirements in your city or neighborhood and will help you navigate the complicated and often lengthy processes of getting the approvals that you need to open up shop.

For Pittsburgh, Katie shares, “All of those things take a lot of time and oversight from organizations like the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, Pennsylvania DEP, Allegheny County plumbing. That’s really where it can start to become much more drawn out.”

6. An architect takes the stress of making a thousand decisions off of you and will spend your budget efficiently.

“Whether it is a little coffee shop or a great-big new building, there are thousands and thousands of decisions that need to be made,” Andrew shares. “For every single room, there are hundreds of decisions: flooring, paint colors, light fixtures, windows, doors, hardware, types of trim, how the lights are controlled, where do the electrical outlets go, how one material meets another material…”

Regardless of whether you’re a first-time business owner or a seasoned entrepreneur, making all of these decisions can be overwhelming. An architect will help you find the appropriate materials and fixtures at fair prices, while identifying the statement pieces of your brick-and-mortar that are worth the extra investment—allowing you to spend your budget in the most efficient way possible.

Working with an architect will help you avoid getting caught in the weeds, buying you valuable time and energy to focus on the other tasks that need to be completed before you open your doors.

7. Haven’t secured a location yet? An architect can help you find your dream space.

Whether you’re deciding on a neighborhood or in the works of signing your lease, meeting with an architect to discuss your vision and business plan can save you valuable time and effort to build your dream space.

A common pitfall to avoid is not doing enough due diligence before signing your lease.

“Before signing a lease, you need to understand what can exist here,” Katie emphasizes.

One of the essentials is checking that the water and electrical services of the potential locations are capable of handling what your business needs. Another essential is understanding the building occupancy, as changing occupancy can be costly.

If you are going to be a tenant, make sure to negotiate all the coding requirements ahead of time and make sure to understand whether your landlord is taking care of it, or if you, as a tenant, have to take care of it,” Andrew adds.

An architect can help you evaluate local sites and buildings that are best suited for your business. They will also do due diligence on the prospective locations, making sure that the spaces you’ve chosen actually meet the operational and customer experience needs of your business. With the due diligence in place, you will also have a clearer understanding of what you can negotiate with your landlord before signing the lease agreement.

8. An architect can help you refine and grow your business

Beyond helping you design your new brick-and-mortar location, an architect can help you refine or even reinvent your customer experience when you’re ready to grow your business. Whether you want to attract a different clientele, rebrand and renovate your business, expand your location, move to a new location, or have other plans to stay competitive, consider relying on the expertise of an architect to ensure that your location evolves with your business strategy.

“We’re part of the business strategy. I don’t know if a lot of people think of us architects as that: part of the team to help you reach your goal and be successful in your business,” Katie remarks. “At the end of the day, your space should be part of your business—attracting customers who want to keep coming back because they have a good experience.”

Expertise from all sides

Architects bring adaptable expertise from all sides to support you with turning your creative vision into a comfortable and functional space for your customers to visit and employees to work in.

From start to finish, your architect will combine practical and creative problem-solving to help you open your doors on time, on budget, and on brand!

To learn more about Moss Architects, check out their website here.

Stay tuned by Part Two: Just scheduled your first meeting with your architect to build your store location? Here are some tips to prepare for your first conversation together!


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