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  • Writer's pictureSophia Fang

How to Prepare: Meeting Your Architect for the First Time to Design Your Brick-and-Mortar

Updated: Aug 10, 2021

So you’ve decided to take the big leap to open up your very own brick-and-mortar? Or you’re considering doing some renovations to your space? Either way, congratulations!

Now, it’s time to work with an architect who can help make your dream a reality! While every architectural firm does things their own unique way, design and construction projects typically start with a candid conversation between you and the architect to better understand the full scope of the project and set big picture goals.

We sat down with Andrew Moss and Katie LaForest of mossArchitects, a leading Pittsburgh-based architectural firm that has worked with many local businesses to design and renovate their brick-and-mortars. Let’s hear from Andrew and Katie about the best practices to kick off working with an architectural firm.

Here are 4 tips that can help you get the juices flowing and be prepared for your first meeting with your architect:

1. Make a mood board or Pinterest board with your design inspirations

An easy way to get started with brainstorming about your dream space is drawing design inspiration from online. A quick online search can lead you to a plethora of design blogs, existing Pinterest boards, Behance projects, and Youtube channels that have carefully curated different themes for brick-and-mortar stores.

By sharing your own mood board or Pinterest board with your architect, you can quickly point out the bits and pieces that you like and visually communicate your dream space, whether it be the color scheme, shop layout, or specific furnishings.

2. Have your business plan prepared

Your architect will greatly appreciate it if you can bring your business plan to your first meeting together. Even if you don’t have a fully fleshed out business plan, providing any basic information about your business would be helpful, such as: your range of products and services, the number of customers that you plan on serving daily or weekly, the total number of seats needed, your planned hours of operation, or your food menu and other print collateral, if applicable.

Knowing the customer flow and your daily operations of your business will help the architect account for necessary components and fixtures in your brick-and-mortar, such as designing the electrical and plumbing system, finding appropriate lighting, and arranging the placement of products and seats.

Communicating your equipment needs early in the design process will also be very helpful to your architect, such as POS stations and hood & exhaust systems. Knowing what front-of-house and back-of-house equipment you’ll need will help your architect optimize the arrangement of equipment and the customer experience of the location.

If you’ve already secured a location in an existing building, sharing the floor plan and amenities of the building with your architect will also be valuable.

3. Be realistic and upfront about your budget and costs

Your architect will need to know upfront what your budget is.

“There are a lot of projects costs beyond hard construction costs. A common pitfall we see is customers who haven’t properly thought through their budgets and underestimate what it is going to take to get a project done,” Andrew shares. “While we do not have the magic ball to answer all those questions, we can certainly guide them towards a more informed understanding of what project costs might be.”

Besides construction costs, you should also account for the cost of equipment, furniture, lighting, IT and security systems, legal paperwork, and permitting in your total budget.

Once your budget is determined, your architect will guide you through spending it smartly. You should be prepared to spend a significant chunk of your budget on getting your space fully powered, plumbed, and functional.

While it may be tempting to spend the majority of your budget on the finishing touches and décor of the brick-and-mortar, Andrew and Katie have seen that those details are where the biggest variance in costs tend to lie.

“The complexity of the build-on and the materials used play a big factor. For a light fixture, you could be spending tens of thousands of dollars or a few hundred dollars on it,” Andrew says.

4. Talk to an architect before signing your lease!

One of the most common pitfalls of opening up a brick-and-mortar is signing your lease before understanding the operational capacity of the location.

Before you sign your name on the line, it’s crucial to do due diligence on your prospective locations to ensure that they’re capable of meeting your business needs and fulfilling coding requirements, such as the building occupancy, waterlines, electricity, and plumbing.

“If you sign a lease for a space, and the water and electrical service isn’t large enough, is the landlord going to enlarge those? Or is the landlord going to say, ‘It’s up to you’? Because now you’ve just spent half of your budget enlarging something that none of your customers will see,” Katie explains. “Yet you literally cannot open your doors unless you have enough water and power.”

Consulting with an architect before you sign your lease will help you figure these needs and requirements—and give you leveraging power to negotiate for the necessary upgrades in your lease agreement.

“As a tenant, it’s critical to make sure that you have negotiated all of these code requirements ahead of time,” Andrew advises. “9 times out of 10, if the tenant has not done all of that due diligence, all of the responsibility falls on the tenant to make the building usable for their business, when a lot of that could’ve been negotiated with your lease agreement.”

Working with an architect to negotiate your lease agreement will help you find and secure your dream location faster and could save you a headache down the road.

Opening up a new brick-and-mortar is an exciting time for your business!

With these 4 tips in mind, going into your first meeting with your architect will be a breeze!

Looking to fund your new storefront or your renovation project? Let’s talk!


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