When I think back on JAI’s journey over the past 20 years, there are many fond memories of innovative designs, exciting grand openings, and trips to beautiful places. But truthfully, my clients have made the biggest impact on me in my experience as a designer and business owner.
Clients shape everything you do as a designer. They open doors, set limitations, and green light the work. The wrong client can make your life unbearable. But the right client can transcend partnership and become what feels more like family. Bobby F. is one of these special clients.
Bobby and I connected through Marriott in 2005. He had a couple of projects in the early stages and was in need of a designer, and called me for an interview. We hit it off from the beginning. Bobby has always been high energy and very enthusiastic, so it was easy to say yes to his ideas and then just hold on for the ride. I still remember during that initial phone interview, he exclaimed, “what’s an extra $50,000 for a ‘wow feature’ in the lobby?”
Want to Make a Big Impact? Partnerships are Key
It was my fourth year of JAI and I was working from home on my own. Bobby mentioned a new construction Courtyard in DC and a new construction Residence Inn in Phoenix. In one of our first few phone calls, the number of hotels went up to about five in his pipeline and he said he wanted me to be his designer going forward for all of them. This was a turning point in both my life and career. I soon realized it was time to grow my business, hire some staff, and get an outside office. I had a toddler and two dogs at the time so although the thought was daunting, I knew it was time.
In the following months we ended up working on a couple of projects simultaneously, but the first one we opened together was DC Courtyard NoMa (near Union Station and the US Capitol). Projects were back-to-back for several years after, and have continued until today.
The secret to our success is Bobby’s open-mindedness and trust in JAI. He and his wife, Rochelle, generally start out with a look in mind, share some inspiration, and then let us run with our ideas to come up with something that exceeds their expectations. They are always open to going custom in their hotel interiors when the location supports it, which makes working with them exciting. We met when both our companies were young and small, as were our children, so it has been rewarding watching each other grow in many ways over the years.
3 Tips to Form Deep and Trusting Client Relationships:
While Bobby and I clicked right from the start, no perfect partnership is built in a day. Follow these three tips to deepen your relationships with your clients.
1. See Beyond Single Projects
Relationships are much more than the next cool project. Cool projects are great, but in the end, the design ages and has to be updated in 6-8 years, while hopefully, the relationship remains and becomes richer over time.
Not only does the relationship make the lengthy process of building or renovating a hotel more enjoyable, but the design reflects the relationship. The stronger, more secure, and trusting the relationship is, the freer we are as designers to go above and beyond, making the final design even better.
I can count on one hand how many clients we have like this, but their repeat business counts for most of our work. The others we may work with once or twice, but if the trust isn’t there, it is not worth it for either party. Sometimes relationships just don’t have the right fit, and that’s okay. I don’t fight for every client relationship or partnership to be a perfect fit. I would rather they find a fitting partner elsewhere than having both parties banging their heads against the wall through an entire project. That level of frustration only results in a lot of sleepless nights and a mediocre end product.
2. The Client is Always Right
Be open to the client’s needs and requests. It’s hard to shake the discouragement when hearing critiques or having a design rejected, but 99% of the time, the changes they suggest end up being better than the “perfect” design you thought you presented the first time around.
If it’s still difficult to navigate feedback, try and find a communication style that works between you and the client. Instead of saying, “no, I don’t like this,” I have one client that says, “this is great, however, I would like to challenge you to take it a step further and try this…” When he frames his critiques this way, my brain goes into overdrive and I have to step up to the challenge.
“Working with JAI has been pivotal in the success of our hotels. The professionalism and consistency JAI provides has created a lasting relationship over the last 15 years over several projects. Our collaborative efforts in the design of each of our properties has been met with unique and modern style. The consistency in delivering and carrying out the vision is why JAI has been an integral part of our team.”
3. Be Honest
If you or someone on your team has made a mistake, bring it to the attention of your client immediately. Being honest and upfront allows both parties to address issues quickly and move on. There is nothing worse than facing a major problem down the road because you weren’t able to be honest with a small problem in the beginning.
Not only will this allow work to flow better, but will build trust with your client. Everyone is human. They will respect you much more for coming forward than trying to blame someone else or cover up your mistake.
17 Years of Project Collaboration
Bobby and I have worked together from 2004 until now, with almost at least one job in production at all times. Take a look at some of the highlights from projects Bobby and I have worked on over the past 17 years.
Coconut Grove (Miami) Courtyard (which we renovated in both 2011 and 2020)
Sunny Isles (Miami) Residence Inn
Courtyard Miami Beach FL
Newark NJ Courtyard
Springhill Suites Miami FL
Tallahassee FL Res Inn
Melbourne FL Res Inn
We just completed the guestrooms of AC Hotel Tallahassee FL this month and should have photos to share soon. I’m excited to see what’s next!