Enduring Long-Term Client Relationships, and Navigating New Hotel Projects

By Lesley Hughes-Wyman Principal & Partner, MatchLine Design Group | October 11, 2020

It's true that necessity is sometimes the mother of innovation; When the pandemic hit, those in the architecture and design industry were required to have an innovative, flexible, and quick response to the way that work and collaboration were approached-walkthroughs of construction sites, visits to the in-house materials library, and in-person group design sessions quickly became no-go's.

As an industry, COVID-19 might have changed the way we work for good-and for the better. With the lines between work and home blurred, many businesses consciously shifted to a more human-centric, compassionate approach, where communication amongst clients, employees, and peers became underscored by an encouraging 'all in this together' mentality.

Interior design and architecture is at the very heart of our human existence; it's the context in which our lives play out. It is more than just brick-and-mortar, engineering, color, and textiles, because the way in which inhabitants interact with their environments-consciously or subconsciously-has a direct effect on their wellbeing. Our relationship with the hotel and travel industry dramatically shifted in 2020-we were forced to question the safety of the hotels, airports, and restaurants in which we frequented.

Just as design and architecture shape our behavior, now, COVID-19 does as well. While designers were navigating how to re-think existing spaces into healthier, COVID-19-proof spaces, the methods in which we did this was shifting in real time. COVID-19 changed the relationship that designers have with technology, creating an almost 'sink or swim' entrepreneurial landscape, whereby an ability to lean on it became more important than ever. Below, I'll examine the major business shifts that COVID-19 has caused, the degree to which they've impacted the design industry at-large, and how we must navigate these shifts moving forward.

Designing Digitally

When the pandemic hit, we were fortunate in that several owners and operators with renovation projects that we were working on sought to take this silver-lining opportunity and fast forward their renovation work while the hotels remained empty or at low occupancy. Our new construction projects that were already funded also forged ahead. Just as the pandemic accelerated our comfort levels with the working-from-home lifestyle, the role that technology played in the design process of these projects increased tenfold during this time of conducting business remotely. Like the majority of designers, our design process changed almost overnight.

Pre-pandemic, we were already seeing an increased reliance on video technology, but the pandemic catapulted the necessity of digital technology in our day-to-day lives as those part of the A&D community. Designers are naturally very tactile professionals-our process often requires interaction with like-minded designers, and physical product showcases (such as vendor presentations), for our creativity to really spark and to stay up-to-date with industry trends.

There has been no shortage of virtual CEUs, webinars, and product reviews available for designers to attend during their remote work routines, but while computers strive to represent the real colors, textures, and patterns of materials and products, the importance of seeing and feeling those products in person cannot be understated. As leadership, it was our responsibility to ensure our designers had equal access to all our project materials while working remotely; vendors were very amenable to sending out multiple product samples, but this wasn't a sustainably-minded, long-term solution to the problem.

In regards to the final review stage of the design process, while virtual, video walk-throughs of construction sites have increased steadily over the past decade, the pandemic forced those who had not fully adopted this technology to realize the extent to which it could inherently alter the way they deliver that final punch list. Using this technology, architects and designers are able to remove the travel factor from the equation, making their lives-and construction timelines-more efficient than before.

However, similar to the way in which we expect social distancing and at-home dining to cause a post-pandemic, 1920's-esque resurgence of gathering, communal dining, and shared experiences, many in the industry still expect this current, soft pause on travel to provoke a surge like never before. The architect and designer's relationship with their built environment is a formidably strong one, and while technology certainly allows us to save on travel time, nothing quite meets the review standards that the physical walkthrough experience allows. Designers need to experience the hotel as the guest would-physically present-to ensure that all promises are delivered.

While our team is mostly back in our physical office for now-where (socially distanced) design brainstorms, and visits to our sample library have been a welcomed breath of fresh air-the collaborative process, and synergic approach to our designs, have become more streamlined than ever.

Budgets and Value Engineering

The familiar 'B' word-budgets-continues to be at the center of most daily check-ins happening with the key project stakeholders. Despite dramatic revenue losses across the industry, national hospitality projects continue to move forward, and hopeful conversations about the state of the industry continue to define the way we approach design. While 'value engineering' is very much part of the hotel designer's vernacular and process, the value engineering of 2020 is two-fold-budget cuts on top of budget cuts.

Pre- and post-pandemic, the design process really comes down to two things: space and money, which are our biggest constraints. These alter the design vision and the eventual narrative told throughout a space. Most helpful to us in working through hotel redesign and development over the years is selecting partners, owners, and developers that are honest about their budget. This ensures that we can align from the very start of a project and provide the best result.

During the pandemic, hotel ownership looked to hotel designers for their consul expertise about what was non-negotiable, and what wasn't-to what extent did we need to gut renovate restaurant and meeting spaces? How will guests navigate public areas in the future? Which materials will withstand the new cleaning and sanitization protocols? It was a challenge underscored by weighing immediate, up-front costs versus long-term investments during a time when ROI was minimal.

At MatchLine, where our brand is defined by affordable luxury, we've always prided ourselves on providing the client with the biggest bang for their buck while creating timeless designs that have staying power and longevity. Maintaining this client promise, alongside a design package that honors the brand standard of the hotel, and not sacrificing quality for temporary, cheaper solutions, has been the main challenge for most designers during this time.

Right now, there's a fundamental need for flexibility in hotel design; instead of redesigning the industry, hotel designers need to provide smart, flexible solutions that will evolve as our new behaviors do. On the same note, when COVID-19-related challenges arise, they need to be approached head-on, but with the understanding that there is no crystal ball.

Communication, Clients, and COVID-19

The pandemic truly forced architects and designers to question their business approach at-large-how can we make things more efficient and streamlined for the sake of both budgets and the well-being of staff? For one, fluid and frequent communication became more essential than ever before, as did the importance of nurturing previous and existing client relationships.

Our firm's design services-initial space planning, conceptual design and design development, interior construction document production, contract administration, and final product placement review-involves a myriad of external parties, each with varying degrees of involvement and coordination. Similarly, for the collaborative approach we take with architects, builders and contractors on both small and large scale construction and renovation projects to succeed, taking a tailored approach that is well-executed is paramount.

Setting expectations is always good business, and a crucial part of setting the tone for new client relationships. While our firm's project portfolio consists of many repeat clients, our business development approach, especially during the pandemic, is to get on the phone and check-in with past, present, and future contacts, inquiring about where and how we can help during this chaotic time.

Despite the disruptions that the pandemic has made to business operations, including the way in which we can project revenue and future billing cycles, there are many ways for designers to organically expand their presence to become 'top of mind' without spending a fortune. For example, as leadership, we should ensure we're empowering employees to be advocates for our firms-not only to boost company morale and reiterate the individual's role in championing the brand, but to maximize our respective immediate networks.

Through navigating these relationships during an evolving global pandemic, it's important to remember that we're all in the same boat-there is an equal understanding and reasoning in certain requests. Honesty and transparency are key when meeting targets, and going above and beyond for clients during a worldwide pandemic (let alone while maintaining the healthy work-life balance that is crucial to our longevity). We know everyone's situation is challenging, and most people in the industry are still missing their offices, face-to-face brainstorms, and connection to their original routines that are now deemed nostalgic.

As we approach the tailend of 2020, and try to plan for the year ahead (as much as any of us can), we face the continued challenges that enduring a pandemic brings. The word in which we've used to identify our sector-'hospitality'-has such synonyms as 'friendliness,' 'companionship,' 'generosity,' and 'warmth.' During hardship, it's important to remember this, and that while our industry may change permanently, we can use this time to really shape what we want our ways of conducting business to look like in the future and, for the better.

Ms. Hughes-Wyman As a registered interior designer, Lesley Hughes Wyman brings close to 20 years of industry experience to her role as a co-founding principal of MatchLine Design Group. Prior to joining forces with her long-time friend and business partner Tamara Ainsworth in 2009, Ms. Wyman held various design roles at renowned firms, which allowed her to refine her craft. Lesley has overseen a number of notable full-service projects, including Embassy Suites, DoubleTree; the current conversion for San Antonio's Estancia del Norte - A Tapestry by Hilton Collection; the upcoming historic renovation of the Federal Reserve Bank in downtown Kansas City; The Lodge of Four Seasons at Lake Ozark; and Taj Blue Diamond Resort. connect@matchlinedesign.com Please visit http://www.matchlinedesign.com/ for more information. Extended Biography

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In the event that you have chosen to have your membership automatically rebilled, unless and until you notify HotelExecutive that you wish to cancel or terminate your membership to HotelExecutive, you hereby agree and authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to automatically renew your membership to HotelExecutive on a continuing basis and to charge your credit card (or other payment means you have selected) to pay for the ongoing cost of your membership. You hereby further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card (or other approved payment means you have selected) for any and all purchases of products, services and entertainment provided to in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive.

13. PRIVACY POLICY

The following is the Privacy Policy for HotelExecutive

We can be reached via telephone, email, or online at our contact page. When you visit our site we do not log any information regarding your domain or email address. Information Sharing: We do not share user information with any third parties other than via press release distribution as described below.

Hotel Newswire is a newswire service that distributes press releases on behalf of our users. If you decide to submit a press release for distribution through our system we will transmit your entire press release including any personal information therein contained to our media contacts and online distribution points including search engines. This is the only redistribution of your information that we engage in. Your submission of press releases through our system indicates consent with this policy. The information we collect during your registration process is used to notify users about updates to our service and inform users of any special events hosted by Hotel Newswire. This information is not shared with other organizations for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Cookies: Our system requires the use of cookies to enable the user to log back into our website to access information from the newswire, without having to log in each time using the required username and password.

If you do not want to receive email from us in the future, please let us know by following instructions included in our communication with you. Users who supply us with telephone numbers online may receive telephone contact from us regarding their account, or informing them of new products and services available on the HotelExecutive website. If you do not wish to receive such telephone calls, please edit your account and remove your phone number from your account profile. This can be done from your user account menu.

Ad Servers: We do not partner with or have any relationship with any ad server companies. From time to time, we may use customer information for new uses not previously disclosed in our privacy notice. If our information practices change at any time, we will post the policy changes to our website to notify you of these changes and provide you with the ability to opt out of these new uses. If you are concerned about how your information is used, you should check back at our website periodically.

Upon request we provide site visitors with access to all information (including proprietary information) that we maintain about them. Users can access this information by logging in to their account.

Security: We always use industry-standard encryption technologies while transferring and receiving user data exchanged with our site. We have appropriate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of information that we have collected from you on our site. We do not store credit card information in our systems.

If you feel that this site is not following its stated information policy, you may contact us.

Marjorie Silverman
Fred B. Roedel, III
Paul R. Kremp
Mark Heymann
S. Lakshmi Narasimhan
Elaine Oksner
Pedro Colaco
Matthew Costin
Jason Ferrara
Richard Hudak
Coming up in November 2020...

Hotel Design: Home Away From Home

With the rise of the sharing economy and the peer-to-peer marketplace for lodging options, hoteliers are re-thinking the look, feel and appeal of their locations. There is an emphasis on re-creating a feeling of homeyness - a comfortable, cozy and inviting space that feels like home. 'This is accomplished through the careful selection of furniture design, paint colors, lighting design, artwork, bathroom fixtures and textile accessories. In addition, some hotels are providing their guests with upscale amenities, such as a book and movie library, home-style kitchenettes, a coffee machine with locally-sourced beans and tea, or even a batch of fresh-baked cookies. Similarly, there is a growing design trend based on the concept of place-making. Travelers are searching for experiences that are unique and authentic to the locale in which they find themselves, and so hotel designers are integrating a sense of place into their work. This is partially achieved by incorporating traditional artisanal crafts and other local artwork into hotel rooms and communal spaces. Another design trend includes the creation of full-service, co-working environments within the hotel. Guests don't like to stay alone in their room when they need to work, so now they can go downstairs to the lobby-or up to the roof-to work among others. These areas encourage guests - and non-guests alike - to stay as long as they like and to partake of hotel amenities. Finally, recognizing the importance of the Wellness Movement, some designers are exploring how room design can increase the likelihood of deep and restorative sleep. Creating dark and quiet spaces, blocking excessive light, providing guests with a selection of different kinds of pillows, and the ability to control room temperature, are a few of the best practices in this area. These are some of the architecture and design topics that will be covered in the November issue of the Hotel Business Review.