Doug Rusk from DesignLine Architects is interviewed by speaker, bestselling author and entrepreneur Ken Sherman from Go Pro Local. Doug discusses how he’s been able to grow his business and become so successful in such a short period of time. Doug operates DesignLine Architects out of the Phoenix area and focuses on commercial and residential architectural design, doing custom home and remodel design and commercial tenant improvement projects. Doug, welcome to the show.
Doug: Thanks very much. I appreciate the opportunity.
Ken: Sure. Doug, tell the audience and I a little bit more about your business. What is it you do and who is it you help?
Doug: Well, DesignLine Architects has been in business for just over five years, actually almost six years now. We specialize in residential architectural design and commercial tenant improvement design. Most of my customers call me needing remodel work for their home or business. However I’m also seeing an increase in custom home design requests lately as well. Since the mid 1990’s my design background focused on production home design, where I worked for the large home builders, designing homes for large communities; four to six homes in a series in order to be built on 200 plus lots. So having that background has really enabled me to bring expertise to the remodel industry. I’ve learned how to be very efficient and bring what I call ‘value engineered design’ to the remodel and custom home market.
Ken: Talk a little bit more about the value engineered design. Can you explain a little bit more about what that means?
Doug: Sure. Value engineering is about trying to reduce the cost to build. For instance, I start my design in two foot modules, because we would think of it in the idea of using materials. So, for instance, a piece of plywood is four by eight, so by going with a two foot module on your wall lengths, there’s less waste, in an effort to reduce the number of sheets of plywood and drywall we’d need to purchase. And a simpler roof design will reduce the number of truss types. Design is not only about innovative aesthetics, but also about staying within a budget. It’s about labor and material costs that each of the building trades would have to then produce in order to build the project.
Ken: The price of lumber in the last five, ten years has really skyrocketed. So something like that would be really be valuable in reducing the cost of the remodel or even a custom home build, right?
Doug: Yes. The home building industry is made up investors, so it all about return on investment. But the smartest of these investors also has a deep understanding of who is purchasing their homes or products. The smartest of these investors will understand the difference between the type of home a young family buyer wants compared to, for instance, a 2nd move up family buyer, very different. When the parcel of land is purchased, the smart developer will immediately begin to target who their buyer will be, so that a product (or home design) can be created to fit that buyer’s needs and lifestyle.
Ken: Sure, the build cost needs to be low, but it has to be well designed to sell, make sense. So Doug, when was it that you think you got the bug to become an architect? Did this happen at an early age for you? When was it that you knew that this was something that you’d like to pursue as a career?
Doug: Well, I knew what I wanted to do when I was a junior in high school. I was very much attracted to rendering work. I liked the hand sketched drawings that I saw depicting a beautiful home with all the lush plants around it, and wanted to learn how to draw a trellis that had wood texture, using pencil and color pencils. Pencil sketches are what really attracted me and still do to this day. I love the artistic side of architecture. So even when I became a hand drafter, using a T-square and straight edges, it was not only about the best method to build, it was also all about the line thicknesses for me and trying to create the illusion of 3D depth in a 2-dimensional, drafted blueprint. It had to be visually appealing and not just a bunch of line that were hard to read. It was all about using art as a way to communicate to illustrate how the parts and pieces connect, but in a visually beautiful way. This improved the communication and made the drawings easy to read too.
Ken: Do you think that started at an early age for you? Were you always a little bit artistic as a child? Do you think growing up you had some of those tendencies?
Doug: I faintly remember doing well in an art contest of some kind in elementary school, but it was in high school where I realized how much I really liked drawing. The ability to quickly sketch up an idea on to paper has really helped me communicate to my clients and colleagues. A well done hand sketch has that added benefit of selling my ideas better too.
Ken: That’s great. So you got your start with designing homes for large community home builders. What made you decide to finally branch out on your own?
Doug: Because of a layoff in 2009, I was forced into it. Since there were no jobs available in my industry, it was tough. But I really didn’t look very hard. Years ago, I had attempted my own drafting business at two different times, and it just didn’t work out. I wasn’t able to sustain the workflow and ended up taking a job. When I was laid off from Pulte Homes in 2009, the decision was made for me to start DesignLine Architects. This time it has seemed much easier. Entrepreneurship was something I always wanted. Bottom line is that I really didn’t know if it would work this time, despite my failed attempts in the past. My Dad did quite well in his own Veterinary business, who I have always admired. And in some ways it’s like a retirement for me; I’m finally doing something I always wanted. A way to give back.
Ken: It’s a really powerful story of success. You had failed twice before, and you still had it in you to keep continuing on to be a success. Even though you were sort of forced into it, you were able to successfully pull that off. Not everyone can do that, it takes a certain type of person. Before we talk about you and how you made that happen, I want to talk a little bit about your clients. When someone in the Phoenix area is looking for an architect to do some design either commercially or residentially, what do you think some of the challenges they might face when looking for somebody that’s qualified, and somebody they can trust?