Don’t Leave Your Boots in Texas
by Adam Wagner, Founder & Partner, Market Square Architects
An Architect’s Tale About COVID, Hair Dye, Getting Scrappy, Lost Boots, and #Texas.
March 2, 2021
I have just returned from my first trip to our Austin office in almost a year. It was a fantastic week filled with human connection, conversations about the future, and most importantly, lots of brisket and tacos. Despite the ongoing recovery effort from the recent Texas snow storm, it felt in many ways like the start of a return to normalcy. Never would I have guessed that it would have taken so long to get back to our Austin office, but it is the reality that COVID has dealt us and so many others in the business community. Most businesses have fought to stay viable through whatever means possible weathering this COVID storm. It has not been easy, but as the saying goes “necessity is the mother of invention” and those who have innovated are those that have survived. Over the last year, I have been blown away by the ways in which businesses have pivoted. Desperately trying to keep their doors open by listening intently to their clients and customers. What follows are my favorite stories of COVID Innovation and the lessons I have learned, as a business owner, because of them.
A few weeks into the shutdown, my wife approached me and said, “well, I guess you are finally going to see the actual color of my hair.” I didn’t really know what to make of this as I knew she had her hair dyed, but I always assumed that it was just to add highlights. She laughed and proceeded to inform me, “Nope, there will be grey.” Shortly after, she got a tip from one of our neighbors. What she learned apparently rocked her world. The Color Bar salon in Dover, NH was doing custom hair dye packages. Loretta, owner of the Color Bar in Dover, simply asked that you send a few photos of your hair via email and she would mix up the right concoction and deliver the custom dye solution to your door with instructions and the appropriate “tools” to do it yourself. (Well, mostly yourself, I was recruited to help). I thought this was genius. You see, when many other businesses folded at the mere thought of a pandemic, the Color Bar had worked the problem. Loretta came up with a solution in spite of the shutdown. In fact, you could argue that she not only maintained her business by providing the answer that many women were looking for, but she also grew it! She found a way to earn new customers. Case in point, my wife is now a regular. She actually left her previous salon and exclusively gives her business to the salon that “saved her hair” during the 2020 pandemic. That’s saying something.
Other great advances can be seen in the restaurant industry. You can now get take-out from just about any restaurant, including fine dining. Including fine dining… That $60 steak can be at your doorstep in 30-45 minutes! Tell me you aren’t praying nightly that this sticks around. And what about the inclusion of take-out cocktails…even specialty cocktail mixers? Or full holiday FEASTS ordered the day before Thanksgiving and Christmas?! We also saw restaurants band together to push their communities into additional outdoor dining options, in some cases blocking public sidewalk space and even lanes of roadway to make it work.
In New England, we have seen many restaurants go into winter “hibernation” as a means to get by. While they may not be able to offer outdoor dining or other creative dining options, they are continuing to dig deep – staying innovative, flexible and keeping themselves viable. It’s human nature – when the human body is at risk, we put up defenses – our body ignites certain mechanism to protect vital organs. To keep us alive. It’s the same with these business owners – they are putting everything on the line to survive. And, come Spring, my hope is that they are back to full swing and because of their ability to pivot and innovate, they end up having their best year ever.
One of the most unlikely survivors in all of this, is the theater industry. Some movie theaters have gone beyond creative to solutions we never would have imagined. Several dinner theaters in Texas have moved to a monthly subscription service. For a flat rate you can watch as many movies as many times as you want; their hope is that you will purchase food and drink to help buoy their bottom line…it seems to be working. Other movie theaters are offering a flat rate to rent an entire theater where you and your guests can bring any Blu-Ray you would like and watch it on the big screen. Just a few days ago I was able to experience this when my wife and I were invited to attend a birthday party for a 10-year-old. The party was able to social distance while watching “Return of the Jedi” – the same movie that was sold out when I tried to go as a 7-year-old. For me, this was a lifetime experience achieved…during a global pandemic. Now that’s cool.
As for us at Market Square Architects, I wouldn’t say we had any “off the chart” innovations, but COVID has definitely made us scrappy. Our goals were simple: stay nimble, stay transparent and pull together as a team. By being nimble, we saw our custom single-family market take off while our office and hospitality markets went into hibernation. Rather than cut all spending, we invested in infrastructure and technology, like a Leica 3D Lidar scanning camera, so that we could cut down on the amount of time needed on-site for existing conditions documentation. We turned our weekly Project Management meetings into All-staff meetings to keep everyone informed and updated. Once we had secured a PPP loan, we told our staff that there would be no layoffs for financial reasons for a minimum of three months. This transparency resulted in a team who was more than willing to put their all into getting us through this, without the fear that their jobs were on the line. Each person committed to doing their part to weather this storm together, and as it stands, we did just that. Markets are picking up and we are already lining up new full time hires and summer interns. I am incredibly proud of the perseverance of our entire team include our group in Austin, that for all intents and purposes got left on an island, thousands of miles away. And, as I like to say, we are all working remotely, some just further away than others. We certainly didn’t do everything right, but we did enough of it right and we are excited to see what awaits us on the other side of this very, very long year.
Which brings me back to the title of this segment, and the boots. When I left Texas at the onset of the pandemic, I left my favorite pair of Lucchese boots behind because, like so many, I figured I’d be back very soon. I assumed the world would do our part to “flatten the curve,” and all would return to normal in just a few months. Never did I think a whole year would go by before I saw those darn boots (or my team) again. So, what have I learned? Well, some things you cannot control, like a global pandemic. But that which is outside of your control cannot stop you from fighting for your future. I have learned to expect obstacles, then find a way to be scrappy and adapt to the hand we are dealt. My boots came home with me this time and I am ready for the next challenge that comes our way at Market Square. Once I’ve quarantined for 14 days…of course.
About the Author
Adam L. Wagner AIA, LEED BD+C, ACHA is a Founder and Partner of Market Square Architects (MSA) in Portsmouth, NH and Austin, TX. Adam has been an instrumental leader in the New England region for over 20 years helping two prior firms make the Inc. 5000 list for fastest growing companies in consecutive years. He leverages his experiences at each of those firms to provide executive level leadership to both the office and client projects that he works with. A member of the prestigious American College of Healthcare Architects (ACHA) and New Hampshire Board of Architects, Adam has worked extensively in the design of multi-family housing, industrial, commercial office, medical, education, and assisted living sectors. Adam received a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Syracuse University and a MS in Real Estate and Construction Management from the University of Denver.
He is a resident of Dover, NH, where he lives with his wife Beth and their two German short-haired pointers…and he really misses his boots.