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In an effort to build our local business in Brainerd, Minnesota, I have joined a business networking group.  I have really enjoyed it.  I am getting to know a good group of people and we are getting better local exposure as a result.

In one of my networking meetings with another individual who represents the commercial building market which is actually a design build firm, they told me that they basically give away their design work for free.  I think his actual words were “we eat the design costs.”

That’s an interesting concept to me and I was immediately skeptical.  Clearly, their staff architects are getting paid a salary.  That salary has to come from somewhere and construction margins are quite that good.  I’m not saying it isn’t true, I just don’t see how that is a profitable business model.

But over the several months since that conversation I have been considering over and over the idea of giving away the design for free.   It seems to me, that this is a statement of how much they, as a company, value design. It would seem that this policy fosters what I think is one of the biggest problems with architecture and that is its devaluation in the minds of the public.

It that time, I have been trying to consider how to compete with free and it has had me a little worried.

But I have had an epiphany.

I don’t have to compete with that.  In fact, I don’t WANT to compete with that.  Those individuals who devalue design to such an extent that they expect it for free simply would not agree with me and we would not be a good fit for them.  It’s the difference between price, and value.  I will compete on value.