Gus founded Zdraft.com a niche architectural and engineering company – unique, and a fast growing leader in an industry that few even know has possibilities.
Zdraft.com generates shop drawings, otherwise known as coordination drawings for Millwork Manufactures scattered indiscriminately across North America.
While necessitating turning to Google so to understand what “shop drawings for the Millwork and Woodwork industry” means – Gus has a simple explanation.
On the deck of his unassuming, mountain view Squamish home, Gus gives us a simple breakdown of they do.
He laughs, “We basically take Architects intention – and make them realistic possibilities so that people in factories can build stuff like bars, kitchens, counters, desks , and beautiful wood products”.
Putting aside the technical aspect of what Zdraft.com studios do in Vancouver BC, Seattle WA, Calgary Alta, Toronto Ont, and New York NY – the real point of interest is how Gus is running this Architectural firm in a unique and novel way – where traditional business practices had to be thrown out the window.
It’s a business that is dependent on fast internet connections, cloud technology, and a combination of in-house engineers, outsourced drafters, retired cabinetmakers, mothers at part-time work, and persons with disabilities.
Gus told his story to a group of manufacturers, recently gathered for a charity event at the Maydenbauer Center in Bellevue Washington State.
In 1999 he and his partners started providing a service to Millwork and Cabinet manufactures on a one-to-one personal basis. Then in 2005, as resourceful and creative former millwork shop owners, cabinetmakers , and drafters that they were – they noticed their clientele of millwork shop’s were growing rapidly across North America. Was it their heavy investment in marketing? Was it the heavy investment in trade shows? Was it the strategic investment in some construction and industry related internet forums? (Gus won’t disclose how many, and what forums they’ve backed). Was it the mortgaging of their homes to travel across North America looking for new clients? Well all of that would have been money thrown in the wind if it was not for additionally aligning themselves with an infrastructure of professional Architects, Engineers and Drafters that makes up the meat and bones of their work.
In 2010, noticing the fruitful return of their investment they had to develop a system of receiving their clients Architectural drawings, information, simultaneously building a systems so as to return the work in a seamless and consistently managed system. This was something that their completion had struggled with for decades. At that point they had to make a critical and necessary decision. It lead to a transformation of their former business model – to what it is today. Basically, take something that was making them a handsome living, rip it apart and re-build it to meet the needs of the future.
“You need to be able to have the courage to re-invent yourself in today’s fast growing business environment” he says. “Technology changes, equipment change, work ethics change, and needs evolve. Just like our client’s factories and businesses have evolved, we need to evolve with them too.”
“Just having a website, advertising your services or working with one or two people pretending that you have staff, wasn’t going to work.” He points out. “ Today’s industry decision makers see well beyond all of that and know the words such as -“We can get you your drawings done fast” – really means, “I’ll work my butt off to get you the drawings, I’m by myself at my home office, and I hope to God I don’t get the flue and this job will have to be done after my INSERT NEXT EXCUSE (kids upcoming Wedding, the repair of my Truck, the completion of the huge job I overcommitted to last week)” “
And true to that, it appears cabinetmaking and millworkers of today are not what they used to be of yesterday either. Specialization is the key. Shops specialize now in kitchen cabinetry, in restaurant fittings, in hotel lobby details, commercial only, interior only, or exterior only. No longer is a “round” bar a novelty – since anyone with good CNC equipment now does the impossible of 30 years ago. Then the process within the manufacturing stage is further broken up. There are delivery companies specializing in the delivery of these goods have replaced in-house trucks and drivers. Installation contractors replace the necessity for the cabinet maker to leave his bench to install the products. Veneer, laminate, counter, and lay-up companies replace the in-house process. Spray and finish companies have made finishing booths extinct in some manufacturing sectors. Even Project Managers are now hired guns working on a project to project basis – where in the past you had owners and in-house people running these jobs. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that Zdraft.com was able to seize the reigns and offer an outsource solution to these companies.
So, how do you handle the growth ?
Solution – ( Gus says there are 15, but only gives us four )
2 – Look at non-traditional hiring practices. Create a network of outsource drafters that have the skills and dedication to help you meet your goals. We have about a dozen women working for us on a part-time or full-time basis that left engineering or drafting jobs due to being promoted to Motherhood. We took advantage of this and offered the flexible work at home possibilities. The same applied with experienced retirees and persons with disabilities. We now have a great network of plan checkers and engineer consultants that were probably the best of the best at the end of their careers in their shops. Other peoples loss, became Zdraft.com’s gain.
3– Admit that you can’t possibly know everything – In our case we had to bring in people with specialized Network and Communications skills to create and maintain the infrastructure. These people handle everything from ensuring client information is secure, file transfers are efficient, payment systems and product delivery systems are aligned – and even inter-studio communications are fused in a manner that makes it irrelevant if you are in New York or Seattle.
4– Keep your ethics intact. Zdraft.com handles hundreds of clients information’s. Clients trust them with their client lists, their billing practices and product costs. On any given day 10-20 clients send Zdraft.com the contract between them ( The Millwork manufacture) and the General Contractor that hires them. As one understands this contract might have information about how items are priced. Zdraft.com developed a system that to date Gus claims has ZERO cross transfer of information between clients. Same applies for CAD and Technical files. Zdraft.com also is committed to a policy that again Gus claims has ZERO “in-compliance”. Zdraft,com never discloses their clients or takes credit for the work. They never use projects or clients as references. Beyond the point of protecting their own client list, they also understand that the relationship between “outsourcer” and “outsource company” is confidential. So what is missing from their Architectural renderings is the typical branding information that today’s Architectural firms so highly prize, and for the same reason you don’t get that long list of completed projects that you see on their competitions websites.
All-in all though the bottom-line goal for Gus Magas, his partners, and Zdraft.com to succeed in the Architectural Shop Drawing business is simply focus on quality and high volume all the while stand by your work and cherish your reputation
“We’re going to keep walking, even though others think we need to run – so we just keep focused on our plan and executing on it.
And about the other 11 missing solutions? Gus promises “Hold an event, commit to raising at least $1,000,000 for a local Hospital or a Charity that supports people with Disabilities” , and he’ll come to your doorstep to deliver them himself.
Joanna is the founder and the publishing editor of Small Biz Resources.com. Joanna started her first company, which she still runs, in high school. Since then she has founded several other companies, which allowed her to develop a rich background in small business start-up, venture funding, branding, marketing, public relations, staffing and management. Her expertise in marketing and technology has helped her clients get acquired by Oracle, Force10, Cisco, Parker Hannifin and Juniper Networks.