Jensen Fey’s Recession Rebound

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Originally published on www.bizjournals.com:

For Kurt Jensen and David Fey, the fast growth of their architecture firm in recent years is a return to familiar territory.

“Ours is a story of resilience as much as anything,” said Fey.

Jensen Fey Architecture and Planning had already grown to a firm of about 20 employees, specializing in hotels and other hospitality-related buildings. But when developers stop planning projects, the architect’s phone stops ringing, and that’s what happened when the Great Recession hit at the end of 2008.

Jensen Fey drastically cut back. For a couple of lean years, it was just the two partners and one employee.

“We did what many architechture firms didn’t do, which is we hung in there,” Fey said. “We had more space than we knew what to do with. But we appreciated that if we hung in there long enough, it would come back.”

Thanks to strong contacts forged during the previous decade, business finally returned.

“Over the last three years — more significantly in the last year and a half — old friends, old clients are picking up the phone and are pleased to hear that we are in existence,” Fey said.

The firm more than doubled its revenue from $520,007 in 2012 to $1.06 million the following year, then nearly doubled it again to $2.04 million last year. The partners started hiring in earnest again, and the employee roster now stands at about 25.

“Our biggest challenge right now is simply keeping up with demand,” Fey said. The firm could be even larger, but a lot of architects who lost their jobs in the recession moved on to other things, he said.

Now Jensen and Fey are simultaneously working on strategies for two different futures. In the short term, they need to attract the best candidates from a limited labor pool. In the long term, they want to put the firm on more solid footing for the next inevitable downturn.

The near-term effort includes bringing in a marketing consultant to get the firm up to speed on social media.

“When we talk to our new hires, that’s the first thing they are looking at,” Fey said. “So, while we might think we have this exciting place to work, if we don’t learn how to project that into the social media world, those prospective employees won’t give us a second look.”

The long-term effort is to broaden the scope of work beyond hotels.

“While we are blessed with a market niche that is really hot, we are working feverishly to make sure we are diversifying our product,” Fey said. Jensen Fey now pitches to a variety of markets with similarities to hospitality design, including apartments and condominiums, student housing, health clinics and wellness centers, and community centers. The firm also is looking at government opportunities, as the public sector tends to keep going when the private sector pulls back.

“The government doesn’t build a lot of hotels, but we have done hotels for the Army. I think we are going to go back and look at where those opportunities might lie,” Fey said.

The partners also are working hard to expand geographically. They just picked up a series of projects in Los Angeles, and have landed jobs in Alaska and Hawaii.

Those commissions came from existing clients. Getting distant work from new customers has proved tougher.

The two principals are both in their 60s, and so don’t anticipate working through too many more ups and downs. But if their names are to stay on the firm after they leave, they want the business to have a long future.

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