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Tom Hoch, President of Tom Hoch Design

With custom creations, this company takes the 'build' in 'design-build' to a new level.

Friday, December 04, 2009
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The dinner table conversation when Tom Hoch was growing up revolved around hospitality design. His parents, Tom and Joanne, had started their own firm in 1963 and often brought their work home, discussing clients and projects in what became a nightly tutorial for young Tom.

At first, he did not anticipate going into the family business. But he discovered a natural talent for design, and that was that. "It was in my blood," Hoch said. "It still is."

Today, the design-build firm provides full services, from consulting to design to installation and even evaluating project performance. About 80 percent of the Oklahoma City-based business is building and designing clubhouses, while the other 20 percent is for hotels and restaurants. His clients include The Ritz-Carlton Club, Marriott, Honours Golf, Landmark Land Company and Southworth Development.
Hoch spoke with Buyer Interactive about his design philosophy and his innovative approach to ensuring that spaces not only look great, but they also make money for his clients.

You are known for your "revenue-based design" model. Describe how it works.

Revenue-based design factors in the elements of developing design based upon what kind of design is going to best serve the operational needs of the club or a restaurant or a hotel. What is a proper arrangement of interior space to serve the operational needs of the facility? It's operations-based, but it's also emotionally based: What is the best interior design to evoke an emotional connection with a customer? If you blend the two, you're pretty far down the road as far as creating revenue. A lot of clubs feel bigger is better, but that's not necessarily the case. There are some very good clubhouse designs that are very small. It's about quality, style and efficiency and blending the three together. With revenue-based design, we have a model when we're doing a design program; we study the financial effects of the operations. If we have a dining room that seats 80 people, what are the revenue projections for the space? If a club is considering adding on, what is the revenue impact of adding a certain number of seats? We're combining the financial modeling with the design to make sure what we're designing is successful. A lot of people get off on tangents, assuming just because it was good for another facility it will be good for them. Some of our most expensive revenue-based design endeavors include branding surveys. The branding survey helps a property to design what they really are. You survey the members, survey staff and the competition. Out of that you come up with a brand definition.

That's not something you think of a design-build firm doing.

We feel a need or an obligation to help our customer ensure that their design supports a revenue stream.

Are you known for any particular style or aesthetic?

No. We've done a wide variety of styles. I enjoy that. Most of our work tends to be traditional, because we do traditional buildings, but I enjoy contemporary and traditional. I'm a huge fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, a huge Richard Neutra fan, a huge fan of Edwin Lutyens. We do a wide variety. It all has to be reflective of the brand identity the client is looking for or the architecture that it's going to be married to. Whatever the case, be it traditional or contemporary, we try to avoid trendy styles. They fade quickly. We try to develop interiors that are timeless.

What’s the best way for a supplier to get your attention?

I can only speak to our reps. They have to have a good rep who understand their product and understand us and what our clients need. Sometimes you have vendors who are trying to sell what they want you to have without understanding what customer base you're serving. If we have a good rep with products that are quality, a good style, affordable and can get to us, that's the winning combination. You've got to possess all those traits to get our attention.

Since every project is different, are you constantly changing your suppliers, or do you return to suppliers you have worked with on past projects?

A lot of our vendors have products that have different styles. We have some key vendors, but a lot of suppliers can provide products that will work in contemporary or traditional environments.

How many options do you provide the client when choosing, say, a flooring type or a type of sofa?

It depends on the client. If you have a client that wants to be involved in the process, you have to give them some options. But typically we want to filter that before we present it to the client. We're confident in our design direction, and they hired us for our expertise. When you go to a doctor or a specialist, you don't ask for three options. You want their advice. It's the same with us.

What do you look for when you are deciding on new products to purchase? What makes something timeless vs. trendy?

For instance, with carpeting we tend to go toward the more classic styles. You may have a contemporary interior where traditional houndstooth would look great in it.

Your Web site has a fascinating photo gallery of your fabrication process in your 30,000 square-foot studio. Are those your employees or a company you contract with? Is this just for custom pieces?

We have an artisan studio and build products for many of our clubs. We like to do unique pieces that we can't find from a vendor. That's where we create one-of-a-kind pieces. We just did this wonderful table of reclaimed walnut for a wine club in Colorado called Cordillera. It has turquoise inlays. [The studio is for] special pieces, primarily.

Has the economy affected your purchasing on behalf of your clients?

Greatly. Vendors' inventories are way down. You see a lot more back-ordered product.

How do you deal with that?

Scratch and claw. It's frustrating. How we deal with it is, often we have an artisan studio. If it's a piece we have to have done, we'll build it ourselves. It's helpful to our clients.

What's the toughest item you can recall sourcing?

The toughest, the most difficult item that's always a long lead time and is very design-intensive, is custom area rugs. They seem to take a long time to get. They're very labor-intensive to design. Sometimes you have reps who don't understand your design intent, so the rep is communicating with the carpet company and things get lost in translation.

In what area do you see the most innovation?

Interior finishes. There are some wonderful interior finishes out there, from solid surfacing to wall finishes and wall coverings. There are some wonderful fabrics as well. We use a lot of 3form. It's an [engineered] product that comes in different styles and configurations. We use it for room dividers or inlays on tables.

What industry trends do you see emerging?

I try to avoid trends. I think people are gravitating to more quality and enduring style. They're getting away from trendy things. People often confuse trendy with contemporary and stodgy with traditional. Your interior architectural elements of a building can be traditional, but maybe you have contemporary artwork or accessories that are juxtaposed against traditional design. That juxtaposition has a popular place in design.

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