Hufft Projects – Kansas City
Winston Churchill said, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”
Hufft Projects‘ clean, modern, neo-minimal private houses and commercial structures are redefining Midwestern architecture. Co-owner, CEO and architect Matthew Hufft and long-time designer friend Clayton Vogel also established Edwin Blue, a division of Hufft that designs and manufactures high-end contemporary furniture for residential and commercial use. Edwin Blue’s modus operandi is handmade and modern — two words not often seen together. Edwin Blue is unique in the architectural world; very few design organizations also do component fabrication. Edwin Blue currently has representatives in Kansas City and New York.
According to their product catalog, Hufft and Vogel set out to design and build beautiful, functional and long-lasting furniture. “Inspired by the reputation the United States once held as a nation that made things, Vogel and Hufft aspire to win that reputation back in some small measure with their collection of thoughtfully designed, handmade furniture,” it reads.
Hufft and his wife, Jesse, plunged into the design world after attending New York’s Columbia University graduate school and establishing a design firm in New York. They recognized a gap in contemporary area architecture design, and like good entrepreneurs, decided to fill that gap.
The Huffts initially received several large commissions to design contemporary, expensive homes in the Springfield and Joplin areas. One of those residential projects was for a prominent real estate developer, who then contracted with them to provide architectural design on several multi-family projects.
Projects began to flow to Hufft from around the region. Another client, the owner of a small Midwestern restaurant chain, was so pleased with the Huffts’ work that he commissioned them to do a number of new restaurants.
Missouri seemed to be appreciative of their talents. After careful consideration, the Huffts decided to move to Kansas City in 2006. It was a wise move. Relocating to Kansas City triggered a rapid expansion of the design portion of the business, enough that the principals added a fabrication division and Edwin Blue.
The Huffts were introduced to the University of Missouri-Kansas City SBTDC and business counselor Mark Allen in late 2011, when he was asked by another resource partner to review the company’s financials and counsel the Huffts on another relocation, renovation or building purchase.
Allen reviewed the company’s financial statements and recommended that the owners hold off on any physical expansion while they strengthened the company’s financial position.
“The Huffts sincerely wanted to understand their obstacles to growth and profitability,” says Allen. “Growth was not a problem, but profitability was not meeting their expectations. The principal service I performed for them was as a resource provider and counselor, presenting options for decision-making and information on how those options may come out.”
Allen introduced the Huffts to three lenders, one of which became their local bank. He also met with the firm’s management team to redefine roles, analyze strengths and weaknesses and define the company’s strategic direction and goals as well as consider options for employee ownership. He was also helpful in providing introductions to customers and suppliers.
The result of these efforts is undeniable.
From 2010-11, company revenues grew from $850,000 to $1.5 million and this year will eclipse $2 million. In that same timeframe, the company grew from 13 to 24 full-time jobs plus additional part-time help. The Hufft team is largely composed of young, vibrant designers energized by the high performance level and pace of their work, and the Huffts expect to grow even more.
Success doesn’t always breed awareness, but it has in Hufft’s case. Hufft realized that, as much as he enjoys designing, the firm needed a true CEO and that he was the best candidate.
As CEO, Hufft and the firm’s marketing director now work on benchmarks and timelines. Hufft says he balances his management with his practitioner role, allowing him to spend more time developing new business and visions for daily living. Increasingly, he says, that vision includes green and sustainable elements.
“Sustainable design is morphing our practice at 110 miles per hour,” he says. “I feel like the attitude has changed from clients saying they want to be different and green to just expecting the house to be efficient.”
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