Lee Buescher created Architectural Overflow, a full-service residential design firm, in 2007 to address two problems. First, architects, builders and developers are notoriously overbooked, often facing heavy workloads and stressful deadlines. On the consumer side, hiring a standalone architectural firm makes little financial sense for most homebuyers.
For architects, builders and developers, Architectural Overflow helps produce quality construction documents and presentation drawings that leave some decisions open so clients can personalize their projects.
For consumers, the firm provides pre-drawn house plans with the option to customize them to suit their budgets, lifestyles and design preferences — an approach that costs far less than creating a highly detailed house plan from scratch with an architect.
As Architectural Overflow has grown and its business model has evolved, NetSuite has served as the core system of record for financials, customer data and ecommerce, recently extending to project management.
The turning point came in 2010, when Southern Living magazine approached Architectural Overflow to partner on its pre-drawn house plans business. Architectural Overflow would be in charge of making any desired modifications to a client’s design, selected from thousands of plans from various architects in Southern Living’s repository.
Architectural Overflow would also provide additional services around 3D modeling and presentations, alternative foundations for house plans, site plans and specialty engineering to meet local building codes.
Big Growth Required a More Flexible System
The Southern Living deal meant Architectural Overflow would also be handling the website, call center, fulfillment, ecommerce and operations for the magazine’s house plans division. With the increased workload, it became clear the company needed more comprehensive software. That’s what led Architectural Overflow to switch from Quickbooks to NetSuite(opens in new tab).
“QuickBooks was satisfying our need at the time for the amount of work we had and the type of work we were producing,” Buescher said. “But I knew it would never support the ecommerce platform that we wanted to put together as part of our Southern Living project. And even for the things that we wanted to do on our own, we needed more functionality.”
As someone with both professional IT and operations experience, Buescher had already done extensive research into possible systems and had an idea of what worked and what didn’t.
“I knew firsthand what supporting an on-premises system involved,” Buescher said. “Not only is there significant capital expenditure, there is also the maintenance — managing the IT and security side of it. It was something I knew we didn’t want to do in-house.”
At a previous company in 2004, Buescher had investigated NetSuite, which made it top of mind for him as a possible solution. “NetSuite not only offered the most comprehensive functionality at the time, but really the best performance for a web-based system,” Buescher said.
Unifying Organizational Visibility in One Suite
For Architectural Overflow, adopting NetSuite was less about improving existing capabilities and more about new functionality.
Architectural Overflow’s initial implementation included ERP, CRM and SuiteCommerce. One of the main benefits was simply having all key information in a single place. With the different modules feeding into the same data repository, people across Architectural Overflow’s three offices had customer and project visibility.
“I don't think you can underestimate the value of having a comprehensive, cohesive system where all that data — order entry, financials, ecommerce analytics, customer interactions — is in one place,” said Buescher. “It’s all one central truth. Being able to collect that data over time and view the connections, we feel it's going to really pay off for us.”
Tackling Complexity Through SuiteProjects
As Architectural Overflow grew, its projects became larger and more complex. It expanded its partnerships to include several other publications, as well as architecture and design firms. Jobs began to move beyond single-family homes to include townhomes, condominiums, mixed-use, commercial and live/work spaces. Projects frequently required input from outside sources and expenses from multiple employees in different locations, as well as contractors.
With this heightened complexity, visibility into projects proved even more important, leading the firm to start implementing SuiteProjects(opens in new tab) in 2021 to gain its more advanced project management capabilities.
“The ability for our project managers to have visibility into resources, status and the P&L on projects is critical,” said Buescher. “We also believe in keeping all the employees in the loop. With them all having access, they can see what the scope of work is, where they need to be, what their targets are, and it provides visibility into the process as well.”
The benefits of SuiteProjects also extend to billing, Buescher said, especially when the company is juggling projects based on a variety of contract terms.
“It gives more flexibility in how we bundle our services to different clients,” he added.
Going forward, Buescher plans to use the visibility provided by SuiteProjects to inform future business decisions.
“I think it's going to help us take the next step and look at what types of work is the most profitable for our organization,” said Buescher. “What projects do we struggle with? Is it an employee or team issue, or are we not estimating high enough? Should we change our rates?”
With SuiteProjects, Architectural Overflow can build a portfolio of offerings and projects that are profitable and deliverable with current staffing levels.
Future of Architectural Overflow
In the future, Architectural Overflow is looking to expand its ecommerce offerings and marketing campaigns with SuiteCommerce. In conjunction with this initiative, the company wants to empower its clients and partners with the same visibility into their projects and workflow through a web portal.
“It's tough when you're utilizing an outsource company like ours,” Buescher said. “You have clients calling and messaging different people on our end to check on status. Allowing them to have some visibility into that workflow will be really valuable, time-saving and certainly unique in our field.”
Hear how Architectural Overflow runs its business on a NetSuite blueprint.