Windom Kimsey | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Windom Kimsey


Henderson, Nevada-based TSK Architects is one of the region's leading architecture firms, with additional offices in Reno, Los Angeles and Shanghai. It is behind many of Southern Nevada’s iconic buildings including Springs Preserve and McCarran International Airport, and will assist in the design of the second phase of the Las Vegas Convention Center. CEO Windom Kimsey also owns the recently opened Public Works Coffee Bar, located on the ground floor of TSK's brand-new headquarters in downtown Henderson.

The Mistake:

The last building we designed for the firm was not really designed to accommodate any changes in the population of employees or recessions.

During the recession, the architecture business was hit very hard in terms of the amount of work available, so our staff dropped down to about a third of the size we previously were. We ended up having this big open studio — what felt like a bowling alley — because we designed it to be like architecture school where everyone works collaboratively. And that sounds great, but what happens during a recession is you end up with this big space and few people.

Then our biggest expense during the recession was paying a lot of rent for a building that was way beyond our means. I know a lot of people, fellow colleagues, who walked away from their leases. We didn't; we kind of sucked it up and made it work, but I don't want to repeat that sort of mistake.

That was an important lesson because it almost put us out of business — it was the rent. The rent was also based on a lease that was put into place in 2008 when everything was looking great, but then the crash came so fast.

You can adjust your staffing, but the rent is a fixed obligation.

The Lesson:

I had a wise local architect tell me, "Design your building smaller than you need and add onto it if you need to or lease some of the extra space," which is what I'm doing right now. My advice to others is to design a building for your business that can fluctuate with the economy and the size of the staff.

I wish we had the type of business where things were steady for long periods of time, but there is a certain amount of volatility in design firms and we're all gun-shy since the recession.

We're on our second building now. When our previous lease ended, we moved to a new building in downtown Henderson and designed it in a way that gives us some flexibility, so we can compartmentalize, scale it back, or lease some space if we need to. We're actually currently adding onto it.

We designed it in a way that it can become a business incubator or co-working space with a common conference room, and we can break the business up into smaller pieces and lease space to other businesses.

If you're going to stay in business long enough, business is going to retract in the other direction. Hopefully, not like it did, but that is a very real thing, so we designed a building that has a higher level of flexibility.

For anyone in business, look at the triggers in your lease agreement. A standard lease will go up 3.5 or 4 percent per year, but make sure you have something in there that can accommodate when things go in the other direction. Everybody is always positive when business is good. They're making deals and everything is predicated on an increase in business and paying more for rent, but it doesn't really accommodate when the opposite happens. You can adjust your staffing, but the rent is a fixed obligation.

Owning your own building is my other piece of advice: Pay rent to yourself and then you have a little more control over it as well.

Follow Windom Kimsey's coffee bar on Twitter at @pwcb_water_st.

Photo provided by TSK Architects

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