ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — John Petronis speculates that he went about starting his own business, Architectural Research Consultants Inc., in one of the worst ways possible.
“The way you get work is to have experience,” said Petronis, the company’s founder and president.
He had little when he began the architectural consulting firm with three other people right out of graduate school.
But few places were offering planning services for municipalities and institutions in New Mexico in 1976, and Petronis found that ARC Inc. filled a need. Stubbornness and persistence got the company through the early days, he said of his Albuquerque-based business, which provided consulting services to federal, state and local governments.
“Gradually, we started getting the credibility and the experience and so forth that led to other things,” said Petronis, a licensed architect and certified planner. In time, the business became self-sustaining.
ARC Inc. helps its clients make smart choices about the future of their land and buildings, Petronis said. For example, the company can assist with the planning and design of a building or campus before it’s built. And after the facility has been in use, it can help a client evaluate if it’s working the way it should.
“We’re kind of the bookends,” said Director Of Educational Services Ailene O’Byrne, who oversees the company’s projects with school districts and universities.
ARC staff assesses clients’ needs, evaluates the condition of their facilities and conducts studies. Then, using charts, floor plans and reports, the company presents that information to the client in a way that the big picture emerges and decisions can be made, Petronis said. Some projects take a week or two and some take years.
Recently, the company used its assessment and planning skills on itself. Company leaders determined moving to a new location would aid communication and promote cooperation between their employees, who had been spread across two buildings Downtown. ARC Inc. is now providing its professional services from a suite in an energy-efficient, insulated concrete building at Jefferson and Alameda.
Whether it’s a school, city, state or company, Petronis said he is proud of the long-standing relationships ARC Inc. has built with many of its clients. They’ve worked regularly with the University of New Mexico since 1978, and been under continuous contract with Albuquerque Public Schools since 1988, he said.
Reflecting on ARC Inc.’s 4½ decades in business, Petronis said, “We’ve worked with wonderful people.”
What does success look like for ARC Inc.?
Petronis: “I think success is, quite frankly, getting interesting projects and then working on those projects. You don’t want to lose money. Hopefully, you’re making money to do it. But, you know, for me that’s what the payoff is … doing something interesting and significant and upscale and challenging.”
O’Byrne: “My success is when I go back to a building several years later and go, ‘Oh, they fixed that. Oh, they rebuilt that.’ Or ‘They actually followed the plan that we helped them set up.’ And that, for me, is a big success.”
Have the types of projects changed over time?
Petronis: “We can do, very cost efficiently and effectively now, some things that 20 years ago would have been really hard, because we didn’t have the tools developed then. … As our tools and our abilities matured, it allowed us to see even old problems in sort of new ways.”
What’s an example of a tool that’s helped you in that way?
Petronis: “Let’s take a university … Here’s multiple buildings with multiple persons, with classes taught during different times of the day, with different sizes of classrooms, with different characteristics in terms of labs and with the youth. So finding out how are those classrooms used … it’s sort of a computer problem. … Twenty years ago we wouldn’t be able to do it, because the computers weren’t around. But, also, we wouldn’t have had all the background information about what to ask for, how to ask for it.”
Looking back over the company’s history, were there any major crossroads?
Petronis: “One of the crossroads is moving. … We’ve been Downtown for 45 years, and it’s been home …. But, at the same point, the quality of Downtown has changed, and it impacted our ability to attract staff.”
O’Byrne: “We’ve also had some significant growth in this company, and we were actually in two different buildings. … So space planning and programming – we’re also trying to do it ourselves, within our company, to be more efficient and to have better collaboration. … We kind of took what we tried to teach other people and turn it in on ourselves.”
What would you say is the key to collaborating well?
Petronis: “Good decisions aren’t proprietary. … I’m very well aware of some people who have skills, other than I do, that can lend to the project. So you want to get those people in there, because otherwise you’re not providing the service that you can to your client. You got to work at collaborating and you got to bring people in.”
What’s next for your company?
Petronis: “You don’t quite know what’s going to pop up there in the future. We respond to client needs, and in some cases, that’s same old, same old. But in some cases, it’s just something totally new, which is sort of interesting. … That’s one of those things that I’m proud of. People sort of trust us and say ‘Well, here’s a problem. Can you figure it out? Can you help us with this?” And you do, somehow.”
Business Outlook’s In-Depth item features interviews with leaders of well-established New Mexico businesses about the practices that have allowed them to weather ups and downs. Send suggestions of locally owned businesses that have been in existence for at least a decade and that employ at least 20 people to email@example.com for consideration.