Sam Armijos creates connections with clients—in person, in cyberspace and in the pages of a book.
By Sigrid Tornquist
“There is no alternative to meeting face-to-face. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether I showed potential clients something I designed or not. It is whether they feel they can work with me,” says Samuel J. Armijos, AIA, vice president of sales for FabriTec Structures, a brand of USA Shade & Fabric Structures Inc.
That’s not to say that the end product is irrelevant. Of course it’s relevant. It’s more than relevant. It is, after all, the end product. But first you have to find a way to build a bridge to your potential clients, according to Armijos. If you never get them interested in talking with you, you’re never going to get the chance to produce something dazzling for them.
Fabric architecture inspires Armijos
And Armijos excels at building those bridges—through posting on YouTube, sending e-newsletters, maintaining a personal Web site, accepting speaking engagements, writing articles, and most recently, publishing a first-of-its-kind book about fabric architecture. “The key is providing information and inspiration,” Armijos says.
In 2000, Armijos began working for FabriTec Structures, a company specializing in shade systems and lightweight tensile fabric structures. He previously worked as an architect for what was then FTL Associates in New York and taught at the School of Architecture at Philadelphia University. He knew he was destined to specialize in fabric architecture the day he opened up a magazine in college (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) and started reading about fabric structures. “The beauty of fabric structures is that they are never the same,” he says. “Each project is unique; you can use different designs for the same site and you can use the same shape in different applications—permanent, temporary, special event, waterfront, industrial, multiple units, indoor, outdoor, just to name a few.”
Just as it was the fluid nature of fabric applications that initially hooked Armijos to work in fabric architecture, so he is also drawn to using a fluid approach to acquiring new clients. He is ever on the lookout for new ways to introduce himself and his products to prospects. While he was researching ways to get more hits on his Web site, he discovered that with a flip phone and a USB, he could quickly post something on YouTube. “It is just another way to get to a client,” Armijos says. “It’s a way to show people who I am, what it is I do and how I work.” The YouTube video is just two minutes in length and essentially provides viewers with an introduction to Armijos and a few initial things to consider when planning a fabric structure.
In 2007, Armijos launched his personal Web site, www.fabricarchitect.com, which, among other things, provides a link to FabriTec’s Web site. Armijos’ site also highlights five key steps for successful fabric structures, from design to maintenance, and a featured article addressing timely industry issues, written by Armijos. But the primary intent of the site is to enhance the process of building relationships with clients. Armijos points out that while the company Web site and the personal Web site complement each other, each one fulfills a different purpose. “People don’t buy or do business with companies; they do business with other people,” Armijos says. “I lead people to my personal Web site so they can learn more about me: my education, my experience, my opinion—things that I cannot personally express in a company Web site.”
Promoting fabric architecture
Perhaps the most ambitious of Armijos’ endeavors to engage potential clients was to write a book about fabric architecture. “I decided to write Fabric Architecture: Creative Resources for Shade, Signage, and Shelter to fill the need for a visual resource book for designers, and to celebrate fabric structures to those in the industry and to those who want to learn more about building with fabric,” he says. The process began with finding a publisher who believed there was a market for his idea—W.W. Norton & Co. Once he did that, he contacted others in the industry whose work he admired to request project profiles and photographs. “I wanted to show the aesthetic side of the business by showing people fabric structures from around the world, from custom awnings to dome stadiums,” Armijos says.
Beyond providing visual inspiration, however, Armijos wanted the book to incorporate the sense of touch—a new twist for a book geared toward educating adults on a subject. He contacted fabric manufacturers to acquire material samples to include in the book. “I wanted to find a way to get people to touch and feel the fabric associated with these types of buildings and structures,” he says. The book, which was released in September 2008, is proving to be an effective tool for Armijos to connect with his clients. “It is both a coffee table book and a course book in one,” he says. “Sometimes [clients] don’t have time to look at a Web site or Power Point presentation, but they can skim through a book like they would a magazine. It’s a way to inspire and get a quick idea of what clients or prospects like or don’t like.”
Being tuned in to what clients like or don’t like is key to the design/build process. It’s the kind of bridge-building that pushes projects forward. Armijos takes his passion for fabric architecture and combines it with his enthusiasm for people, a trait encouraged by his parents, who used to tell him: “Be kind and friendly and go play outside. Go out and play and make friends.”
Translation: Go outside and build bridges.