Navigation and Resilience

November 12, 2020

In a year of pervasive — and sometimes debilitating — uncertainty, all of us at Odimo know one thing for certain: 2020 is a time like no other to live up to our name.

Odimo means “to navigate.” It’s a verb that we embody in each step of our process, guiding clients and projects with optimism, curiosity and a focus on service.

And it’s a mindset that’s kept us anchored in a tumultuous year. Since March, we’ve seen our firm’s steep growth trajectory slow dramatically. But we’ve also identified opportunities to improve Odimo’s operations from the inside out and have already seen some of these strategic shifts pay off as our business rebounds.

With so much happening, both at Odimo and within the city’s small business community, we thought you’d appreciate an update, not only on what we’ve been up to, but also what we’ve learned. Our three recommendations to (1) Focus on your “why”, (2) Differentiate based on your strengths and (3) Nurture key repeat client relationships are described in detail below.  Perhaps you’ll find some insight that you can apply to your own business!  

How the Pandemic Changed Life at Odimo

Our founder, Amy Slattery, opened Odimo’s doors in 2016, with a vision-driven focus on higher education, laboratories, affordable housing and select commercial work in the urban core. This focus and the trust of key repeat clients helped Odimo quickly gain momentum.

That momentum fueled exponential company growth and increased revenue through the first quarter of 2020. We gained recognition for that trajectory as #12 on the list of Ingram’s fastest growing companies in 2019 and were named to Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s Top 10 Small Business of the Year.  However, the pandemic then had a significant impact on the firm, not only halting Odimo’s growth but also impeding a promising pipeline that included an important project for the staff and laborers  with the City of Kansas City’s Solid Waste Department.

We adapted quickly to the new reality in mid March, leaving our new office and working from home. While our project pipeline had unexpectedly slowed, Amy once again tapped into the mindset behind our firm’s name, guiding the team through unprecedented circumstances. We leveraged the lull in project work to invest time in key strategic priorities identified in the ScaleUp Program: Financial management, refining best practices standards for improved efficiency in design and documentation, and strategic marketing, including a brand repositioning. Now, as our work has begun to rebound, we’re on an even firmer foundation to guide our architecture and interior design clients through their own transformations.  

Lessons Learned: The Three Attributes That Keep Us Going

We know firsthand how scary it can be to guide a business through challenging times like an economic recession, much less a global pandemic. Again, we turn to the power of our firm’s name to lead ourselves through the unknown, the same way that we’d guide a client through a project-based journey.

We’ve found purpose and success in these three key attributes: focus, differentiation and relationships.

  1. Focus: Remember Your “Why.”

When the local economy is in tumult, it’s a natural reaction to want to broaden your business model to take any sort of work you can get.

But that may not always be the best way to go, and we learned that firsthand earlier this year. May and June both saw Odimo experimenting in some new project areas as we considered a strategic pivot to keep the business successful.

Yet we quickly realized that those new project areas weren’t a fit for Odimo’s original vision as a true partner. We want to serve. We want to lead. We want to create change, not just in the built environment but in the communities that sustain those structures. Sometimes, it takes a difficult period to remind you of your why, and that’s what keeps our focus.

  1. Differentiation: Celebrate Your Strengths.

When Amy founded Odimo, she saw an opportunity to bring not just a different perspective, but also a new level  of service as our clients’ project champion, to the architecture industry.

Understanding what makes your business different from your competitors, what  you do better than anyone else, why people should invest in your products and services — this is fundamental knowledge that not only helps your bottom line, but also can help give you more security amid uncertainty.

Small business growth continues to skyrocket, and that means in many industries, more businesses are competing for pieces of a smaller pie. Understanding what’s at the core of your business and your workforce, and how that benefits your customers and helps solve their problems, will help you be deliberate about what’s next, from short-term priorities to long-term operational strategies.  

  1. Relationships: Repeat Clients are Key. 

We have been building long-term client relationships from the beginning, and the true value of those relationships has shown through in 2020. An overwhelming majority of our work this year has been with previous clients. Our on-call work with the KCATA, Wichita State University, and UMKC has continued to sustain us. We recently assisted UMKC with CARES-funded building retrofits and are now providing local support to national firm Ayers Saint Gross on the UMKC Masterplan.  

In a recession, we stick with what we know, and taking a risk on a new service or partner is even riskier. It’s even harder to build new relationships, but it’s necessary to take calculated risks to continue an upward trajectory. We are all in a strange time, so remember this: be patient with the development of new relationships. It’s all a journey. Remember, if someone doesn’t respond right away, timing is possibly the issue for them. Stay engaged, as it will likely pay off in the long run. Find a way to offer value to your new contacts and their businesses as an olive branch. Keep the focus on building key relationships and be creative while further developing existing relationships. Zoom cocktail hour, anyone?  

Doing Our Part to Lift Up the Local Small Business Community

This recession is unique in its immediate and lasting impact on small business. As an active member of Kansas City’s small business community, we’ve seen firsthand how businesses in a number of industries confront concerns like lost revenue, employee retention and maintaining operational costs. This chart, created by organizations including the KC Chamber, Kansas City Area Development Council and KCSourceLink with survey data from 565 area employers, shows what so many business owners are facing.

Some businesses, including Odimo, are beginning to rebound. Others remain mired in the unknown, especially in industries like food and beverage and hospitality.

“These findings shed light on current and future economic emergency actions for governments to consider,” as written in an article published by the State Science & Technology Institute. “Perhaps the most important lesson is the need for urgency: even as Congress is laudably already working on a third assistance package, the fact is that a two-week window for getting assistance into the hands of a business is too fast for any intervention requiring a legislature.”

This year has taught us all how interconnected we are. We truly are all in this together. The more we can support and champion other businesses, the stronger and more successful our community becomes. We’ll continue to work with organizations like the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, KC Rising, KCSourceLink and the Small Business Development Center, among others, to identify and pursue possible relief channels and other support resources.

We’ve been working since March to prepare Odimo to “roar out of the recession,” and we want to do what we can to help other small businesses do the same. When we talk about communities, small businesses are among the cornerstones. And the more businesses that successfully navigate the pandemic, the stronger and more resilient our communities become.

Amy recently was a panelist at the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Annual Economic Forecast. For more about the projected recovery in 2021 and beyond, check out the report and presentation. Or watch the full panel discussion.