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Shock as Scottish practice offers rock bottom fees on Groupon

Camerons Architects defends ‘marketing strategy’ after attracting criticism for discounting professional services on bargain-basement internet site

Scottish firm Camerons Architects has come under fire after becoming the first UK practice to offer discounted services through online voucher company Groupon.

The Edinburgh and Galashiels based studio has been criticised for advertising a 70 per cent discount on initial consultations through the bargain-buy website, which typically features cheap holidays and beauty treatments.

According to the firm, six clients have already signed up for the £120 offer, which includes a one-hour consultation, a computerised plan drawing of their property and a sketch proposal. The service, it was claimed, would normally cost about £400 and is roughly equivalent to RIBA stages B/C.

Peter Morris of new practice Peter Morris Architect said offering commercial clients discount services ‘seriously devalues the skills of designers and the profession as a whole’. He added: ‘Low and zero fees are all about ego and short-sightedness.’

A ‘shocked’ Nick Willson of Nick Willson Architects said: ‘If this becomes widespread, then I am going to work in McDonald’s. I would not be able to provide a professional and worthwhile service for £120. How many of these [projects would] a newly qualified architect have to do to pay off the £90,000 student loan they are going to be saddled with?’

Julie Slorach, director of Camerons’ Edinburgh office, defended the practice and said the firm ‘profoundly’ disagreed with ‘ludicrously low fees’.

She said: ‘As this was a new endeavour for Camerons, and for Groupon, we discussed and agreed our resourcing strategy and are comfortable with the mechanisms in place.’

The company planned to share  up to 50 projects between its two offices. But it admitted it would have faced issues with 100 responses. ‘Ultimately the offer is a marketing strategy to increase our visibility to clients,’ she said.

Chris Williamson of Weston Williamson described using Groupon as a ‘fantastic idea’. He said: ‘If you are short of work it makes sense to lower prices. We all need to be flexible on fees without being stupid.’

 

Further comment

John Assael of Assael Architecture

Clients should be very wary about these sorts of offers.  After all, a house is normally a family’s biggest investment, and to choose a cheap architect to advise them seems incredibly foolish.  Would an architect go to the cheapest surgeon, or solicitor?  Not me…..

Groupon statement

We are incredibly proud to have Camerons Architects as a Groupon partner. While we will not comment on their business specifically what we are keen to stress is that Groupon is used by thousands of businesses every month to reach new customers. We are an experience destination offering a wide variety of products and services that entice people to try new things; working closely with partners to discuss the sort of offers that would be appealing to our customers and help their business achieve its marketing objectives. Our aim is to help businesses obtain new and most importantly repeat customers. If our partnership engages more consumers with architect services we would hope this would be beneficial for the industry in the long-term.

Peter Wilson director of the Wood Studio at Napier University

I know times are hard and that architects have to find novel ways of marketing themselves, but this surely takes things into a new league altogether. I look forward to discovering how they cope should they be overwhelmed with enquiries.

The big question will come if more architects decide it’s a really good wheeze to market themselves via Groupon – will they start undercutting their already discounted fees in order to compete with each other? You couldn’t make it up really.

Roger FitzGerald, chair of ADP

Architects have always offered a bit of discounted initial work to make their mark with potential new clients.  If this works for Camerons in their local market, good luck to them.

The wider issue is that discounts, special deals, sample schemes, OJEU submissions, unsuccessful bids, options, competition entries …they all come at a cost.  The profession is operating incredibly inefficiently at present, for a variety of reasons - the economy, procurement rules, and undervalued service.  Vast amounts of time are wasted, and that’s what really frustrates me: it erodes the time that can be spent on designing and refining real projects.  It’s inefficient, and ultimately unsustainable.

 

Readers' comments (1)

  • It's a marketing strategy; it's an initial consultation. How many of us go a long way down the line with no fee certain? The final fee for any job that comes out of it will have to be agreed. Good luck to them!

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