Louisville Business First

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Louisville Business First - Rich Design Studios SnapshotOn Course

Landscape Architect Kevin Rich Starts Design Firm After Years in Golf Course Development


     Landscape Architect and Land Planner Kevin Rich has an office for his Rich Design Studios LLC in the heart of St. Matthews, but you’ll rarely find him there.
     In January, for example, he spent 20 days in Panama, where he is helping to design various parts of a large development with a golf course.
     He also jets off to China occasionally, where he is designing a 660-acre, mixed-use, resort style development.

Turn off U.S. brain, turn on foreign brain

     Rich got his first job in China by partnering with another firm with personnel he knew through his previous work in the golf-course design business.
     Much of his work in that country comes via connections with people he knows from past employers, he said.
     The projects he’s done in China are all big – the smallest has been 600 acres – and they all have many moving parts, he said. The Chinese want things done quickly, Rich said, which can mean completing designs in four days that he would have three weeks to do for a client in Panama, for instance.
     “In Panama and most of the Latin American countries I’ve worked in, they’re much more informal, both in business and personally,” he said.
     Rich said he enjoys that because it makes his work less stressful.

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     The most challenging thing about working internationally is understanding and respecting the culture of the country, he said, especially by being careful about what he says and how he says it.
     “I try to turn the United States brain off and turn the whatever-country-I’m-in brain on,” he said.
     Most of his international business comes from previous business contacts. Sometimes he has to bid on jobs, he said, but he often doesn’t.
     Rich said he believes he gets some jobs because he can charge less than some larger firms.

Going the self-employed route

     Rich made lots of contacts internationally when he worked for Nicklaus Design, a golf course design firm owned by pro golfer Jack Nicklaus. (See related item at right.)
     He has used those contacts to get business since he started his own firm in 2007, while he was still working for Forrest Richardson & Associates in Phoenix.
     He started the business to do landscape design projects that his boss didn’t want to do, such as a large residential housing project.
     Rich said he had become bored with the lack of variety in golf course design.
     At the end of 2008, Rich was laid off due to the economy, and began working on his own full time.

     He and his wife of 14 years, the former Christina Glass, a Georgetown, KY native, still lived in Phoenix, but none of his business was in Arizona.
     They had met as undergraduates at Eastern Kentucky University, where Rich, a Syracuse, NY native, had played football on scholarship.

No regrets about business ownership

     So in July 2010, they moved to Louisville.
     Rich’s wife now works as Senior Practice Director for the business. They also employ one other designer, who is also a licensed landscape architect.
     Rich would not say how much revenue the firm brings in, except to say that it’s less than $1 million. Revenue in 2011 was up 20 percent to 25 percent over 2010, he said.
     He said he has not regretted the decision to start his business. Many of his clients now tell Rich that he feels like part of their family, and that never happened when he worked for larger firms.
     Though he enjoys seeing the world through his international work, he said, the drawback is that it keeps him from seeing more of his own family.
     “Our goal is to grow the business locally as well and strike a better balance between how much local and international work we’re doing,” he said. “I think it’s going to take a couple years for that to happen.”