BDwest Closeup: Matt Mars, Flick∙Mars

The co-founder (along with James Flick) of this Dallas-based hospitality and leisure design firm provides unique insights on the next hot projects, what excites him about the broad range of lifestyle hotels on the studio’s boards and why Boutique Design West (BDwest) has been a can’t-miss event since its launch in 2012.

WHERE ARE THE NEW HOT SPOTS FOR HOTEL DESIGN WORK?

From our perspective, secondary markets are still hot for the boutique lifestyle projects we are involved with. New builds in cities like Chicago are very exciting for our firm.

WHAT KINDS OF PROJECTS CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE THERE?

The focus is still on lifestyle hotel branded properties; “local-centric,” experiential properties; and small boutique-style projects designed to appeal to millennials and lifestyle travelers. Our team is looking forward to seeing the range of new properties in and near Downtown Los Angeles when we’re attending BDwest April 4-5.

WHAT’S THE BUSINESS OUTLOOK FOR YOUR FIRM AND FOR THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY?

2017 was the best year we’ve had in terms of growth and project size since James and I launched Flick∙Mars in 2005. We’re getting lots of new projects, including an independent hotel we’re doing for Tavistock Group, and we’re expanding our offices. We’re very bullish about 2018.

WHAT’S IT LIKE WORKING ON A HIGH-PROFILE PROJECT, AND OVERALL, HOW ARE CLIENTS CHANGING IN TERMS OF THEIR DESIGN PRIORITIES?

We’re fortunate to have a generous budget for the Tavistock project. But, equally important is the fact that our client really supports creative freedom. It’s great when we’re able to work with a “visually articulate” client who appreciates our ability to push the boundaries of design. When the entire team is creatively driven, strong and inspiring, everyone brings their A-game.

YOU’VE SAID YOU’RE OPEN TO GROWING THE FIRM ON AN AS-NEEDED BASIS, BUT THAT YOU LIKE THE CULTURE OF A SMALL COMPANY. WHY?

We get to be nimbler. We’re more free to explore different design opportunities. We don’t have to worry about feeding a big machine. We keep our workload manageable by selecting only intriguing projects. Our boutique size and philosophy is also a win for clients because they know they’ll have the attention of senior management. The key is to be organic, grow our market and to not lose sight of the design work that brought us success.

HOW DO YOU LEVERAGE THAT TO GET THE SAME BUYING POWER AS LARGER FIRMS?

It’s more about personal networking and building relationships. Some of that can be done in our offices, but a trade fair such as BDwest offers another way to connect. Because this event is intimate and the boutique booth sizes make vendors approachable, we can be efficient with our time. The standard scale of the exhibits also puts the focus on products and enables us to have personal interaction with suppliers. We respect what they bring to the design process and value them as team members. We appreciate the opportunity to talk with them about our needs and see what new solutions and inspiration they’re showcasing. As designers, we’re asked to do the impossible every day. It’s important to know the suppliers and identify the right firm for the project.

WITH SO MANY INDUSTRY GIANTS COMPETING FOR WORK, HOW DO YOU GET THE FIRM IN FRONT OF THE CLIENTS YOU’D LIKE TO WORK FOR?

Obviously, our track record, reputation and portfolio open doors. But it’s important to network and to keep abreast of what clients want. That’s one reason BDwest is a must for us. We appreciate hearing from the brands about what they want from their design partners. The intimate scale of this fair, like its sister Boutique Design New York (BDNY), gives us the opportunity to meet the owners speaking on panels and attending social events, as well as connect with our existing clients. In fact, BDwest helped build and cultivate our relationship with several new clients, including White Lodging. I love the comraderie. It’s always energizing to walk the trade fair with clients and talk shop. BDwest attracts a very informed community. Being part of that really deepens our rapport with clients, as well as firms from all sectors of the hospitality design, architecture, purchasing and consulting community.

YOU MENTIONED THAT THE FIRM’S EXPANDING. HOW DO YOU FIND TALENTED STAFF AND TRAIN THEM QUICKLY ENOUGH TO CONTRIBUTE ON A FAST TRACK?

We grew our staff size by 25% last year, which is a challenge because we seek elevated talent. Personality is key to our studio dynamic so finding the right person with skills and the energy level we want makes hiring a studied process for us. That’s another reason we make sure events such as BDwest get on our whole team’s calendar. The education component is crucial for young designers learning the fundamentals of their craft, including spec writing and other vital skills. Initiatives such as the pioneering Smart-Specs Interiors™ sessions are a great way to help bring team members up to speed. That’s why I’ll be sharing my insights on writing the perfect carpet spec.

The caliber of BDwest’s speakers means that, as a principal, there’s a lot for me to learn, too. I love hearing other designers’ success stories and gaining insights about their best practices for creating great design and improving their studios’ processes and performance.

WHAT’S A MUST AMONG THE SOCIAL EVENTS AT THIS YEAR’S BDWEST?

The Boutique 18 (B18) awards. One of our senior associates, Lindsey Seboldt, is an honoree this year. We’re really proud of her work, and this is fitting recognition. The exposure this will give her, and our firm, is invaluable. The B18 award recognizing rising hospitality design stars is one more example of how Boutique Design and BDwest are helping to identify and support up-and-coming talent, as well as cultivate and nurture relationships and expand professional development.

Hear Matt Mars’ insights as a presenter for the Smart-Specs Interior™ session focusing on guidelines for writing the perfect carpet specification. That panel is set for 2:30 PM – 3:30 PM, Wednesday, April 4 in Conference Room 306 at the Los Angeles Convention Center as part of BDwest 2018. Joining him will be moderator, Michelle, Finn, president, Hospitality Media Group, LLC, and fellow presenters Gina DiRoma, director of sales, West Coast, Royal Thai; Jennifer Ramsey, president, Ramsey & Associates; and Jennifer Wellman, vice president of architecture and design sales, Lexmark Carpet.

View the complete Agenda here