From left, Paul Halajian and Shaunt Yemenjian pour over blueprints. Founded in 2010, Paul Halajian Architects, Inc. has 11 employees and six licensed architects.
Written by Edward Smith
Editor’s note: The Business Journal is marking the 10th anniversary of the Lehman Bros. bankruptcy, and the start of the Great Recession, by featuring local small businesses that survived the ordeal. Here is one of them.
In 2008, Paul Halajian Architects, Inc. hadn’t yet opened for business. But Paul was working in his field as an architect during the onset of the recession at another architectural firm in Fresno.
There, he had plenty of work and clients, according to Carolyn Halajian, Paul’s wife, who worked at the same firm doing human resources work.
But by 2009, Paul and his wife had determined to make it on their own, despite the troubles that had still not subsided.
“We felt very strongly that we weren’t supposed to stay where we were,” Carolyn said. In 2010, Paul Halajian Architects, Inc. was founded.
“We knew that we were supposed to do this on our own,” she said. “It was a faith thing. We believed that even difficult things are oftentimes a real gift or an opportunity to learn.”
Jobs were sparse, and Paul was bidding on every job that arose.
He was allowed to take a small number of clients with him from his previous firm. One of those clients was Fresno State. During his time at the previous firm, he established a reputation that gave him an edge in the bidding process against larger, more established businesses.
“Fresno State was instrumental in allowing us to launch and stay viable during those rough years,” Paul said.
For the first six months, their children had to share a room so Paul could use a table in the spare bedroom, which, according to Carolyn, allowed them to bid on contracts without a large overhead.
It wasn’t long before another architectural company had downsized and room opened up for Halajian. Even as competitors, they offered him space at a discounted rate.
“That gave us enough capacity to slowly bring on staff and service the projects we had,” Paul said.
By 2015, Paul said he noticed things had started to change and they were able to be more selective and not go after every job. With their own office, they now have 11 employees and six licensed architects.
Looking forward to the next cycle, Carolyn offers three pieces of advice — first, to save money, second, to stay lean and finally, to make a name and a reputation.
“Find a way to set yourself apart so when those storms come, you’re the person people think of to go to. Whether that’s because of how you treat them, or your skill or your integrity or your costs or whatever, keep it in mind because they’re going to turn to people they trust.”