STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Somewhere beneath the rubble of the housing market collapse there's an architect trying to dig out, trying to build a clientele, and he is doing it one question at a time. Vanessa Romo explains.
VANESSA ROMO: After getting laid off from a architecture firm for the second time last year, John Morefield had a choice to make: either scratch around for one of the few architecture jobs available in Seattle, or do something to control his destiny. That's when he decided…
Mr. JOHN MOREFIELD (Architect): Now is the time to do the booth.
(Soundbite of booth construction and clanking)
ROMO: It's an odd way to grow a business. Every Sunday, Morefield sets up shop at the Ballard Farmers Market. But it isn't anything tangible Morefield is slinging from behind his small plywood booth. He's selling advice. For five cents Morefield offers pointers on home improvement projects. He got the idea from the Peanuts cartoon. You remember: Lucy and her questionable nuggets of psychiatric help? Today Morefield's booth is between a guy selling freshly cut fish and another selling locally produced honey.
Mr. MOREFIELD: Well, if you got any questions about your home, your kitchen is too small, you bathroom doesn't work (unintelligible) drop a nickel, fire away.
Unidentified Woman: (Unintelligible) question do we ask?
Unidentified Man: Do we do the kitchen first…
Unidentified Woman: Or the (unintelligible) flushing down the toilet.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Man: Yeah, we do have a small kitchen. I mean we're - I guess we're wondering if we should just refab what's there or gut it and start from scratch.
Unidentified Woman: Go ahead.
Mr. MOREFILED: My next question was, how does the kitchen connect with the rest of the house?
ROMO: The booth is more than a cute gimmick. Occasionally Morefield's has been able to turn this five cent questions into a bigger paying jobs.
Mr. MOREFIELD: You know, I can come over and talk to you about it and then if you like to proceed with a feasibility study, then you know, I'd give you a proposal for those kind of hours and we'd go from there.
ROMO: Sometimes this approach works, sometimes it doesn't. If a client doesn't bite, he's usually able to add them to his ever-expanding email list. He's also set up his own Web site, where people go, drop a virtual nickel into his tin can and type away. He's gotten a lot of his clients this way. Like John and Kathy Edwards.
(Soundbite of knocking)
Mr. MOREFIELD: Hi.
Ms. KATHY EDWARDS: Got to tell you, I love it that you're so prompt.
Mr. MOREFIELD: Alright.
ROMO: They've hired Morefield to draw up plans for a remodel of their home and invited him to the house. He's showing them his final drawings for the project. His hope is that he'll sell the couple on his vision and then see it through to the end. Sitting in their kitchen, sipping on a glass of wine, he seems cool and confident. But on the drive over, Morefield laid out the stakes of the meeting.
Mr. MOREFIELD: If they like my design, we're going to move forward. And if they don't, I guess we won't. It's kind of like a really drawn out interview process.
ROMO: It's an interview he needs to nail. Back in the Edward's kitchen, Morefield takes them through the drawings.
Mr. MOREFIELD: So I went through your guys's notes and my notes.
ROMO: Both Kathy and John look pleased, but when the time comes to firm up plans for the next phase of the project, the Edwards remain vague about their commitment.
Ms. EDWARD: So we will sit on it for a week or two, or I don't know how long.
ROMO: It's not the answer he's hoping for. But Morefield continues undaunted. He hugs them goodbye and heads back to his truck.
Mr. MOREFIELD: I think it went really well. They liked my work. They liked what I did. I accomplished all the goals that they wanted and didn't kind of force my agenda upon them.
ROMO: And that's the kind of guy Morefield is - confident, brightly optimistic, unfazed by the Edwards' hesitation.
Mr. MOREFIELD: I'm throwing everything I got into this, in the worst possible time, so when things do pick up and the economy gets better, I'm ready for it.
ROMO: But that's all down the road. In the meantime, Morefield will keep collecting email addresses and answering questions one nickel at a time.
For NPR News, I'm Vanessa Romo.