To the Rescue

''Help! My office is obsolete!'' cried entrepreneurs across the land, but who needed the most help? Xerox and Entrepreneur found out with their office makeover contest--and turned a tragic office ''don't'' into a fabulous office ''do.''

Standing on Evans Road in Scottsdale, Arizona, this past July, you could hear a certain buzz in the air. It was coming from a small office in an unassuming office park just a hop, skip and a jump from the freeway. While the mercury was busy rising over the 100-degree mark, life behind the tinted picture windows of Mad Science was heading in a decidedly cool direction. Children's science education franchisee Mad Science of Scottsdale and northeast Phoenix was the winning business in Xerox and Entrepreneur's "Help! My Office Is Obsolete!" Makeover Contest.

That may sound like a dubious honor, but owners Jack and Kathy Hamlett didn't just take it in stride-they took it at full running speed. "This is a godsend because we were about to outgrow ourselves," says Jack. Chosen from more than 450 qualified entries, their business was scheduled to get the face lift of a lifetime: new furniture from The HON Company, new technology from Xerox, and a completely redone interior courtesy of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy interior designer Thom Filicia and his design team from Thom Filicia Inc.

To really understand why Mad Science came out on top, you have to conjure up a strong mental image using the "before" pictures as a road map. Don't be embarrassed if this reminds you more than a bit of your own office. The issues Mad Science was facing are typical of many growing businesses.

Mad Science has three main rooms, plus a rear warehouse space that remained untouched. The impression on arrival is part teenager's room, part recycling bin and part science lab. A colorful, 17-year-old director's chair; a desk that used to be a kitchen table; anachronistic Greek columns in the front room; and a thermal roll paper fax were some of the more unusual denizens. Let's recap: a thermal roll paper fax. "We were surprised by how many of these smaller companies still use thermal fax paper," says Robert Luchetti, one of the contest judges, from Cambridge, Massachusetts-based design and planning firm Robert Luchetti Associates.

The Hamletts spent hours and thousands of dollars at the local copy shop running off registration forms and materials. Their one ancient inkjet printer at the office was fussier than an irritated toddler. Stacks of paper, uncomfortable wooden chairs, and found shelving holding chemicals and supplies filled the rooms. Mad Science has 16 employees, most of whom are teachers and primarily work out in the field at schools and birthday parties. But sometimes, more than a dozen of them gather in this office space for team meetings.

"We were in a growth mode when we first moved through the door. We couldn't catch up to ourselves, so when we put things in, we just put them in," says Jack. With plans to hire 10 more employees by the end of the year, this makeover couldn't have come at a better time. Kathy, 51, was hoping for new file storage. Jack, 56, was hoping for a clean and uncluttered space. Filicia arrived to help make it a reality.

On a hot day in late July, Filicia found out just how obsolete Mad Science was. Surrounded by the purple, yellow and sage-green walls, he had a telling comment: "It's like living in a mood ring." Strike one for their original color choices. "Their office is really tragic," was his overall assessment. While Filicia consulted with his design team in hushed tones, the Hamletts made final preparations to vacate the office for the next two weeks so HON, Xerox and Filicia could work their magic.

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This article was originally published in the November 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: To the Rescue.

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