From the November 2005 issue of Entrepreneur

Editor's note: Looking for our online exclusives? Thom Filicia's additional design tips are at the end of this article. To read about last year's makeover and to view a slideshow, read "To the Rescue."

"Please excuse our outdated office," Randy Sprecher would begin, standing in a drab space that pretended to be a lobby. And if people looked down the narrow room filled with cubicles and doorways, they would see décor that smacked of the 1970s--even though the business had come into being in 1985. Sprecher would explain to visitors that his brewery put all its resources into its beer, root beer and other sodas. And if the office appeared to be having a particularly bad day, Sprecher might go further in his act of contrition, saying: "We put all the emphasis on quality control, training our people, making payroll, providing a good health plan ..." Then he would try to change the subject.

Sprecher never held important meetings in the Milwaukee offices of Sprecher Brewing Co. Inc. He did his best to take people anywhere else. Or if they dropped by unexpectedly, he would take guests on a tour of the brewing facilities, which he was understandably proud of. Above all, he avoided leading anyone into the nucleus of his operations.

Sprecher, now 58, would have liked to do something about the offices, where about a dozen of his 54 employees work, but the reasons he gave his guests for not doing anything were accurate: If there were available funds to spend, he put them into the rest of the business.

His wife, Anne, 44, married him in 2001 and joined the company a year ago. She was in love with Randy, but wanted to divorce his office. The low ceilings weighed on everyone, and the threadbare carpet and dark paneled walls were depressing. Meanwhile, the computers seemed to be something from the Stonehenge era, and the furnishings from a rummage sale. In fact, the countertop in the center of the offices resembled something found in a hospital nurses' station--it was big, bulky and a catchall for clutter. Clutter, in fact, ruled in the office. Paperwork was everywhere, despite the fact that no one wanted to do paperwork--it could take the printer up to six minutes to spit out a single color page.

Randy was sympathetic, but he always had an excuse as to why any extra funds had to go somewhere else. And so when Anne learned about Xerox and Entrepreneur's "Most Deserving Small Business" makeover contest, it seemed like her last chance to bring redemption to their motley collection of desks and offices.

The Sprechers' situation isn't unusual, according to Dave Burdakin, president of The HON Company, one of the nation's leading office-furniture manufacturers and the furniture provider for the makeover contest: "Entrepreneurs are very busy people, and sometimes office décor is not their top priority--until they wake up one day, look around their office and realize it's a hodgepodge of material that looks like they acquired everything at a rummage sale." As an example, Burdakin notes that Sprecher Brewing Co. was using a wrought-iron plant holder for their document storage: "It reminded me of something I used to see in my grandmother's backyard."

The judges who chose the winner from this year's batch of contestants consisted of Burdakin; Dan Holtshouse, director of corporate business strategy for Xerox; Stephen Jordan, vice president and executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Center for Corporate Citizenship; Rieva Lesonsky, senior vice president and editorial director of Entrepreneur magazine; and Thom Filicia, interior-design specialist on NBC/Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The criteria for winning included considerations on how sorry an office looked, of course, but there was another twist. The business had to be practicing social entrepreneurship--that is, giving something back to its community.

Pay It Forward
The 2000 book and movie Pay It Forward put that expression into the popular lexicon and re-inforced an idea that has been around presumably as long as humankind: Do something good "just because," and almost inevitably, good things will also happen to you.

The corporate world has been onto this for some time now. But you already knew that. Just think about Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, Ronald McDonald Houses, or Ben & Jerry's and their environmental causes. But being involved isn't just a matter of being nice--it's sound business practice, points out Jordan.

"Being a good neighbor in the community is part of the DNA makeup of small companies," says Jordan. "What companies [sponsor] the local Little League team? It's the local bicycle shop, the dry cleaner, or the local bar or restaurant. And why do they do that? In part, it's because of community relations and marketing. If they don't have good relations with the people they're close to, their sales are affected."

The judges were particularly impressed with Sprecher Brewing Co. and its owners' commitment to both their business and their community. "We chose them because, like so many entrepreneurs, they were so focused 0n growing the business, they neglected their own needs. And to top it off, they were so active in their community, they just rose to the top," says Lesonsky.

Adds Holtshouse, "[Sprecher Brewing Co. has] done a superb job integrating with the community and community events, from grass-roots efforts to the board level."

The evidence: Sprecher Brewing Co. has donated tens of thousands of dollars worth of beverages for fundraising events to numerous groups, including the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Milwaukee Children's Hospital and Sam's Hope, a reading program. The company has also operated an annual charity festival for the past 16 years. "Sprecherfest," a one-and-a-half-day, family-friendly event, is often able to raise $20,000 a year for the local PBS station. Considering all this charity work, and the effort involved in maintaining a brewery that contains everything from massive fermenting tanks to a lab that analyzes yeast cultures, it's no surprise that whenever conversation turned to fixing up the office, or at least streamlining its infrastructure with better technology, Randy resisted.

"We don't expect much," says Tim Wright, Sprecher's IT manager and an employee for the past 10 years. "I think we've always had this attitude that we make do with what we've got."

The Grand Tour
Thom Filicia tries to be kind when Randy and Anne first accompany him through the offices. "It looks like there are a lot of ideas going on here," Filicia says diplomatically when analyzing exactly what he and his interior design firm are up against.

"I'm going to correct you. There were no ideas here," admits Randy, who explains that as the years went by, the office-space situation was fluid. As employees moved, desks, phones and filing cabinets were moved around. How the office looked--and ultimately how it made employees feel--was never really considered.

"You have the fraternity basement look going on," says Filicia, clearly amused by the level of tackiness that has permeated the offices. He picks up a sickly looking plant. "If it could see itself, it would probably be dead."

Filicia enters a bathroom. "Oh, my goodness," he exclaims breezily, turning to the Sprechers: "So you poop at home?" By now, Filicia is completely relaxed, putting on the head of a giant crow costume, the Sprecher mascot. From the darkness of the giant crow's head, Filicia quips, "It's more attractive in here than in your office." He finally concludes, "This is a great place, but it's not being utilized to its best ability."

The Big Reveal

Two weeks later, Randy, Anne and about a dozen office employees gather in the parking lot, prepared to go in and see what Filicia and his team have done. About half an hour before, Filicia paces anxiously inside the offices, which now have new red carpeting, bright yellow paint, raised ceilings in one meeting room and numerous other improvements, like fluorescent lighting. Previously, the doorway from the parking lot had a small window; the same door now has a large window, allowing natural light to stream in. There is new furniture from HON, including four laminate conference tables, Valido desks and 25 chairs (both Nuance Chairs and 6500 Series Chairs), but there are also bookcases that were holdovers from the last office. They're just placed more strategically now, so they look attractive and functional rather than haphazard and useless. Much of the décor in the office is the same, in fact, though considerable thought has gone into what stayed and what didn't. Later, an employee studies an old ceramic pot, remarking to another: "I moved this pot from one office to another. It was junk, but now it looks cool."

Which is the point of the entire contest, says Ed Gala, vice president of worldwide strategic public relations for Xerox. "It doesn't have to cost a lot of money or even take a lot of time to remake your office," insists Gala. "You don't have to do an extreme makeover. We're trying to show that with a minimal investment, you can make very significant improvements in your environment and reap a lot of benefits."

But 30 minutes before the unveiling, Filicia doesn't yet know how his guinea pigs are going to react or if they'll see the benefits, even though it seems obvious to anyone else that he's about to be on the receiving end of a lot of praise and gratitude. Filicia may be a successful TV personality, but he is also an entrepreneur with just as many jitters as anyone else. His business, Thom Filicia Inc., is a New York City company that deals in high-end residential and corporate work, including projects for the U.S. Pavilion of the World Expo in Japan and luminaries such as Jennifer Lopez. Given the two-week timeline, says Filicia, "This was a really big undertaking."

Once Filicia ushers the Sprechers and staff in, the shouts of joy may be ramped up due to the presence of the Today show cameras, but the emotions are stark and real.

Anne looks as if she has just scaled Mt. Everest and is taking in the view. Randy, with an unshakable grin on his face, marvels, "I feel like a caterpillar coming out of a cocoon."

Several employees seem on the verge of tears. Tom Strelka, an administrative manager whom everyone calls Crusher, whoops as though he were at a pep rally. One woman blurts out to the cameras, "I'm never going to want to leave my job, and I never thought I'd say that." Then she appears embarrassed, as if she shouldn't have said that. But everyone knows what she meant. The office had been a place designed to make people want to flee at the first available moment. Now it feels warm and inviting.

"Obviously, it's going to improve morale," Strelka says later. "It's going to be so much more efficient."

He feels that way partly because everyone will have new technology at their disposal--from the basic and beautiful, like thin Xerox monitors, to the indispensable, such as the Xerox Phaser, which prints up to 35 pages per minute in color (a boon to the graphic design department), and the Xerox WorkCentre M20i, which prints, copies, scans and faxes (a blessing for the payables/receivables and administrative staff).

It may sound like a potential problem for any staff members who are technologically clueless, but Digital Office Solutions, based in Milwaukee, will be providing training and support for an entire year. Additional items for the office makeover were provided by InterfaceFLOR, Omtool Ltd. and Room & Board, which gave the office a lot of the personal touches. The furniture is a major morale booster, too.

"We had such clunky, clunky furniture," says Anne an hour later, a couple of offices away from Randy, who is calling his mother in Oregon to share the details of their new digs. "It was hard to work in here. And our technology--remedial is the wrong word. It was substandard. It's like going through a three-decade time warp. The other office was very nondescript, but now it has a sense of flow--it's more open. And professionally, it feels very, very comfortable."

Anne adds, "I was hired in part because we expected large growth in our business, especially in the soda line, and adapting from a small company to a medium company is the goal. Now that we've got the technology, if business booms, we can handle it. I don't think we could have prior to this redo."

Randy hasn't thought that far ahead yet. He's still wandering through the hallway, feeling good about the year--noting that they've recently had some national recognition in their industry, including a Brewmaster of the Year award. "And now this," he says, his voice full of awe. "This still doesn't look like our office. It's like it's someplace else."

What are you waiting for?

Don't just envy the Sprechers' new office--fix up your own work space. Filicia says there are many ways entrepreneurs can improve their offices without extreme makeovers:

1. Improve the lighting. You shouldn't have one light to one office. There needs to be balance, says Filicia. Incandescnet lamps are a nice touch, especially in the evening, offering a "warm, soothing feeling." But there should be a balance of light, with both fluorescent and incandescent lighting. Filicia also recommends bringing as much natural light into an office as possible. And hey, it's free, too.

2. Paint the walls. "Paint can really change an office and be a dramatic yet inexpensive solution," says Filicia. "And if you end up not liking what you've done, it isn't a problem. You can always repaint it."

3. Be kind to your, um, assets. It may not be as drastic a change as painting a room, but the right chair can truly alter your perspective in your office and keep you in your seat longer. Says Filicia, "You're spending a lot of time in your chair. Put your money where your butt is."

4. Try to have living things in the office. We're not talking employees, though those are great, too. Plants and fish, says Filicia, "are wonderful and easy and can transform the space. I bring my dog to the office, but obviously, to each office its own."

5. Remember the personal touch. That means family photos, your favorite baseball cap nailed to a bulletin board or other mementos. "Your office is part of what you do, for better or for worse," says Filicia. "We live our careers, and they're part of our lives. And so in a positive way, you need some space that's a refuge from your work and an extension of your home personality."

1st Runners-Up
Ryan Millman, 27, was skeptical when his director of marketing, Harvis Kramer, revealed his intentions to try to win an office makeover for Millman Multimedia in Owings Mills, Maryland. Millman thought, "I guess you must not be that busy if you have time to enter contests." Later, when Millman saw Kramer taking photos of the office and devoting precious time to the application, Millman believed Kramer had his priorities out of whack.

Millman believes that no longer. Thanks to Kramer's efforts, the company is the first runner-up in our makeover contest. Millman's office won a Xerox WorkCentre C2424 color solid ink multifunction system, a HON Alaris Work Chair and a three-year subscription to Entrepreneur. Millman Multimedia's main source of revenue is GreekYearBook.com, which provides portrait services for fraternities and sororities at approximately 300 universities across the country. They also do corporate work and have an unofficial nonprofit wing of their company--they frequently take photographs for charities that use the pictures for their own marketing and fundraising. But despite bringing in $1 million in annual sales, Millman's business--which has 10 employees and 84 contract photographers--was still making do with a 7-year-old printer.

Between order forms and letters sent to the college students' parents, "We [make] over 100,000 copies a year," says Millman, who is enthusiastic about being able to do printing in-house. And he says he plans to remake his office himself at some point, seeing a nice office as a pick-me-up for his employees. "I think morale is vital to the success of the overall business."

2nd Runners-Up
Colleen Mahoney, 49, owner of Mahoney Architects, a $1 million firm with offices in Tiburon and Petaluma, California, is pleased to have a new Xerox Phaser 8550 color solid ink printer, a HON Alaris Work Chair and a three-year subscription to Entrepreneur: "I'm always looking for ways to improve our company and to make people's time efficient."

Mahoney, whose company's work has been profiled in This Old House magazine and on HGTV shows, also tries to use her business as a platform for helping social causes. Since she started her firm in 1986, she and her company have donated time and money to everything from hospice care to cancer research and athletic programs for inner-city kids.

Mahoney says she was inspired by her parents, who volunteered generously. "The world is full of a need for help," says Mahoney, "and I think in the last several years, it's become even more challenging for all the nonprofits because things have tightened up a lot." But that's just when volunteerism becomes even more important, says Mahoney, whose generosity is also evident within her company. Mahoney is giving the cushy chair she won to her office manager and administrator, sticking with the "cheap" chair she bought for herself at Costco.

Mahoney sounds surprised when it's suggested that nobody would have thought less of her if she had kept the chair herself. She says, "I think Pat needs it more than anyone else."

In the Spirit

The winners of last year's Xerox makeover weren't the only ones fired up by the contest. Rooster Hill Vineyards founders Amy and Dave Hoffman, 45 and 65, respectively, drew inspiration from the colorful spread that appeared in the November 2004 issue of Entrepreneur--and got to work improving their own office setting.

Starting in late April 2005, they integrated a few ideas from the feature--the L-shaped countertop and file cabinets on wheels--to improve Rooster Hill's office space. "The countertop allows for individual workstations, but if someone has a large project, they can really spread out," says Amy. Extra space in the office became a conference area.

While the couple did their own painting and electrical work, a builder was hired for the rest. Amy suggests doing some of the work yourself to keep costs down. The total cost for Rooster Hill's makeover: $10,000 and two weeks of work. "It was hard to just say it's $10,000 for a place where I can work; I could have bought two new wine tanks," says Amy, who projects $420,000 in sales for 2005. "But you have to make a nice environment for your employees to work in; it's your sanity, too."

Citing efficiency and professionalism as benefits, Amy is especially pleased that salespeople and wine writers who now enter the Penn Yan, New York, office feel both relaxed and comfortable. No one has to stand for lack of space, and that's an accomplishment worth toasting.

Hardware Highlights
A great business makeover is more than just good looks; it's good technology, too. Upgrading your hardware and software is what will really boost your efficiency and jump-start your employees' productivity. Don't worry, you don't have to spend a bundle; and the rewards you'll reap are well worth the investment. Let's take a closer look at some of the new Xerox technology Sprecher Brewing Co. received for its makeover. You might just find something that can work for you.

  • WorkCentre PE120i: Sprecher received four of these machines for a reason. The highly versatile PE120i combines printing, copying, scanning and faxing capabilities in a small, networkable package. The black-and-white device is capable of printing up to 22 pages per minute and costs $649 (all prices street). The PE120i is best suited for personal or small workgroup use.
  • Phaser 7750DN: Slow inkjet no more. Sprecher moved up to the $6,300 Phaser 7750DN color laser printer for in-house signage and high-quality graphics output. High-end features include two-sided printing, up to 35 ppm in color, 384MB memory and a 20GB internal hard drive. That's a lot of muscle for versatile color printing.
  • Phaser 8550: The solid ink Phaser 8550 printer offers more color options and will handle the needs of Sprecher's retail department. Speeds top out at 30 ppm both in color and black and white. The 8550 has a hefty duty cycle of 85,000 pages per month and can get the first full- color page out in as fast as five seconds. Pricing starts around $1,300.
  • DP 820 DLP Digital Projector: It's not all about printers. The DP 820 projector is a very portable 4.5 pounds with an 800 x 600 XGA resolution. Its 1,600 lumens of brightness will handle most room lighting situations, and it all comes in at just under $1,000.
  • DocuShare: DocuShare is a $4,500 secure, web-based document and content management system that will help Sprecher get organized, archive files, track different versions of files and boost collaboration among employees. It integrates with a variety of desktop applications and is easily scalable as a business grows.
  • WorkCentre Pro 128: The $8,500 Pro 128 is a major piece of equipment. It's a black-and-white workhorse that can hold a maximum of 3,100 sheets of paper and features full duplexing with a 50-sheet duplex automatic document feeder. It can copy and print and has optional scan, fax, internet fax and e-mail capabilities. The Pro 128 will handle a lot of Sprecher's everyday business needs.

More Design Tips From Thom Filicia
He plays an interior designer on TV's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, but Thom Filicia is one in real life, too, having been in business long before the show. Filicia, who has done a lot of corporate offices, says there are numerous ways entrepreneurs can improve their offices--without resorting to extreme makeovers:

1. Tread lightly, or at least in style. Carpeting, like paint, will transform an office. It's more expensive, of course, but keeping expenses down and making life easier is why Filicia's team chose carpet tiles for the Sprecher Brewery offices. "They're easy to install, and if there's any damage, they're easy to repair."

2. Define your space. If every room has a function, it helps give an order to the office. "Think of [your business space] as a house, where you have your living room, and [another room] is the kitchen," says Filicia.

3. Look for areas of clutter and try to learn why the clutter exists. Case in point: Filicia's team put coat hooks at the front entrance where everyone comes in. Suddenly, especially in the tough Milwaukee winter, cumbersome coats, boots and scarves have a home.

4. Shrink sizes where you can. Filicia was greatly aided by simply bringing in technology that required fewer wires and figuring out how to hide massive piles of tangled telephone lines that gave the office an industrial, who-cares feel. He also loved being able to replace the giant computer monitors with thin "sexy" ones.

5. Clean. Whether it's hiring a maid service, assigning people to bathroom duty or what have you, a little cleaning will help the office look better and improve morale. The Sprecher offices had a lot of dust, and the bathrooms appeared remodeled, but only had a couple of knick-knacks added. Mostly, they were simply well-scrubbed.

Geoff Williams is a writer in Loveland, Ohio.