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 My office is obsolete!''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.''
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15+ min read

This story appears in the November 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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 My Office Is Obsolete!"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.

The Transformation

"Transformation" is not too strong a word to describe the results. "We had nowhere to go but up. It didn't reflect any kind of professional office environment at all," says Filicia. When people imagine professional office environments, most see clean white walls and orderly workstations laid out in a grid fashion. The new Mad Science office blows those stereotypes right out of orbit.

The pictures tell the story well but are no substitute for seeing it in person. The walls are covered in a bamboo print wallpaper, and the front room is accented with ocean photographs that suggest Jack Hamlett's love of surfing. The industrial carpet has been replaced with a warmer khaki-and-green pattern. One room has walls finished in an enormous world map. There's a touch of the exotic with rattan-style chairs in the front room, a beta fish gracing a tabletop, and cactuses in the conference area. Says Filicia, "It was a delicate mix between making it look professional, efficient and smart. But I also wanted it to be inviting and warm at the same time." Mission accomplished.

The greatest compliment may have been the string of vowels coming from the Hamletts when they first saw their new office. "Oooh," said Kathy. "Oooh," said Jack. Liberal doses of "Wow!" and "Look!" followed. Their expressions resembled the looks on the faces of children seeing a rocket-launch demonstration for the first time. Very cool.

The clean lines of HON's Perpetual furniture line lend a sharp professionalism to the space. Light wood tones throughout help keep the small office rooms feeling airy and open. And just as Kathy wished, there are heaps of storage possibilities, from file cabinets to large storage cabinets. Their piles of registration forms, handouts, chemicals and supplies will all finally have proper homes. The HON 4313 Perpetual swivel chairs are many worlds away from the back-busting options Mad Science had before. Best of all, the combined effect is the creation of many flexible and functional work spaces throughout the office.

Filicia also created an additional work space by adding a wall near the back of the large front reception area. "I think I maximized the amount of people, storage and circulation they can have in there," he says. With so many new employees expected to come onboard, they're going to need it.

Gone are the thermal fax machine and the frustration-inducing printer. A multifunction scan/fax/print/e-mail Xerox WorkCentre Pro55 and a Phaser 8400 solid ink color printer are two new additions that will keep the Hamletts out of the local print shop and keep more of their money in their bank account. "They had extremely outdated technology, so there were immediate opportunities to make them a lot more productive," says Diane McGarry, corporate vice president and chief marketing officer with Xerox, and one of the contest judges. The new 17-inch flat-panel Xerox monitors spread throughout the office not only look sleek, but also maximize the usable work surface.

There's more to the technology part of the makeover than meets the eye. Xerox also installed an Ethernet network that will easily accommodate the Hamletts' needs as the business grows. Mad Science relies a lot on paperwork like registration forms for after-school programs. Xerox's DocuShare Software, a web-based document- and content-management system, will change the way they store and work with their data. "It allows them to organize their files, track versions of the documents, and help all of the employees collaborate on a document," explains McGarry. Kathy, for one, is glad the stacks of paper that once plagued the office will be transformed into a more efficient digital system.

The Hamletts were perfectly happy with having someone else set the course for the look and technology of their office. "It was nice not to have to make those decisions. It's better that it was taken out of our hands," says Kathy. Like many business owners, they hadn't had the time to pursue these changes on their own. Since all of Mad Science's interactions with children take place outside the office, there generally aren't a lot of clients visiting their office-but that may change as well. The Hamletts are looking forward to inviting over the teachers from the schools they're working with this fall.

Entrepreneurs, take cues from the Mad Science makeover when it comes to rethinking your own office spaces. "I take a lot of information from the client and a lot of information from what the space is about, what they use it for and the environment around it," says Filicia. The Arizona setting shows up in the earthy textures and tones: reds, khakis, blues and taupes. Small, colorful table lamps help bring warmth to the lighting scheme, and nature posters tie in to their science education mission. Large baskets hold science toys and supplies in an attractive and functional way.

You don't have to win a contest to get your office into shape. Technology like color printing and document management is surprisingly affordable. Sterile work environments can be conquered with color and imagination. "That office to me represents so many offices in this country-the Sheetrock box with the glass storefront windows," says Filicia. Box no more. Mad Science has been transformed into a colorful, sleek, exotic, homey and efficient office. Most important, the Hamletts now have a home base every bit as fun and functional as the science education they bring to so many kids around Scottsdale.

Office Space
Need help spicing up your work space? Thom Filicia offers some universal advice.

He has designed fabulous spaces on Bravo's hit show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and founded his own successful interior design business in New York City. So it's not surprising that Thom Filicia, designer and spokesperson for Xerox and Entrepreneur's Makeover Contest, has plenty of ideas for entrepreneurs looking to revitalize drab and uninspiring corporate environments:

  • Encourage natural light. If that's not possible, use dimmers, desk lamps and other lighting solutions for "creating an atmosphere where people don't mind working extra hours."
  • Incorporate elements from the home. An open and comfortable kitchen, for instance, "becomes the same thing it is in the house-a place where people gather," says Filicia. "They have coffee, they talk, you have informal meetings." And think about installing wall-to-wall carpeting: "It's acoustical, it's comfortable, it's inviting," he continues. When employees have to work late, "they kick their shoes off. The overhead lights go off, and the lamps come on."
  • Hang mirrors. "It's a little bit more exciting, it brings in light, it reflects the views," says Filicia. "If you have two windows, now you have four windows. It changes the whole environment. It makes it feel more energized."
  • Don't be afraid to experiment. "Playing with different ideas and concepts is a wonderful thing," he says. "Just because you designed it today doesn't mean you have to live with this for the rest of your life." That goes for painting the walls, too: "Color is one of the best things to explore with because it's only paint."
  • Think of design as another vehicle for expressing your personality and ideas. "If you have this beautiful environment that people walk into and are really taken by, I think that's a huge [business] advantage," Filicia says. "Someone walks in an goes 'You know what? This person is very interesting to me.'" -Charlotte Jensen

Making the Upgrade

Need to shrink or update your office technology? Check out these solutions.

Come on, 'fess up. Your office technology is closer to an abacus than an LCD. Your monitor takes up more space than your file cabinet. Your desktop is slower than a tortoise. Your inkjet printer has been through more print cartridges than you can count. It's time to upgrade. Your situation doesn't have to be as dire as all that. But when your business technology has logged a few years of use, it's time to consider moving up to something better.

Let's start with that bulky CRT monitor. You can reclaim your desk space with an LCD like the 17-inch Xerox XL370s. For $350 (all prices street), you get the viewing space of a 19-inch CRT display, an analog connection (you'll need to look upward in the product line if you want digital) and a three-year warranty. Get more information at For $200 to $300 more, you can move into the realm of high-end 19-inch LCD displays. Consider one of those if you work extensively with databases, spreadsheets or graphics layouts.

Now let's turn our attention to that brick of an obsolete desktop computer. Even if it's only a couple of years old, the pace of technology has far outdistanced its capabilities. And if you're still running Windows 98, you know you're in trouble. One interesting trend from the last year is that you may not want to replace your desktop with a desktop. Desktop-replacement notebooks are a popular choice and give you added flexibility.

The $2,599 Toshiba Satellite P25-S676 is a good example of a stylish laptop that fits this category. With a generous 17-inch widescreen display, 512 MB RAM, 3.4GHz Pentium 4 processor, DVD-SuperMulti Drive, 80GB hard drive and built-in 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi, it's a true replacement option. Don't worry, you can still use your new LCD monitor with your notebook when you're at the office.

If you're planning on hanging on to your desktop, or if it's fairly up-to-date, consider boosting your DVD recording capabilities. The $129 BenQ DW1600 16x DVD-recordable drive will get you up to speed with double-layer recording capability and superfast speeds. You can back up your data and files, and store a heap of information in DVD format. It's also convenient for passing around multimedia projects.

Whether you're using a desktop replacement or a regular old desktop, there's nothing like a good keyboard and mouse set to make your machine feel like new. The Logitech LX 700 wireless keyboard and rechargeable cordless mouse set runs $99.95. That's not bad when you consider that tangled and too-short cords will be things of the past.

Now that you've spiffed up your computing environment, it's a good time to turn some attention to printing. Take a long, last look at your inkjet-you won't miss it when it's gone. For a very small office or personal use, check into a device like the $199 Samsung SCX-4100 digital productivity center. This multifunction laser scans, copies, prints and features a 10,000-page monthly duty cycle. For workgroups with color needs, check out the $499 Xerox Phaser 6100 color laser printer. It features a 35,000-page monthly duty cycle, 64MB of memory and two-sided printing, and is designed for up to 15 users.

Upgrading your office technology is inevitable. It's really a matter of finding the right mix of timing and budget-friendliness to meet the needs of your growing business. Shop smart, and upgrading can be an uplifting experience for your business.

Let the Good Times Roll

Fuel creativity by pumping fun into your business environment.

There's a miniature golf game going on at a course featuring different world cultures-the team representing Canada is playing the Mexico-themed hole. The sun shines onto the energetic players in of business.

Yes, this scene took place on a recent workday at the offices of Macquarium Intelligent Communications, a web development and consulting firm in Atlanta. Founded in 1991 by Marc Adler, 32, the company has a commitment to good work and good fun that runs deep. Says Adler, "We need to keep our people happy. [Fun] is absolutely critical-not optional in our minds." Unique and interesting activities, such as trivia tournaments and spinning the wheel of employee rewards (prizes include $1,000 cash or a car wash performed by Adler himself), are planned by those Macquarium employees elected to be "funologists."

Bethany Brown, Macquarium's communications manager and one such funologist, got the idea for the miniature golf game from an employee suggestion. Events like the game, as well as after-work outings to movies, museums, cruises-and even white-water rafting trips-promote creativity and enthusiasm, and have helped grow yearly sales well into the eight-figure range.

That's exactly the way to approach it, says Leslie Yerkes, founder of Catalyst Consulting Group in Cleveland and co-author of 301 Ways to Have Fun at Work: "Go and ask your folks. If you come in with all your own ideas, you haven't engaged [your employees] with exploring."

It's all about creating a philosophical and cultural environment that encourages play and fun as indispensable parts of a healthy workday. "[The idea] is not 'Work hard, and when you're done, go play.' That's keeping them separate," says Yerkes. "Healthy and sustainable organizations focus on the fundamentals: quality, service, fiscal responsibility, leadership-but they didn't forget to add fun to that formula."

For instance, if you have a huge mailing to do, don't burden one person with the monster task-instead, get a group of the staff together, order some snacks, and start stuffing. Talk weekend plans, talk family, talk the latest action flick-the point is to get the job done while engaging your employees at the same time.

Think layout and design as well, since 70 percent of office workers feel their furniture affects how they do their jobs, according to a recent study by The HON Company. "If you want people to be productive and feel good about where they work, you need to create a space that's not only inviting, but also functional," says David Burdakin, president of The HON Company in Muscatine, Iowa. "You can achieve this through the furniture you buy, how you configure your space, and the colors you choose for your walls, furniture and accessories. The setup and color should communicate your company's personality and image, and also be conducive to the work being done."

Eric Poses, 31, founded his Santa Monica, California, board game business, All Things Equal Inc., with the express idea that it would be a fun place to work. Games are his bread and butter, and they can be found around the office, ready for spontaneous play. Couches, a pool table and Poses' dog make the office homey and help breed creativity in this million-dollar company.

Even inexpensive changes, like reorganizing the office furniture or letting more light into the building, can be effective. You could also hire a professional massage therapist to visit your office, or play employees' favorite music. But don't leave it up to us-go ask your brilliant employees for their fun-enhancing suggestions over a nice game of table tennis. -Nichole L. Torres

Runners Up & Design Tips

Bellissimo!: 1st Runner-Up

"It's pathetic," Marguerite Mazzitti sighs. "We get accolades for beautiful work, and our office doesn't have a speck of creativity in it."

Mazzitti, 40, is the founder of Tutto Mio, which means "all mine" in Italian. The San Leandro, California, business imports Italian ceramics and distributes them to retail stores across the country. Mazzitti, who founded her business just over a year ago, is constantly surrounded by hand-painted serving platters, urns, vases and other gifts for the home-all in soft, warm hues. Her office, however, is a bland white, with low-to-the-ground tables ("It looks like Lilliputians work here") and some truly bad electrical wiring.

"If we run our microwave at the same time the coffee machine is going, we blow the fuses," says Mazzitti, whose business so far consists of herself, 10 full-time employees and 70 independent contractors.

Mazzitti concedes that she may have to upgrade her electricity after receiving the first runner-up's prize: a Xerox Phaser 8400DP color printer (estimated retail price: $1,699) and a one-year warranty on service and supplies, totaling $2,700. She also gets a three-year subscription to Entrepreneur.

"We produce a lot of ad hoc marketing materials, and to have a color printer here, it's going to be quicker and much less expensive than going to those places that do color copies for a dollar a page," says Mazzitti, sounding relieved. "Oh, our lives are going to change dramatically." -Geoff Williams

Music to Their Ears: 2nd Runner-Up

We know how to make sandwiches, but we don't know how to redesign an office," says Cathy Morelli.

For the past 18 years, not including the time she logged when they were dating, Morelli has worked with her husband and her in-laws at Augustino's Rock and Roll Deli, based in Carol Stream, Illinois. Morelli, 45, entered Xerox and Entrepreneur's Makeover Contest because, as she notes of the 36-employee enterprise, "the business is growing, but the office has stayed the same size." Morelli, a self-described office queen when she isn't in the restaurant or at the soon-to-open second location, describes a room with two doors-but only one is in use because the cluttered desk blocks the other.

As the second runners-up, Morelli and her husband, Jerry-along with his parents, Augie and Phyllis-have won a three-year subscription to Entrepreneur, a Xerox WorkCentre M15i multifunction unit (estimated retail price: $1,299), and a one-year warranty on service and supplies, totaling $1,821. The WorkCentre will come in especially handy because their fax machine just broke. "We're always sending out menus. With the amount of faxing we do, it's like we beat our machine to death. So this is great timing."

She also likes the idea of having a printer, fax and scanner all in one machine-saving space, something they sorely need. "There are people who have the intelligence to keep their office in order. Not that we don't," says Morelli. "We're just too busy making sandwiches." -G.W.

Design Tips From Architect Robert Luchetti

Work transformation expert Robert Luchetti, an architect and industrial designer; president of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Robert Luchetti Associates; and a judge for Xerox and Entrepreneur's Makeover Contest; offers his top five tips on design:

  1. Incorporate the must-haves. You need a conference room, or at least a place for people to sit down at a table. In your office, use a table instead of a desk, or a desk with a round end. "You're not only planning for individuals, you're planning for small groups," he says.
  2. Plan open and closed spaces. It's important to provide sanctuaries other than the bathroom or the hallway for employees to make private calls or do some concentrated work. Says Luchetti, "Even if you [put] up a couple of walls to make one room, it's worth doing."
  3. Have dedicated and shared spaces. Dedicated means it's your area only; shared is for everyone. Some teams may have a team room, but the room is solely for that team. "There can be a number of work settings with this concept."
  4. Improve the lighting. "Most rental spaces have a 2-by-4 light that is cheap, efficient, but also very low-quality," Luchetti says. Add one 10-foot piece of track lighting with four or five pictures underneath, or a bunch of clip lights to put around. Flourescent lights are fine, but get a color temperature between 3,500 and 5,000 degrees Kelvin.
  5. Think paperless. If you use your technology intelligently, keep it simple and consistent-have one e-mail program, and take the time to link the people and the equipment. Says Luchetti, "In the long run, there's less paper stacked around, and life just gets better." -April Y. Pennington

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