Better Than Ever

Mad Science looks back at their year in a Cinderella story after winning <i>Entrepreneur</i> and Xerox's 2004 office makeover contest.
Magazine Contributor
7 min read

This story appears in the September 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

It's been almost a year since Jack and Kathy Hamlett, owners of Mad Science of Scottsdale and northeast Phoenix, won Entrepreneur and Xerox's "Help! My Office is Obsolete!" Makeover Contest. If you recall, the children's science education franchisees received a completely redesigned office courtesy of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy designer Thom Filicia. On top of that, they got the latest and greatest in printers, monitors and other technology from Xerox and a set of new office furniture from The Hon Company. (Read the original article about the Hamlett's makeover) We caught up with the ever-busy Hamletts to see how their business life has changed since the big event.

Just like the kids they work with, Mad Science has spent a lot of time growing. They were in growth mode when Filicia and Xerox arrived, and show no signs of slowing down today. They expanded their territory by taking over the East Valley Mad Science franchisee's business earlier this year. That means adding as many as 40 new schools to their roster this fall. When we last talked to Mad Science, they had 16 employees working out of the three-room office. They've since added another office worker and nearly a dozen instructors--known as "mad scientists"--with even more set to come on board as the school year continues.

Though their size has increased, they're still running the expanded company from the same compact office space, and they don't plan to move into larger digs. The redesigned office, which manages to be both exotic and functional, has been up to the challenge. "The growth mode we're in is just the beginning of it. The future holds a lot for us, and this office will really help us make the transition," says Jack.

Beauty is more than wallpaper-deep. Since the makeover, there has been a shift in the way the Mad Science team feels about themselves and their business. "We have a lot more pride," says Jack. The office workers are thrilled with the comfortable spaces and new technology, and the mad scientists love coming in for team meetings and being able to quickly access course materials.

Business is also more colorful around the Mad Science office. Warm earth tones and a green-and-blue map of the world in the conference room transformed the previously bland wall colors. Even the colorfully striped shades on the table lamps add to the effect. All that color doesn't stop with the look of the place; it carries over into the Hamletts' new Xerox Phaser 8400 solid ink color printer and their overall business image. Adding the Mad Science logo in full color to their invoicing and billing helps project a professional image to the parents who hire them to teach and entertain their children.

The printing bliss continues with the Xerox WorkCentre Pro55, which includes printing, copying, scanning and faxing capabilities. Mad Science bid a not-so-fond farewell to many hours spent at the local copy shop. Jack says they now print and copy 12,000 to 15,000 pages a month on the WorkCentre. "We wouldn't have been able to grow as much as we have, be as flexible and have things ready when we needed them if we hadn't gotten the Xerox WorkCentre," says Kathy. As Mad Science learned, the right technology can be a tremendous boost to a business. The move to Xerox flat-screen monitors also freed up quite a bit of desk space, something that is at a premium in many small offices.

The general clutter and patchwork furniture collection of their pre-makeover office is a distant memory now. "You feel like Cinderella. All of a sudden, we're a beauty here," says Jack. The Hamletts are now eager to show off their office to everyone from parents to school-district supervisors to chamber of commerce officials. "We've turned into a real welcome center," says Jack. Visitors still comment on the bamboo-looking wallpaper in the main room. Countless adults have felt compelled to reach out and touch the wall to see if the texture is real--and they're surprised to discover the illusion.

The makeover wasn't just about getting a new look. It was also about rethinking and reassigning the workspace. Filicia redesigned a cluttered secondary room into a conference room featuring a streamlined Hontable and ergonomically impeccable chairs from the Perpetual line. The floor-to-ceiling world map he placed on the wall adds color and ties in with the business' science education mission. That room has become a favorite of the Hamletts, who now use it to host team meetings and store paperwork and supplies in its sleek Hon storage cabinets. These are a far cry from the open metal shelves and motley assortment of file cabinets and plastic containers that were there before.

Making an Impression

Entrepreneurs generally like to be in control of all aspects of their business, but when it came to the makeover, the Hamletts were delighted to leave the work up to Filicia and his associates. Says Jack, "Would we have decorated like this? Maybe not. We wouldn't have imagined this kind of thing."

Even a year after settling back in, their enthusiasm for the space is unabated. "It's not a typical office look. It has a very warm look, quite different from most offices," says Kathy. Other entrepreneurs who look around their own offices and find them lacking can find inspiration in Mad Science's experience. Perhaps the ultimate compliment comes from their customers. "It's a very user-friendly office. When the moms come in, they really like it," says Jack.

What's next for the Hamletts? Well, the warehouse space in the back is reaching capacity, and they're thinking about rearranging it again to accommodate more supplies. "We're waiting for a 'make your warehouse over' contest," says Kathy. If that ever happens, Mad Science of Scottsdale and northeast Phoenix will be the first to enter.

Design of the Times

Now that you're constantly bombarded with makeover shows and spectacular before-and-after pictures, you may be hankering to have your own office made over. If you have the time, inclination and design sense to tackle it yourself, great. If not, a professional designer is your best bet. We caught up with designer Patricia Lang of Just Interiors in Kansas City, Missouri, to get some tips and advice.

  • Why is a makeover necessary? It's not just about impressing your customers, but also about retaining employees and making them comfortable at work. Says Lang,"If you walk into an office that's grungy, old and dark, that turns good employees off."
  • Color is hot among growing businesses. "Darker colors are in. [Businesses are] not painting all the walls one color. One wall might be one color; one wall might be another color."
  • Imagination can conquer tight budgets. Says Lang, "You have to be creative with paint, and you might not use carpeting. There are ways of making it look nice."
  • Warranties are important. "Good furniture has a warranty." A professional designer can help find furniture and carpeting with warranties that will protect your investment and fit your needs.

Furniture Finds

As a business owner, you can't spend every waking moment pondering your office furniture options. But when it comes time to outfit a new office or replace your worn-out desks and chairs, you owe it to yourself and your employees to put some thought into new furniture.

John Malnor, general manager of the Turnstonedivision of Steelcase, has some tips and advice for entrepreneurs. For starters, "Don't shy away from working with a full-service contract dealer. Be upfront about the amount of time and money you want to spend so they can help you get to the solution quickly." Ask around, and find an office furniture dealer who has experience working with smaller companies--they'll be more attuned to your needs.

Remember that this process isn't just about tables and chairs. Says Malnor, "It's more the integration of the space with the furniture." Malnor also suggests bringing your employees in on the discussion. Find out how they feel about the office environment and how much space they need. Even small things, like letting them choose the fabric color for their chairs, can impact employee satisfaction.

Also, look for furniture that meets the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer's Associationstandards for safety and quality. And finally, a little flair doesn't hurt. "Style does make a difference," says Malnor. You don't have to break your budget to get office furniture that conveys professionalism and style.


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