Office Space

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When Michael Dent relocated his office and showroom to a rehabbed house, the efficient, high-exposure site was a move that paid off.

April 01, 2000
MGD modeled the showroom after a kitchen, since kitchen additions are the company’s niche. Products are displayed from floor to ceiling and are demonstrated in use. The dynamic new space doubles as Dent’s office and a sample center.

 

Michael Dent, CR, has one regret about buying a ramshackle house last year and converting it into his company’s office and showroom. He wishes that he’d bought it eight years ago when the commercially zoned house was first abandoned, he says. After just two months in his new digs, the business advantages already are compelling.

Back at the old office - a windowless rental in an out-of-the-way commercial building - Dent was lucky if 200 cars passed by in a day. "We had no walk-ins," he says. In his new location, on a popular commuter shortcut near major intersections, Dent estimates that at least 2,000 cars roll by each weekday, many of them driven by folks who gaze admiringly at the handsomely restored building. The high-exposure site definitely will bring in new clients, he says. Just three kitchen remodels for walk-in clients would add about $120,000 in volume, says Dent. With that added business, "I wouldn’t have to do any advertising."

Another asset is size. The old office and showroom sprawled across 3,000 square feet. MGD occupies a trim 500 square feet in the new building, plus a 12228-foot shop and storage shed. "It’s really nice to streamline," says Dent. The office runs with heightened efficiency.

 

MGD’s handsomely restored building attracts the attention of many passerbys. Dent estimates that at least 2,000 cars roll by the high-exposure showroom each weekday, and he expects more business as a result.

 

Of course, before buying the building Dent crunched the numbers and saw that the move would be smart. "If you’re going to be in this business seriously, it’s crazy to rent," says Dent. He ought to know. For 12 years, he rented office and showroom space, and watched his landlord build equity while his own rent climbed 20 percent. Now he’s the one building equity and collecting rent. He and his wife own the house; MGD Design/Build pays rent to the Dents. The company sublets the basement and second floor to other businesses. Considering the ownership advantage and the improved location, moving to this property was a "no-brainer," says Dent.

Not that the building was a beautiful bloom waiting to be picked. It was a dump, with boarded up windows, peeling ceilings, and a rotted wood basement floor that was spongy from chronic leaks. The place, says Dent, was gross.

On the plus side, it was the right size to accommodate an office, a showroom and some extra rentable space. The building came with a full empty lot that Dent uses for parking. It’s convenient to major traffic arteries and affluent neighborhoods. And it’s a house; for Dent’s residential design/build company that was an important premium, because the architectural details could be similar to those in his projects.

Once Dent bought the property, the MGD staff brainstormed about the best use of the space, and staff architect Shawn Staples drafted plans. Construction work - performed mostly by subs, so that Dent’s crews could stay on MGD jobs - started in September 1999 and finished early in November. Dent had paid rent for the old space through November; he used the last weeks of the month to prepare for the Thanksgiving weekend move.

Much of that preparation involved going through the old showroom, library, conference room, reception area and 10 company offices, throwing out junk. "The library was full," says Dent, and the company never touched more than 10 percent of what was there. MGD pitched 200 to 300 outdated product catalogs. Buckets of surplus office papers went. "It was gut-wrenching to throw some of that out," says Dent, "but now I feel so good."

Dent gave away about 20 trash cans, nine hole-punchers, 15 staplers and five computer monitors. "It’s not that we didn’t use them," he says. But MGD didn’t need them in a 500-square-foot office.

Without the clutter and office spread, MGD works well. The company now has two offices, plus the showroom that doubles as Michael Dent’s own office.

MGD modeled the showroom after a kitchen, since kitchen additions are the company’s niche. It’s a choosing factory, says Dent, displaying products literally from floor to ceiling and demonstrating them in use. The old showroom-only space was used once a week, says Dent. Because the dynamic new space doubles as Dent’s office and a sample center, the room is used every day. Another bonus: With Dent out front and with good voicemail, e-mail and centralized computer systems, the company no longer needs a receptionist.

 

Successful Showroom Specs

1. Occupies a high-visibility location

2. Provides easy accessibility and problem-free parking

3. Fits company niche; buy a house if you do residential work

4. "Speaks" to clients on outside, expressing quality and good design

5. Achieves instant "wow" effect on inside

6. Reflects company’s niche, sophistication and workmanship

7. Has generous counter space for spreading out samples and plans

8. Features a place to sit and confer with clients

9. Displays products installed and at work: Uses what company sells, sells what company uses

10. Incorporates all the necessary components for company niche

11. Uses classy, timeless designs that won’t need updating soon

12. Includes company awards and project photos

The first thing clients see when they step inside the door at MGD Design/Build is a knockout kitchen, with large, granite-topped island and classically elegant cabinets by Fine-Line, a semi-custom cabinet company MGD represents as a distributor. The room says style, design talent, and quality. Once they sit down around the island to discuss their remodeling, they are surrounded by product displays. There’s a small working sink with a faucet MGD recommends to clients. There’s a microwave with tambour cabinet cover. There’s a lazy Susan, a wine rack, an under-counter refrigerator, which is stocked with beverages for guests. Hanging from a hook is a black drawer head mounted with hardware samples. Recessed fixtures and over-counter pendants soon will be installed to represent lighting options. The crown molding shows MGD handiwork. The original wood floors demonstrate how nice old, stained floors can look once refinished.

Every drawer and closet is stocked with samples and chips, all organized and labeled. Roofing samples, once splayed across the wall, slip into a tray cabinet. Floor and wall tile samples once filled a whole room; now they fit into one 36-inch cabinet. Dent works at a granite-topped kitchen desk, using a laptop computer and Fine-Line file drawers.

Back in the old office, Dent had room to display 200 photos of MGD projects. Now he has wall space for only 40. "That’s a drawback [of a small space]," he says. "We’ve done a lot of projects, and it doesn’t look like it." Until, that is, Dent pulls out the volumes of 8210 project photos, organized in three categories - baths, kitchens and living spaces. The 40-photo volumes - 12 and counting - are used to illustrate design ideas during project planning. Packed with professional photos of gorgeous jobs, they wow clients as effectively as any wall display.

 

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Purchasing agent John Chaney’s bright, compact office features project folders, two plan racks ("We had six racks before," says Dent) and the copy machine. Shelves above the copier store essential office supplies, replacing the 826-foot closet in the old office. Chaney’s stash of catalogs is small, in part because he uses the Internet more. He locates suppliers now through www.bigyellow.com. He found a storage shed online for $1,100 less than the competition was charging.

Dent is especially proud of the communications cabinet. Tucked against the wall in Chaney’s office, but accessible to the whole staff, it contains computer servers, the purchase order printer, a laser printer and fax - equipment spread around four offices before. A switch box in the cabinet connects monitors to the servers they need to use for different work, reducing by half the number of monitors needed by the MGD staff.

Adjoining Chaney’s office is the old dining room, now an office shared by Staples and controller Lisa McCallister. Staples wanted a window and a quiet workspace. Here he has three windows and an office to himself except the one day each week McCallister works. The two share a rolling cabinet; each has one side.

 

The old dining room now serves as an office shared by staff architect Shawn Staples and controller Lisa McCallister (left). A window allows for easy communication between McCallister and Dent (right).

 

Staples reconfigured the second floor as well. Instead of three bedrooms and a bath, it contains offices for tenant occupancy and back-to-back bathrooms, one within the tenant space and one for MGD. Cleaned up and equipped with a bathroom, the basement leased right away to a courier service. Both tenant space and MGD offices use - and thus display - products the company sells in design/build projects, from fixed and operable vinyl and clad wood replacement windows to a glazed pocket door. In Staples’ office, there’s even one of MGD’s signature granite-topped radiator covers; "I sell the heck out of them," says Dent.

Sales drove Dent’s decision to move to the new space, albeit 12 years late. Now, with a prime location, efficient office environment, and a selling showroom, MGD has in place a facility that will house the company for years to come. Plus, since Dent owns the building, he’s able to put that rent money into creating his own equity.

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