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The Value of Place

As some readers may know, my sons are both involved in scouting. My 13 year old is a Star Scout, working toward his Life rank, and my 9 year old will be entering his cub scout Webelo year in the fall. Over the years, my wife (who has been a cub scout den leader for several years) and I have made more than a few trips to the scout store run by our council.

For the uninitiated, a scout store sells everything boy scout-related, from merit badge books to uniforms, pocket knives and camping equipment. Since the earliest point of our involvement, it was a dingy place. Other than the occasional scout volunteer, the store was run by an older, seemingly indifferent staff. Whenever I asked them to check for a particular merit badge book, they acted as if I had visited upon them a huge inconvenience, as if “the back” was simply too long a trip to contemplate.

Recently, the council completely renovated the store. Gone were the desks behind which the staff could sit, removed from the customers. The lighting was better, the aisles were wider, and there wasn’t much of a “back” to speak of. Most everything was out on display.

The effect on everyone, including the staff, was palpable. Stopping in became a positive experience. Even the aloof, somewhat irritable staff brightened up and became a pleasure to work with.

The all happened because of something I call “the value of place.”

In 2009, the UK firm of Knight and Haslam released a comprehensive study entitled The Psychology of Office Space in which they studied the effect of office space design and enrichment on office works in the UK under a variety of conditions. Their conclusion was that enrichment of the office environment, especially when combined with some degree of individual empowerment, markedly increases productivity, makes people identify with the organization in a much more positive way, decreases absenteeism, and makes better “corporate citizens.”

Earlier this month, Bob Porter, one of our real estate attorneys, participated in a panel discussion on commercial real estate sponsored by the Baltimore Business Journal. The discussion primarily focused on the buying vs. leasing decision with which many companies are faced at one time or another. What was not highlighted due to time constraints, is the equally important process of interior design.

Too many companies are content to go with Vanilla Space Plan A presented by the landlord’s planner on-staff, rather than take the time to consider how the business really does its work. Good design can accentuate the organization’s primary values such as education, collaboration, customer service, entertainment or even sales. What’s more, unlike a brochure or a website, you’re going to be stuck with your interior design for years, perhaps decades.

The impact of good design does not begin and end with a logo. My recommendation, for all companies considering an expansion or move, is to give as much thought to the inside of a space as they do to the address that goes on the outside.