Edgy office may raise local profile of worldwide company - East Valley Tribune: Business

Edgy office may raise local profile of worldwide company

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Posted: Sunday, June 3, 2007 7:02 am | Updated: 6:27 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The international headquarters for the architectural arm of a worldwide communications giant is tucked inside an attractive but otherwise unremarkable Scottsdale office building.

But step inside the Fitch offices at Promenade Corporate Center and everything is remarkable, from the fire-red, double-decker London bus that serves as meeting room and employee lounge to the supermarket cart and 50’s-era refrigerator sitting in the hall waiting to be mounted on the “Wall of Fitch.”

Fitch is an architectural and interior design firm and integral piece of WPP, a $100 billion international communications giant with 98,000 employees and 2,000 offices in more than 100 countries. The company provides architectural drawings and interior design services primarily for retail and restaurant clients.

Fitch is well-known internationally, but hardly gets a nod from Scottsdale, where it has established its international architectural headquarters.

The bus and the company’s unusual use of the few walls in a mostly wall-less office design could change all that.

Fitch’s 69 Scottsdale employees are still settling into the new headquarters, said Don Hasulak, managing director for architecture worldwide, so all the unusual decor hasn’t been completed.

The 40-year-old bus, for example, has been completely restored, repainted and even wired into the electrical system so the headlamps — it is very English, after all — and the destination sign light up with the flip of a wall switch.

A meeting table and chairs have been set up in the lower compartment, but the top deck is still empty. Hasulak said the company plans to outfit it with shag carpeting and beanbag chairs reminiscent of silly cinematic spy Austin Powers. It will serve as an employee getaway lounge.

If you are getting the idea Fitch’s isn’t a traditional office, stay on this virtual tour.

A large abstract painting, created by an employee, slides sideways along a track to reveal a storage closet. A large swath of space defined mostly by curved glass panels that disappear into the walls forms another lobby meeting room.

Most of the “studios” are large podlike spaces with walls high enough to keep sound from bouncing but low enough to keep the space open, airy and light-filled.

WALL ART

Employees’ own photos will be mounted on the “Bubble Gum Wall,” Hasulak said, sonamed because the workers will be photographed blowing bubbles and their head shots and a few favorite words will be displayed in bubble shapes.

Another wall in the big employee-filled central room is reserved for local artists, who can show their works for free for a month and even schedule a “gallery showing” on an evening or two during the month. That’s dubbed the “Friends of Fitch” wall.

Slip around the corner to view the Wall of Fitch and the refrigerator that will be mounted on it, covered with postcards from the locations that house Fitch’s 18 offices.

The Wall of Fitch will display the history of the company through art, photos and whatnot placed along a curved wall and illuminated by gallery lighting and visible to passersby through the glass executive offices that line the windowed exterior walls of the building, Hasulak said.

The shopping cart, also slated to be sliced in half and stuck on the wall, is a monument to Fitch’s parent WPP, which was started in 1985 from the shell of United Kingdom-based Wire & Plastics Products, Hasulak said. The company made, among other wire and metal things, supermarket carts. And still does.

“Of WPP’s 106 companies, one still makes shopping carts,” Hasulak said.

In 2003, WPP swallowed up London-based Fitch, which had merged just a couple of years earlier with Scottsdale architectural and interior design firm, AAD.

Hasulak, who has been serving as Fitch’s managing director of architectural services for the Americas, was recently given worldwide domain.

The company has just launched a third division, Fitch Build, which will actually build the projects it designs.

“It will give our customers one-stop shopping and no finger pointing,” Hasulak said, Typically when something goes wrong during the building of a project, contractors blame the architectural drawings, and the architects blame the builders, he said.

If it’s all the same company, problems get solved without the customer having to mediate. Hasulak thinks it’s a big selling point.

“I think Fitch Build will be as big or bigger than the rest of Fitch in a few years,” he said.

DESIGNING EATERIES

Fitch has an impressive and diverse list of restaurant clients from locally based brands like Mancuso’s, Mastro’s, PF Chang’s and Fox Restaurant Group to national giants like Starbucks, Bahama Breeze, and California Pizza Kitchen.

Scottsdale-based PF Chang’s hired Fitch to design its third Pei-Wei, the company’s fast-growing, fast-but-fresh-cooked concept, and has used the architectural firm for every store since, said Chuck Chavez, PeiWei’s regional director for development.

“They do a fabulous job,” Chavez said. “They produce the most detailed set of construction drawings I’ve ever seen.”

PeiWei, which features “exhibition cooking on a large scale in a small space,” requires a creative team to work out the details, especially since each location is different, Chavez said. So far, Fitch has designed 120 PeiWei locations and is under contract to do nearly as many more, he said.

While Fitch might be the best kept secret among Scottsdale residents and even officials — Councilwoman Betty Drake, an urban planning and design consultant, hadn’t heard of the company — the name is wellknown nationwide by retailers.

Regular clients include Nike, Hot Topic, JC Penney, Wal-Mart, Abercrombie & Fitch, Liz Claiborne, Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret. The company also does themed environments such as Universal Studios Jurassic Park and Universal’s Island of Adventure.

Barely launched Fitch Build already has landed a couple of clients — Scottsdale-based Maloney’s and Submarina, a California sub shop chain. The company is in negotiations for several more, Hasulak said.

The challenge in growing the business, he said, is not in finding enough clients, but in finding enough employees.

The cutting-edge offices are designed to attract them as much as clients, he said.

Many of the employees contributed to the new headquarters design and concepts. Lots more helped restore the bus on their own time, Hasulak said. Then the whole staff engaged in a big paintball match to celebrate.

“Our assets are our employees,“ Hasulak said. “We’ve invested time and money in an effort to make this a place they want to come to.”

GOING GREEN

The bus is part of the company’s green initiative, Hasulak said. Like many of the furnishings, it is recycled.

The company also put new tops on old desks, used recycled materials for pod walls, and stashed small recycling bins on employees’ desks for paper.

The lights throughout the offices and storerooms turn on and off and dim based on motion and sunlight sensors.

“We’ve saved 40 percent on bills for lighting,” Hasulak said.

There are also CO2 sensors that detect emissions and control how much outdoor air to let in and control the heating and cooling, he said.

“It’s a smart office,” Hasulak said.

And Fitch uses electronic subscriptions for publications whenever possible.

Even choosing Promenade for the new headquarters — Fitch was overflowing its former Airpark digs and needed to expand — was a green consideration, Hasulak said. The company wanted to locate within easy walking distance of restaurants and shops.

Promenade developers actually lobbied the firm to move into their corporate center said Jeff Manelis, Pederson Group president.

“I had my eye on them for some time,” Manelis said. “They are a high-end, energetic group, and I knew they were bursting at the seams. We were committed to getting a high-quality, different type of buildout than we’d get from a law or accounting office. We knew (Fitch) on our fist floor would energize the entire office building.”

Manelis said Pederson Group was so pleased to land Fitch, he let the company put its name on the outside of the building, something it didn’t do for any other office tenant. While she wasn’t familiar with Fitch, Councilwoman Drake said she is impressed by the company’s client list and credentials and said the firm’s commitment to Scottsdale for its worldwide architectural headquarters is testament to the city’s growing “urban, hip, cool” reputation.

“They are not swear words,” she said. “Fitch sounds pretty exciting. I hope we can attract more companies like that.”

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