Alexander Marketing heading to Clark Place

December 29, 2008
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The move is more than just having a new place to work. The new workplace looks to be the crowning accent on a new company culture that began last spring, when new owners took over the reins of an old and well-known business, Alexander Marketing Services Inc.

“The natural light in this space is phenomenal,” said Steve Schmieder, who bought the firm with Patrick Sheehy in May. “It’s very inspirational.”

Schmieder and Sheehy are managing partners of s2 Marketing and Communications in Chicago. Schmieder is a Grand Rapids native; he told the Business Journal there are three reasons for the move, which should be completed by the end of January.

The first reason is necessity, as the Grand Rapids Township building that Alexander Marketing was leasing was sold and the firm had six months to find a new location.

The second is location. Alexander, which does business-to-business communications with a wide array of client types but maintains a focus on the industrial technology sector, wanted to be closer to the Central Business District.

“We looked all over the city,” said Schmieder. “We narrowed it down pretty quickly and wanted to be as close to downtown as possible.”

The third, and the most important, is creativity.

“Part of our philosophy is the best ideas are generated from a collaborative team effort. We have 14-foot-high ceilings and the entire 10,000 square feet is mainly open space with windows on all three sides. So everybody can get up from their work space and have an ad hoc meeting,” he said.

Those reasons led Alexander Marketing to sign a long-term lease for 10,000 square feet of open space on the third floor of the spacious Clark Place Building in American Seating Park, a site not far from downtown on the city’s revitalizing near West Side. Schmieder said Clark Place gives the company a chance to create an environment of “collaborative creativity” that is likely to enhance its business opportunities and strengthen its client relationships for years to come.

Bob Northway, a 20-year veteran at Alexander who was recently promoted to managing director of the local agency, sees the move to Clark Place as the next chapter in the 43-year-old company’s ongoing story.

“To me, it means that we’re moving forward aggressively toward a more collaborative and higher-growth future for the company. With the new owners and their exciting vision for the future, I just see the move into new space as almost an exclamation mark on that new beginning,” he said.

“We’re a company of seasoned veterans, but we’re also a company of energetic newcomers. And I think that mix will be allowed to produce the best work for our clients in a more open environment,” he added.

Alexander has been working in a freestanding building at 277 Crahen Ave. NE that features lots of private offices, which may be good for engineers that need secluded work spaces to concentrate. (It’s no coincidence that an engineering firm purchased the Crahen building.) But that bullpen-type of set-up often isn’t the best environment when marketing ideas have to be bounced around the office.

“It’s more of a confined space that doesn’t lend itself to the sort of collaboration that we think develops the best ideas for our clients and the best solutions for them,” Northway said of the Crahen site.

Not only is the new space wide open with exposed brick walls and a high ceiling, but the windows are huge, measuring 25 feet wide and 12 feet tall. Schmieder said the natural light fills the space so generously that the electric lights might not have to be turned on every day. The windows also give employees a panoramic view of the city, a sight that Schmieder said will make a potent contribution to the work environment the company desires.

The highlight of the new location, though, is what Schmieder called the Ideation Center. It’s a 38-by-38-foot area in the middle of the workplace to be built of glass and whiteboard walls. The center is where employees will share ideas with others by leaving those thoughts on the walls. The room plays a key role in the company’s drive for more collaboration.

“The work stations surround that center. The whole idea is that anybody can get up and go into that room anytime to pin up ideas, discuss ideas, or write ideas,” he said.

“We also will have standing work surfaces around each of the work stations, so people can quickly pull together, with how many team members they have to, to generate ideas for our clients.”

Valerie Schmieder, Steve’s sister-in-law, designed the space. She owns Via Design with Brian Barkwell. The company designs interior and exterior commercial and residential spaces and furniture.

“They not only have an outstanding reputation in the area, but nationally she has done a lot of award-winning work. I felt very fortunate when she took on the assignment,” said Schmieder.

The new Alexander Marketing space is in the Grand Rapids Renaissance Zone at 801 Broadway Ave. NW. The site has been nearly tax-free since 1997. For the next three years the firm will get a partial exemption on some state and city taxes, most notably the personal-property tax. The company is also getting free on-site parking as part of the lease.

“The landlord was extremely aggressive and cooperative and delivered a ‘turnkey’ build-out to Alexander’s specifications,” said Scott Morgan, a vice president and office specialist with Grubb & Ellis|Paramount Commerce.

Morgan represented Alexander Marketing in the leasing deal, while Chris Beckering, also with GE|PC, did the same for Clark Place.

B2B Magazine has ranked Alexander Marketing as one of the top 50 agencies in the nation for the past six years, and Schmieder feels the move will reinforce the firm’s standing within the industry and their clientele.

“We feel this is a great way for us to create an environment with high energy — very inspirational and very collaborative for generating ideas for our clients,” he said. “That’s our main purpose for picking Clark Place.”

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