This is what a smart startup looks like.

Entrepreneurship is full of difficult decisions. Especially in the beginning. In fact, the decisions you make about expenditures early on determine whether your organization lives or dies. It sound dramatic. Like a commercial for the business board game Go! Gordon Gekko Go! But it’s the truth.

I have always been financially conservative. I believe leadership’s #1 responsibility is to keep the business alive forever. That’s why I have hired slowly, expanded slowly and invested slowly.

At my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, we have bootstrapped everything. Which means that we have paid for everything ourselves. No outside investors. No loans. No crowdfunding. No Ponzi scheme.

We started with the free version of every app and software until we knew it was worthwhile to upgrade. We made our first 3 desks out of countertops and legs we purchased at a used office furniture store. And we commuted to work uphill both ways.

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Yep, I made that desk out of found parts. And it works as well as the most expensive desk you can buy.

 Office Space

When I first launched The Weaponry I waited a year and a half until I decided we could afford an office. In hindsight I feel like I nailed that decision. Because we didn’t over commit in the early months when we were most fragile. We didn’t assume that our rate of growth was predictable or sustainable.

Cautionary Tale

I recently heard about another agency that launched the same time as The Weaponry. It just shuttered one of their 2 offices and laid off all but 1 employee in the other. (By shuttered I mean that they closed it, not that they added fancy, yet extraneous exterior window treatments).

The agency had invested and expanded aggressively. Too aggressively to sustain. Watching them establish beautiful offices with enviable appointments made me jealous. But it also made me concerned for them. Because those investments made them vulnerable. And of all the abilities your business can have, vulnerability is among the least appealing.

Doing It Right

Last month I saw an office that I absolutely loved. It was the office of an early stage human resources company. It had 4 desks in a space half the size of my bedroom. The density of  humanity in that office equated to a very dense return on the investment in the space.

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This is where my friend Amy Fallucca grew her human resources business, Bravent, into a thriving organization before moving it into a large fancy-pants space.

 

Idea of the Day

Calculate how much revenue you earn per square foot of office space. It is a much better way to think about your space than cost per square foot.

Key Takeaway

When considering office space for a small or new business think of the Tiny House movement. Consider the minimum space you need, not the max you can afford. Put the rest of the money you save in the bank as an insurance policy for future downturns and slow periods. Because they are likely to come. And you will be prepared when they do.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

The search for our second office: Part 2

In the summer of 2015 I began planning to open my own advertising agency. I knew that I would call it The Weaponry. I knew it would be an exciting adventure. And I knew that we would eventually have an office in Columbus, Ohio. Why Columbus? I’m glad I asked for you. My affinity for this hidden-gem is all right here.

I had lived in Columbus for 7 years and I knew a lot of very talented advertising professionals in the city. Just as importantly I knew a great number of brands and very talented marketers in C-Bus that could use a great agency partner.

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Columbus, Ohio. Our HQ2.

In the October of 2017 The Weaponry opened its first office, in Milwaukee. Our new office literally put us on the Google Map, and transformed our business. But just 8 months later we also had two full-time employees in Columbus. And we began planning for our expansion into C-Bus.

2019

By the fall of 2018 we committed to finding our Columbus office in the first quarter of 2019. We considered 3 different options for our initial Columbus space.

  1. Subletting, or sharing space with another business (not letting submarines or long sandwiches).
  2. Coworking spaces (which I always read as cow orking, but I don’t think that’s right).
  3. Stand alone offices space. (The office should stand alone. The people should sit together.)

The Sublease We Could Do

The Weaponry has a lot of great friends in businesses in Columbus. Several of our people invited us to explore sharing some of their unused space. This was not a totally foreign concept to us, as we had also explored subletting in Milwaukee during our initial search.

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This is a smart option for many startups. But The Weaponry is no longer in startup mode. We have a unique vibe and culture, and we were concerned that sharing space with another business wouldn’t allow us to feel as much like us as we wanted. So after exploring the option with 3 or 4 other businesses, we decided subletting was not for us. And like the movie Frozen, we sublet it go.

Coworking Spaces

Coworking spaces are now everywhere. And for good reason. They offer a beautiful solution to many officing challenges. For newborn businesses these spaces offer an instant, fully functioning office, with all the amenities of a fully grown business. With just one call, and one payment, you can instantly have a furnished office, with wi-fi, printers, conference rooms, garbage cans and cool common spaces to hangout in, that are not coffee shops.

For solo-preneurs, coworking spaces offer a place where you can work near others, and talk to other people doing what you are doing. Which is attractive, and can be highly beneficial to your network. These spaces also prevent people working in a business-of-one from going all Tom Hanks in Castaway and talking to their volleyballs. #Wilson

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Sometimes you just want to be around other people, like Jake and Nina.

These spaces tend to be very new, because coworking is such a modern trend. As a result, the office spaces feel very contemporary. Which means they instantly let you play the part of new startup. or cool agency.

Coworking spaces also provide existing businesses flexibility as they grow. In fact, my friend Lara Shanley, Head of Marketing at Amazon Prime Now, was working in a coworking space in New York City when I saw her last summer. It seems Amazon can’t stop growing, and repeatedly runs out of office space. Coworking facilities prevent people like Laura from having to work Tokyo subway-style, or becoming office-less.

The coworking options are plentiful in Columbus. Our team toured 4 or 5 different spaces. Each one was cooler than the last. Some were part of a national, or international collection of shared spaces. Which would provide us with interesting options when traveling or expanding into other markets. Some were locally owned, which offered the sense that we would have local management eager to help if we needed anything.

But the turnkey co-working space comes at a cost. And the cost is a high cost, and little ability to personalize the environment. We realized through the search for space that an important part of our brand is putting a mark on our space. So we decided to look for a stand alone space of our own.

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We decided we really wanted to create our own space in Columbus, like we have in Milwaukee.

Key Takeaway:

There are a lot of different options for office space. They all have pros and cons. It is worth the time to explore each option, and find the one that feels right for you. We thought that sharing space would be a really good option. But like so many of us discover in our twenties, we no longer wanted to have a roommate. In the next chapter or our Columbus office saga I’ll share where we landed and why. I’ll also share some exciting news that has happened during our first month in the new space. Thanks for following along! 

Extra

If you are considering looking for office space, or interested in following The Weaponry’s story, you may also be interested in the following posts about how we found our first office in Milwaukee.

Looking for office space: A startup story.

Looking For Office Space Part 2: The Messy Middle.

Looking for Office Space Part 3: We Have An Office!

 

 

 

We have signed a new lease. Here is the scoop.

As Elvis Costello once said, ‘Every day I write the book.’ As an entrepreneur you make decisions every day that write the story of your business. Sometimes the decisions are large and profound. Other times the decisions are simply things you decided not to do. But in aggregate, your decisions tell the tale of your business. It is up to you to make the story worth sharing.

Desperately Seeking Office Space

In the summer of 2017 I could see a solid runway in front of my baby advertising agency, The Weaponry. (To be clear, the agency was a baby. We didn’t advertise the benefits of being or having a baby.) Having recently relocated from Atlanta to Milwaukee for family reasons, I  began looking for a legit office space to serve as our world headquarters. Or in Amazonian terms, HQ1.

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This is a sign announcing that this space is for lease. But you probably figured that out on your own.

Let it grow, let it grow, let it grow.

Like a scary rash, The Weaponry was growing at a rapid, yet unpredictable rate. So I began looking for a 1-year lease, which would provide short-term stability, yet long-term flexibility. I captured the entire search in a 3-part series, which I share again here, with hopes that it gives anyone with aspirations of having their own office a vision for how the process works.

The Looking For Office Mini-Series:

  1. Looking for office space: A startup story.
  2. Looking For Office Space Part 2: The Messy Middle.
  3. Looking for Office Space Part 3: We Have An Office!
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This is not our office. This is a completely naked office we saw during our search.

Our Current Space

We signed a 12-month lease on 1000 square feet of office space in the fall of 2017. (You can get a good look at our office here.) We worked hard to make the space look and feel like home. But the year flew by, and our initial lease expired on December 31st, 2018. We grew, as expected. But several of our new employees were in Columbus and Atlanta. So we still weren’t in trouble with the fire marshal in Milwaukee.

We really liked our location. So to prepare for the end of our first lease we looked at every available office space in our 5-story building. I appreciated the way our property owners worked with us as we developed a plan for our next chapter. I think they appreciated the fact that when they came to talk to us we didn’t look like we were about to pull a Baltimore Colts on them and skip town in the middle of the night.

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The writing is still on the wall.

What We Are Doing Now.

After much deliberation, this is what we signed into our new contract on January 2nd:

  1. We are staying in our current space, for now.  We are not yet feeling stretched to capacity. Plus, we love our current space, and have made it our home.
  2. We signed a 13-month extension. Our landlord asked for at least a 1-year commitment. And although we looked at 1, 3 and 5-year options, a 1-year lease was the smallest financial commitment I could make. And given how much growth I see on our horizon, it is hard to tell what our needs will be like more than a year down the road. Why 13 months? A 12-month lease would have us moving between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. And I want to be home sipping eggnog.
  3. Our rent went up 2.5%. That’s all I have to say about that.
  4. We added a right of first refusal on another space. We saw 3 other offices in our building that were of considerable interest to us. But rather than moving now, we decided to put first dibs on a great space overlooking the Milwaukee River (like our current space) on the 5th floor. #Penthouse  #NotTheNaughtyMagazine #IsThatEvenStillAThing

The space on the 5th floor would double our square footage, adding several more individual offices, a bigger conference room, a storage room, reception desk and a break room with water, a fridge, and dishwasher. The 5th floor location would also make me feel less guilty about taking the elevator than I do when I ride it to the 2nd floor.

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A view of the Milwaukee River, not taken in January.

Key Takeaway

We have decided to be conservative in our commitments. Yet we have a nice option if we outgrow our space in the next 13 months. Which is highly likely. I have discovered that as an entrepreneur you need to know when to be conservative and when to take risks. We think we got this one right. But I’d like to know what you think of our decision. I’m always up for some well-considered counsel. Leave a message in the comment section and let me know if you would have chosen a different adventure.

We have come to the end of our first lease. So now what?

I walked into my office on Monday morning at 7:30am. For many this would serve as a low point for the new week. But for me, in the quiet and calm, before the week roared to life, I could not have been happier. Because I was standing in the middle of the advertising agency I always dreamed of building.

Time Flies

It has been 13 months since The Weaponry moved into our office space. When we first signed the lease the space had less personality than an empty bucket. Which simply wouldn’t do for the agency I had founded 18 months earlier. Today, as we near the end of our initial lease, it looks as if The Weaponry has always been here. Here’s why:

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My friend Elizabeth Rees, Founder of Chasing Paper, stopping by The Weaponry. Clearly this was not in July.

 

The Furniture

We have real desks and Herman Miller Aeon chairs (which are AEON-MAZING!). We  have comfortable guest chairs in my office that feel like you are getting a hug from a giant Teddy Bear. We have our loungey area couch and chairs that offer a casual place to stop, collaborate and listen. We have our custom designed surfboard coffee table. Because who doesn’t need one of those, right?

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Our casual meeting space where you can put your feet up on The Weaponry surfboard coffee chocolate milk table, or lay down on the couch if you are feeling wiped out.
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Me and Chris Meece in the Teddy Bear Chairs.

The Conference Room

Our conference room is home to our custom-built red, high top conference table. It has been as great as we thought it would be. It allows people to sit or stand and magically be at or near the same eye level. Which is great for staring contests.

The active sitting position of the high chairs means that you simply can’t relax for hours on end at this table. So we meet quickly, then get back to the work to be done. We also have a 55-inch TV mounted to the wall to share work, host video conference calls and watch Netflix at lunch.

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My friend Britt Beck is demonstrating how to sit at our conference room table. I’m executing what we call ‘the stand’. We are both pleased with our individual performances.
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This year a group of CEOs, including Darren Fisher, Larry Bangs, and Adam ‘Little Adam’ Ausloos,  gathered for a regular roundtable lunch at The Weaponry. Shhh. Don’t tell them that the table is actually rectangular.

The Walls

We have a new map on the wall that will be the subject of future posts. But we also have important messages on the wall. Oh, and we painted all of the walls either Snowfall White or The Weaponry Red. So the space feels like us, and we feel like our space.

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Some of our Weapons on our 2-year anniversary, wearing office camouflage.

The Fridge

We have a refrigerator in The Weaponry Red too! It’s the hottest thing in cooling. It cost us twice as much as a black or white fridge. But the fact that it goes perfectly with our space makes it totally worth it. Because you gotta coordinate.

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Our refrigerator, which we call Perry.

What Next?

Now that we have imposed our vision on this space we are facing some interesting realities. We may not fit here for much longer. So we are working with our building’s management team to determine how we can expand over the course of the next year as we will most definitely outgrow this space. In fact, by December 31st I will sign a new lease. But I still haven’t decided which option I will choose.

The Options:

  1. Add new space to our current office
  2. Move from the 2nd floor to the 3rd floor
  3. Move from the 2nd floor to the 5th floor
  4. Sign a 1, 3 or 5 year extension
  5. None of the above
  6. All of the above
  7. Let love lift us up where we belong

Key Takeaway

We have been very happy with the office. It has been a great asset to our team. These 1000 square feet transform The Weaponry from a business to a place. People drop by to see us all the time. I love that. Our clients come and work from our office. Students stop by to see what an agency looks like. Friends and family passing through Milwaukee schedule a stop into their travels (there is also a great beer tour a block away if you are planning your itinerary).

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My parents (who celebrated 49 years of marriage yesterday) on their first visit to The Weaponry.

The day that we outgrow this space will be bitter-sweet for me. It will mean that we have grown beyond our starter office, which is the goal. But it also means leaving our first real home. A home that Kristyn Lilley and I painted and personalized. No matter what, 2019 will be an interesting year. At some point we will be moving on up like George and Weezy. I can’t wait to find out where and when. Thanks for following the journey. Because we’re in this blog together. And like berries on the vine, it gets sweeter all the time.

*If you want to know what happens next consider subscribing to this blog. And if you want to know more about how I did any of this, please let me know. I am happy to share.

Why I encourage people to fight in the office.

Designing an office space that fits your company culture is like creating a clubhouse. When we signed the lease on our new office space a year ago I couldn’t wait to give it a serious makeover.* The drab office we leased was move-in ready for a lobotomy clinic. That wasn’t quite the vibe we were going for at The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I launched the year before. So as soon as we got the keys to the office we began transforming the space to match our personality.

A Sign Of Things To Come.

One of my favorite features of our office is the large sign that now greets you when you first come in the door. The bright red and white, 5-foot by 5-foot sign invites you to, in no uncertain terms, Fight With Your Brain.

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Business Is War

I love this statement. because at The Weaponry, we believe that business is war. To win the war of business you need to outthink the competition. You win with strategic thinking and creativity. You win by summoning your intelligence and accumulated knowledge. In fact, your brain is your most powerful weapon in any battle, whether you are talking about business, board games or back alleys.

The Double Entendre

As much as I love the obvious meaning of this statement, I love the second meaning even more. The next level message encourages you to fight against your brain. It is a call to resist your brain’s tendencies. It is a reminder to fight your brain whenever it attempts to follow a well-worn path. To default to habit. To think too small. To simply follow others. Or to delete the last sentence in a paragraph (phew, that was close).

Fight With Your Brain is a warning to resist the feeling that you think you already know the answer. It is a call to fight against assumptions. Fight the belief that there is only one right way to approach a problem.

We want you to fight with your brain when it wants to reject a new process, procedure or plan. Fight with your brain when it wants the old version of an app back (I know you know what I mean).

You must also fight against negative thinking. You need to fight self-doubt. Fight unwarranted feelings of insecurity. Fight against giving up. And fight your bad habits. In fact, you should fight against anything that limits your thinking. Except maybe city hall. Because come on, it’s city hall!

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We have also created Fight With Your Brain pins. If you want one leave me a message in the comments section. 

Key Takeaway

By fighting, while using your brain, you develop better strategies and ideas. By fighting, against your brain, you keep your thinking flexible and adaptable. You keep your emperor organ positive and prepared. It is the best way to keep new and valuable ideas flowing. Which is what makes the brain the most innovative research and development lab on Earth. So keep it cranking. Because when you fight with your brain you will be amazed at all the good you can produce.


*In 2017 I chronicled The Weaponry’s search for an office in a 3-part mini series that shares what the process of finding, negotiating and leasing office space is like for startups. My agent believes he can get the trilogy made into a movie series and have it distributed at every Blockbuster Video store in the country! Until then, you can find the story of our journey at these links:

  1. Looking for office space: A startup story.
  2. Looking For Office Space Part 2: The Messy Middle.
  3. Looking for Office Space Part 3: We Have An Office!

This is how our new conference room came to life.

Breathing life into an idea is my favorite thing in the world. Taking a vision that only existed in my head, making it real, and then showing it to the world, offers a healthy, natural high. Even Nancy Reagan would approve.

I thought about creating my advertising agency for a long time before I named it The Weaponry and declared it open for thinkness. In the summer of 2017 I shopped for a new office space. But when I first got tossed the keys the office was pretty bland. So we began putting our mark on the place.

Furniture

Furnishing our office has been a fun undertaking.  I have written before about our custom-built surfboard coffee table. We had readers of this blog vote on their favorite surfboard designs. Then we shared the final result. The coffee table has been a great addition to the office, and a great conversation starter. Since then, we turned our attention to another room.

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Yep, we’ve got one of these. Read all about it at the links above.

The Conference Room

The conference room at The Weaponry was the last room we furnished. We wanted to keep it simple. In fact, we only wanted four elements in the room:

  1. Table
  2. 6-8 chairs
  3. TV monitor
  4. Whiteboard
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Folding chairs and tape helped us determine the perfect table size and the number of chairs we could fit. In the end, we crumpled up this 4×8 foot table and tossed it in the trash.

Shopping For A Table

We looked at a lot of used conference room tables, and they all made me want to cry. Most of them felt like they would have been right at home on the set of the TV show, The Office. That would never do. We looked through catalogs. All the tables either looked too serious, too sterile or had no look at all.

Then something caught our eye. It wasn’t a traditional conference room table.  It was a high top. The type of furniture designed for an active huddle space. Not the kind of table typically used to pacify you before a Powerpoint lobotomy.

When we inquired about the table we discovered it could be custom-made. Which meant we could choose the perfect length, width, height and color.

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We had our 58 inch TV monitor, but we couldn’t install it until we had the table, so we knew how high to hang it. It was our version of the chicken and the egg.

Placing The Order

We custom-designed our table to fit our conference room space like a proverbial hand in glove. We chose both the leg style and the leg color. Then came the biggest, and most important choice of all: the color of the surface.

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These six tall stools were anxious to rip their plastic off and meet some new butts.

Surfacing the Surface Color

We saw a model of our table with a white table top. It had a birch pattern to it, and it looked nice. But we picked out a few other color chips that might work as well. On the day we placed the final order I glanced at the sign in our office that says, Think like a rebel. I knew that white wasn’t right.

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We were finally birthing our conference room.  This is where the table began to crown.
Ta Da!  Our high red top table is up and ready for thinkness.
We finally knew the right height to hang our TV. Here you can see the monitor is well hung. The dry erase board, not so much.
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The whiteboard is now up. And we already have several chips on the table top. Potato chips that is.

All of the other rooms in our office have one red wall. It makes a bold statement and adds energy to each room. The ConFro (I just made that up) doesn’t have outside windows. We wanted to keep the walls white and bright to make the room feel bigger. So we used the bright red, high top table to make the room feel like the rest of the office.

Because our table is tall, you can use it in sitting mode, like Britt, or in standing mode, like me.  Is your mind totally blown by this versatility?

The table feels active. The red color energizes the room. The height of the table means you can either perch on the high stools, and feel like you are leaning into a meeting, like at a bar. Or you can stand without looking any odder than you usually do. You can also easily switch between the two positions, if you have ants in your pants.

Conclusion

We love the way our conference room has come together. We love that it offers a great hub for active thinking. We love that we have a tall, red-headed 48 inch by 96 inch table. We love our giant dry erase board for ideating and illustrating. We love having a large TV monitor for presentations, and for watching Netflix while eating lunch. We look forward to adding a few embellishments to the walls. But most of all, we look forward to having your stop by for a think.

*To follow the story of The Weaponry, and to see how this perfect agency project grows and evolves, consider subscribing to this blog.

How to make an office feel like your home.

In the summer of 2015 I began the perfect agency project in my home office in Atlanta. It wasn’t just this blog. It was an entrepreneurial project to create the perfect ad agency. I was a man on a mission. I wrote down my goals. I mapped out the people, processes, and purchases needed. I declared the agency’s core values and pillars for success. I could see it all. I even envisioned the first company picnic, and how lame it was going to be when we played tug-of-war with just 2 or 3 people.

In mid 2016 the agency opened for business.

One of the most profound and important steps in the process was naming the agency. There was something about going from building “an advertising agency” to creating The Weaponry that transformed the dream from ethereal to concrete.

The first year was a great success, as measured by the original vision. We had even moved the headquarters to Milwaukee, which was part of the larger plan. In July of 2017 we decided it was time to move the agency operations from a home office to a real office downtown (things will be great when you’re downtown). I began a search for space and wrote about my experience in a 3-part series that you can now binge read anytime. See Looking for office space: A Startup Story,  Looking For Office Space 2: The Messy Middle, & Looking for office space: We have an office!

Moving in.

November 1st we got the keys to our new space in Milwaukee’s modern North End. The team is thrilled to have an office of our own. But just like when you buy a house, the empty space we inherited didn’t immediately feel like us. It wasn’t bad. It was just, neutral. And we are decidedly not neutral. So, just like at the beginning of the project, our team had to apply our vision for the agency in order to transform the space into The Weaponry.

We started with some basics. We added wi-fi and computers, desks and chairs. We were operational and our most basic needs were met within the first week. But the space wasn’t ours yet. Like ranchers brand their livestock, we needed to brand our new space. We needed to give the office a name. And personality. So we looked for ways to make our mark.

Front Door

Our front door was just naked glass. There was nothing on it to tell people who we were or where they were. This had to change. So we contacted a very talent freehand sign painter. We really loved her style. Apparently so does everyone else. Because she told us in November that she was booked until late January or early February. Since we signed a 13-month lease we couldn’t afford to go sign-less for the first 3 or 4 months.

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Our front door is no longer naked. 

We looked into signage that we could have in place quickly.  We found a good sign company that could make what we wanted, and have it installed within 3 days. Which was great.  But then we ran into another challenge. To install the wall graphics we wanted we had to wait a month after we painted so that the gas could escape from the new paint on the walls. I snickered at the idea of having gassy walls.

So we began painting immediately. Or I should say K-Lil, our super talented Associate Creative Director started painting. She picked the perfect colors and started bringing The Weaponry to life as a real place.

 

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Do you think the logo is too small?  

Last Friday, the paint had properly aged and we had the sign people come and make their magic. And magic it was.  They put up our first three branding marks. And suddenly the space feels like The Weaponry. Our front door declares that you have arrived at The Weaponry. When you enter our space you are greeted by a 90-inch wide reminder of where you are. And we have started putting small thinking reminders around the space.

 

We have much more to add. But the office is developing a great feel. We’re thrilled to call this place our home. And we’d be happy to have you come see it for yourself.

Here are a few videos of the installation.  If you want to see and hear more about our journey please subscribe to this blog.