Small Business. Driven by Design.

Sawdust Festival with Amy Rose Hammond

Amy Rose HammondSince 1966, the Sawdust Art +Craft Festival has provided local artists with the opportunity to create “pop up” shops for their art, nestled amidst the rustling trees of Laguna Canyon. The dressed-down cousin of the nearby Pageant of the Masters, Sawdust provides a unique ambiance for art aficionados and first-time browsers alike.  Live jam bands, ethnic foods and a variety of art—from blown glass to oil paintings—allows for a relaxing, high / low experience of your choosing.

On a recent Tuesday evening at Sawdust, I fueled up on the culinary arts of Tacos Durrell (in particular, their Meatball Taco) and a pita bundle from Thasos Greek Island Grill, grabbed a Longboard Pale Ale and headed over to meet the ever-lively Amy Rose Hammond, a local artist on display here at the Festival.

Having grown up in the arts-rich town of Laguna Beach, Amy is a local artist whose work, like many here at the Festival, is strongly influenced by the unique vibe, coastline and topography of the region.  Since attending the renowned Laguna College of Art & Design (LCAD) fifteen years ago, Amy has made a living from her art.  I visited with her more deeply about the process of creating and marketing her art.

“So often, my work starts with a cell phone shot from my car—it could be a special place in the area, or the light hitting an object just so.”  It’s true: her work is often an interesting convergence of real scenery, and her personal interpretation of a moment in time.  “Having the ability to print those photos from my cell phone, right onto my Epson printer is awesome, because it means I can dive right in on the work.”

But it’s not just painting that Amy has to do well to market her art.  “Clients often want high-quality print outs of my work for their home, so they can test it in a room, or visualize a painting in a specific space they have in mind for my art.  In addition, I’ll also print, epoxy, and sell smaller prints of my work, in case someone is space-crunched, or not ready to make a larger investment in the original work.”

securedownload (2)Indeed: her multi-media art skills prove critical, even down to her branded presence at the Festival itself.  “When we arrive at the Festival, it’s tabula rasa every year (before photo included below).  We have to literally build this booth from the ground up, and make sure it looks great, so we can impress customers and make them feel comfortable investing in a work of art.  I’m calling on carpenter friends to do this, grabbing my nail gun to do that—but at the end of the day, it’s an incredibly satisfying result.”

And it looks great, too.  To wit, Amy will have had a successful show this year, selling five or six major works of art at this summer’s festival, which typically runs from June 27 – August 31.  If you can’t make it this time of year, there is also a small winter session November 22 – December 14, 2014.  If anything, it’s worth taking family or a date and supporting the local arts while soaking up the scene.

To view Amy’s work more intimately, you can also connect with her on Facebook.

securedownload (1)

Growing Your Small Business Through Process Improvement

Tristan BoutrousAs someone who is focused on my clients in small business, and how to help make their offices run more smoothly, I was eager to have the chance to talk to Tristan Boutros in New York recently. He’s the Chief Process Officer of one of the world’s largest media and entertainment firms, and has the credentials to back up his position—his 10 professional designations include Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, Certified Scrum Professional and Master Project Manager certification.

He’s also the author of The Process Improvement Handbook: A Blueprint for Managing Change and Increasing Organization Performance, which interested me because it talks about a new way of creating process improvement using technology. Tristan says it’s a combination of agile and process-oriented thinking. “You don’t just build something that’s solved through a spreadsheet,” Tristan explained. “You look at the big picture and you build enterprise cloud-based platform solutions that solve the end-to-end problem—a solution that’s centralized rather than a bunch of separate systems, or spreadsheets.” As an employee of a large corporation like Epson America, I could see how Tristan’s book has helped to revolutionize the processes and operations of big companies. But, from our discussion, I began to see how his blueprints could also apply to small business improvement. For example: small businesses start out agile, and by using Tristan’s blueprint, they can stay that way. “A big corporation is playing catch up all the time, and it can take weeks, months and sometimes eons to go through the organization and change its processes,” said Tristan. “Whereas, a small business, especially if they apply these concepts and level of discipline out of the gate, can build themselves in a way that they’re nimble, or agile, and they can make changes at any time without any exhaustive effort.” The Process Improvement Handbook brings benefits to small business owners in three ways:

  1. Venture Capital: “If a startup is looking for investment funds, the best thing they can do is showcase their ability to control their business, and exhibit a high level of discipline right out of the gate,” said Tristan.
  2. The Buyout: Make sure your business is in order and in place to ensure it’s lucrative in the eyes of the buyer. “Many owners will have to change things just to get a buy to the next level,” Tristan explained. “If it were disciplined and clean out of the gate, you’re ready to roll.”
  3. Case Studies: Learn what not to do from the big guys, even companies you thought had their processes nailed. “There’s a chapter on case studies that literally take examples of situations where, if companies had been more disciplined or installed a framework, they’d be in much better shape,” Tristan said.

And I saw the connection—it made sense. Most small businesses don’t want to stay small, and Tristan’s book provides a blueprint for companies—of all sizes—to find a path to agility…To find out more about Tristan Boutros, check out his LinkedIn profile, or follow him on Twitter.

Tristan has given me two copies of the book to share. The first two people to send me their name address will receive one in the mail!  Interested? Please send your email here:


Building a New Business Model, In Color

DTD PortraitCrate & Barrel. Restoration Hardware. Pottery Barn. All easy to find, whether it’s a brick-and-mortar store or an online shopping cart. Twenty, even ten years ago, these types of stores weren’t as accessible to the general public as they are now. And it has forced Danielle Tarango to change the business model for her interior design business, Danielle Tarango Design, in Laguna Beach, California.

“In the past, interior designers would charge a flat rate for design services, and then charge a percentage of the goods that were purchased for the client’s project,” explains Danielle. “Today, everyone is so internet savvy. They know that the Targets and Walmarts of the world are competing for business and charge just pennies over cost. It’s impossible for designers to work in that capacity anymore.”

Danielle turned the interior designers’ fee structure on its head, and uses her Epson printers to make it profitable. She’s started to bill hourly for her time, and provides her clients with materials, like mood boards and lists of goods, with the information on where to buy everything.

But because she’s billing by the hour at a higher rate than her flat fee, Danielle knows she needs to provide value to her customer. “These printed materials are invaluable to me in terms of actually giving them a physical piece of property that they can own,” she says. “If I can buy it, then most likely my client can buy it too, and they do so using the materials I provide.”

Danielle’s mood boards are full of inspiration images and printed on her 11” x 17” large format printer, an Epson WorkForce 7620 with PrecisionCore™ technology, adding materials like stones, sample fabrics and paint swatches to finish the board. Her resource lists are formatted for regular letter size paper, which she prints on her WorkForce 4640.

“I download images of accessories, furniture and other home items from the Internet for the design,” Danielle explains. “I use the Epson ink because it prints as close to the original as you can get—and color accuracy is very important in my business.”

Although she’s not surprised by the time and money she’s saved from bringing print in-house, Danielle is taken aback at how low the cost is to maintain the printers. “After 18 months of owning these two printers, I feel like I’ve only replaced the cartridges once on each.”

She’s generously shared her ideas with several of her interior designer friends, even creating customized templates for them. One designer, who commutes to Laguna Beach from out of state every six weeks, calls Danielle every time. “She says ‘Hey, can I come to your office and do some printing?’”, Danielle laughs. “I’m like ‘Yeah, yeah, come on over.’ It seems I’ve become the new printing house in Laguna Beach!”

DTD Sample Mood Boards 2_lo



Miami’s Grand Design


On a recent visit to see my friends at the Office Depot headquarters down in Florida, I decided to take an afternoon to stop by the Miami Design District to see what all the buzz was about.  Billed as a “creative neighborhood and shopping destination, dedicated to innovative fashion, design, art, architecture and dining,” the district is…well, exactly that. And it’s awesome.

Upon arrival, it was clear that a base of Miami’s regional foods would be critical to fuel my afternoon of browsing the avenue. I stopped into the Oak Tavern, which is aptly named for its rustic, indoor/outdoor vibe, alongside an intelligent mix of bar seating, community tables and booths. After fueling up on some small plates and Bacon Marmalade Toast with Cave Man blue cheese butter (do you even need to ask if was going to order that?) I was sated and ready for the pursuit of more delicate affairs.

I headed south along 40th Street, which comprises the heart of the retail stores available in the district. First stop: Louis Vuitton. In many ways, this retail store environment is the perfect confluence of all the elements the district hopes to deliver: One part museum; one part art gallery; one part fashion; one part consumer goods…All rolled into one clean, well-branded customer experience.

Back out on the avenue, shoppers are presented with a variety of retail environments ranging from fine art galleries (Markowicz Fine Art), fashion boutiques (Delpozo) and watchmakers (Rolex). This selection provides a great way to leisurely spend a day, without necessarily spending dollars—although there seemed to be plenty of native Floridians, and internationals, willing to do that, too.

Perhaps the coolest way to end the day, was stumbling upon “DASH” or Design Architecture Senior High—Miami Dade’s design-magnet school, ranked as one of the Top 20 Public High Schools in the United States by US News & World Report. This innovative school provides education in architecture, industrial design, fashion design and visual communications – no doubt stocking the pipeline for future design district tenants and cultural contributors.

In all, the Miami Design District is walkable, vibrant and immersive. And coupled with a trip to the nearby Wynwood Walls, which skillfully harness the aesthetic beauty of Miami’s street art, this is the ideal cultural immersion for those wanting “something more” than a stroll down South Beach during their time in Miami.

Photo Courtesy of Marc Averette, under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Game On @ Section Studios

Nether“It was key that we presented the project in a cinematic way,” said Justin Yun, Creative Director and CCO of Section Studios. “The projector allowed us to get the clients in a room and give them that full experience.”

Located in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, Section Studios is a multi-disciplinary media solutions company that specializes in concept art, video game development, visual effects (VFX), web design and publishing. Justin Yun and Brian Wee, Executive Producer, knew that they had to wow the clients with their project—a game trailer for urban-survival game Nether that the team had almost finalized.

These weren’t just clients either; they were investors. Brian and Justin knew that playing the game trailer on a monitor, no matter how big, wasn’t going to have the dramatic effect that they were looking for.

One of the rooms in the studio was set up as a lounge-slash-brainstorming room for the interactive team, and an Epson BrightLink Pro interactive projector had been installed to help creativity, collaboration and workflow. With black walls and no windows to let in the California sunshine, the lounge was a perfect choice for a screening room.

When looking at options for a monitor, Justin and Brian realized that regular projection wasn’t going to give them the high quality they were looking for either. “Even with the utilities and tools that the BrightLink has, its quality is impressive,” said Brian. “And that’s just very important to us, and our clients. They don’t care what you present with, a monitor or a projector, they just want something good.”

The transformation from lounge to screening room was quick—and effective. Not only was the screening a big hit with the clients, the promo trailer caught the eye of the gaming industry. Section Studios’ game trailer for Nether became a finalist for the Outstanding Promotional Trailer category of the 2014 Game Marketing Awards.

And the screening-room experience opened their eyes to new applications for the projector. “It’s not just about the client stuff anymore,” Justin explained. “For instance, now we’re using it on a day-to-day basis with our narrative team. Once you open it up for one thing and try it, you realize how many other opportunities there are to use it.”

Visual Communications: Cassidy Turley For The Win



The data gap between the residential and the commercial real estate property markets is bigger than many people might realize. Unlike residential listing websites like or, those in the commercial property markets don’t have online data to search available properties or find out what properties like theirs are selling for.

And that’s because residential sales are different than commercial leases. After a sale, the information becomes public record, but that’s not necessarily the case with lease transactions.

“There’s no one company that can put all this information together because it’s brokers’ information,” says Kevin Meissner, a broker in Cassidy Turley’s San Diego office. “No broker in his or her right mind would give out this information for a third-party source and give it away for free. It’s a huge source of the value-add we provide.”

Information on commercial leases in a city like San Diego is a valuable commodity, and Cassidy Turley breaks it down. Each broker in the office gathers data on their deals and any other deals they’ve heard about locally and submits it to a research team that compiles the numbers into the company’s proprietary database.

This office tracks every tenant in San Diego and the progression of every deal. Then, on a quarterly basis, Cassidy Turley’s research team tracks the absorption, vacancy rates, subleases and where tenants are moving out of or into.

“We produced this data and sent it out, but there wasn’t a nice and easy way for people to read it,” explained Meissner. “I noticed that most of the marketing emails other companies were sending out had way too much text. Just looking at all the text gave me a headache.”

So, Cassidy Turley’s San Diego creative department devised a way to compile all the information for each department—industrial, office and retail—into a cool and fun package: Infographics.  They’ve been a huge success in email marketing campaigns that are sent not just to the local market but to the Cassidy Turley database as well.

“Each one catches your eye,” said Meissner. “Every business owner in San Diego wants to know these numbers. They want to know what’s going on in the market. It lets people know how well we know our market, but in an interesting format that they actually will read.”

Ahead of the Curve


What impact does your office space and, specifically, its design have on employee satisfaction and retention? We asked Cassidy Turley’s Kevin Meissner, who exclusively represents tenants in their search for office space, lease renewals and expansions and evaluating whether or not to buy or lease office property. He guides clients in Southern California through the entire process, from envisioning and financial analysis through site selection, build-out and move-in.

“These companies will do anything to keep their employees as happy as possible,” says Meissner. “The company owners try to make coming to work such a great experience that the employees never want to leave.”

And Meissner should know a thing or two about that, seeing as how his company has been selected as one of the San Diego Business Journal’s 2013 Best Places to Work. But it’s Meissner’s knowledge of the industry that truly allows him to help companies create these dream office spaces to lure the best employees.

“Nowadays, many business owners are looking for non-traditional office space. They’re leaving the high-rise, steel-frame, multi-tenant office buildings behind and choosing low-rise buildings with an open floor plan and as much natural light as they can get,” explains Meissner. Not only have they thrown out the traditional cubicles and offices with windows, they’re adding in a lot of modern features that are sure to attract the best talent.

Meissner takes a client through a process to determine what properties will match their needs,  asking them questions about what their business will look like in the next five to 10 years, what type of culture they want to establish and how many employees they have—or want to have. “We get the framework of what they’re really trying to do with their space, and then tailor the space to that as much as we can,” Meissner says. “With larger companies, we’ll engage a design firm or architect early on in the process to help brand their ideal space.” Once the right property is found, Meissner and his Cassidy Turley team go to work, from negotiating the deal right through to construction and installing telephone and data systems so the business can move its employees right in without a productive moment lost. More and more often, out goes the drywall and dropped ceilings and in goes the bullpen, internal conference rooms, gyms and yoga space as well as a kitchen, complete with high-end coffee, dishwasher and meeting area.CassidyTurley_REImage[2]

The trend doesn’t seem to include cutting down on square footage and encouraging employees to work at home. “It’s less about trying to squeeze as many employees as possible into a smaller space, but more about how well they utilize that space to woo their employees, both existing and potential,” explains Meissner.

Most transaction will have a certain allowance for tenant improvements, which Meissner negotiates to be given to his clients. “The landlord will use those funds for generic tenant improvements,” he says. “But in our hands, our project managers can use that allowance to create something spectacular, to make the space exactly how the client envisions.”

The best part of Meissner’s job? He rarely sends his clients a bill. “All broker commissions are paid for by the landlord, just as the seller pays all broker commissions in residential real estate. That makes it even easier to keep my clients happy.”

Have Listing? Will Travel

Climb Airstream photo

Imagine if you read this: “A must-see property in SF’s best neighborhoods. Cozy office space features designer furniture, wrap-around sofa, high-tech amenities and coffee on tap. Incredible views of San Francisco change daily. For more information, follow our Tweets.”

Impossible? Not for pioneering firm Climb Real Estate Group. For a company that deals exclusively in bricks and mortar, this company has invested in something very surprising. Their brand new retail space is…mobile.

And I don’t mean a new app, but an actual 20-foot, beautifully renovated 1960 Airstream Globetrotter trailer that travels around San Francisco, Climb Real Estate’s stomping grounds. Chris Lim, founder of Climb, was inspired by the current food-truck craze to create the mobile real estate office, complete with a coffee bar, sofas and, of course, its own Twitter feed to let people know how to follow it. Literally.

Even though its size is small, the experience the Airstream provides is larger than life—its well-designed space brings technology, listings, personal service and presentations to a wider audience, all over the city. With pop-up stores and restaurants, why not a real estate office that moves around to the very neighborhoods it serves?

“With the Internet changing real estate home searches, it’s becoming more and more necessary for me to have direct access to prospective buyers and sellers,” explains Kendra Wall, Senior Sales Associate with Climb Real Estate. “With my Airstream mobile office, I’m able to reach clients directly in their neighborhood. While the Airstream has been popular at street fairs, festivals and openings, I have also been using it as open-house station for new developments and communities. Recently, it served as a popular safe haven for children to get treats and water during Halloween trick-or-treating.”

And if the blindingly buffed Airstream seems a little “retro,” Lim and designer Kristiana Spaulding of Silver Trailer made sure that it was absolutely modern on the inside. It’s not just the sleek aluminum walls and furnishings from Paul Smith and Hans Wegner; it’s solar panels, iPads on Simplicit stands, a flat-screen television, the latest listings software and of course, a very cool new Epson printer…

It’s innovation at its finest, in an industry that can sometimes seem behind the curve on technology adoption. What impresses me most is the fact that Lim turned away from the existing norm of a lavish, commercial office space (although he’s got that, too) and launched an idea that the city has never seen before – and in San Francisco, that’s saying something.

The original 1960 Airstream Globetrotter successfully completed its 90-day pilot program, and since then, the company has upgraded to a 2008 Design Within Reach Airstream, in a size that’s more easily maneuvered down the San Francisco streets…and it’s coming soon to a neighborhood near you!

Photo Courtesy Climb Real Estate Group.

Kien Tsoi Goes Big


I first met Kien Tsoi without him really knowing it, huddled quietly behind the privacy glass of a research facility in Santa Monica, CA, as I watched a group of Realtors evaluate our newest Epson products.

They were all great people, but something about Kien’s technical knowledge, sense of humor and personality really made him stand out from the crowd…I had to meet him.

Throwing all research protocol aside (with permission from the higher-ups, of course) I chased down Kien in the parking lot and offered him a handshake, an Epson printer and an invitation to lunch.  Not the slickest of overtures, but it worked.

Two years later: Epson products are now in real estate offices across the country (thank you, Kien!) and being designed even better for the future, thanks to feedback from Kien and his fellow Realtors.

I’ll send you on an internet scavenger hunt about Kien Tsoi, but leave me a comment if you figure it out.  Your keywords are as follows: Karaoke. YouTube. Real Estate.

Good luck and let me know what you find!

Photo Courtesy Kien Tsoi

The Importance of Spatial Design

As a marketing guy who’s still mastering the whole opposable thumbs thing, I’m always impressed by our visual design clients–people like real estate developers, architects, interior designers and general contractors, who have the ability to transform a blank canvas into large scale, mixed-use developments for human use.  When done thoughtfully, it’s awesome!

Kirk Goldberry did a nice job capturing the importance of developing more of these “visual” people in his Harvard Business Review article, The Importance of Spatial Thinking Now. In it, he explained how we’ve lost momentum in spatial design ever since geographical training was predominantly removed from higher education in the 1940s. He explains how the resulting skills-deficit can hurt us, especially in an age where big data sets must be crafted into visually digestible communications.

Working with my talented clients, the article helped me realize how vital it is for us to keep developing visualization skills. I see the results every day in the form of concept sketches, blueprints and site plans. And in our online world where designs are no longer limited to physical constructions, Goldberry has convinced me that now, more than ever, it’s important for young designers to reconnect with the long lost art of geographical visualization.

It’s an exciting time.  I can’t wait to see how powerful computers, big data and a renewed commitment to visual design education from places like Harvard will help us live better, work smarter, and learn more.

Check out the article and let me know what you think.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia. This image is in the public domain