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Episode 16: An Architect’s Tips on Maximizing Your Business Space

What You Will Learn:

  • What you need to consider when your business needs to expand
  • How can inflation impact your construction budget?
  • How to deal with planning and zoning boards when you need permits
  • How to improve your home and how to get value out of an addition

About An Architect’s Input on Maximizing Your Business Space

Joseph J. Bruno, AIA is an architect in private practice in Park Ridge, New Jersey. He earned his Bachelor of Architecture from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in 1983. His extensive experience includes the design of schools, commercial buildings, and residences. Since establishing his own practice in 2000 he has focused primarily on custom residential design. This aspect of architectural practice is particularly satisfying as he has the ability to connect one on one with his clients in the pursuit of creating their dream homes. He has entered the stage of his career when the sons and daughters of his first clients are beginning to come to him to design homes for themselves and their families. Mr. Bruno has recently completed a 12 ½ year term as Trustee of the Park Ridge Board of Education where he served as President since 2008. He had previously served on the Board of Trustees of the Architects League of Northern New Jersey for many years before serving as President in 1998.


[00:00:28] STAN HLADIK: Welcome to Secret Sauce 365 podcast where we will provide answers to questions business owners ask themselves every day. And I'm excited. Our topic today is going to be architecture and I welcome Joseph J. Bruno out of Park Ridge, uh, has been a licensed architect in New Jersey since 1988 in New York, since 2005.

[00:00:52] STAN HLADIK: So welcome today, Joe. 

[00:00:55] JOE BRUNO: Thank you Stanley. 

[00:00:56] STAN HLADIK: So I'm going to give a little, a teaser out to our listeners today on some of the things we're going to be talking about. So on, on today's episode of Secret Sauce 365 you know, we're going to talk about some smart options for office renovations. We’re gonna talk about what to consider when your business needs to expand.

[00:01:17] STAN HLADIK: And we'll also look at how inflation can impact your construction budget. Um,  the first question I'd like to ask Joe is, you know, what architectural design, um, it, it seems like a lot of people, uh, when, when they're, when they're doing construction projects, you know, they don't know where to start sometimes, right?

[00:01:38] STAN HLADIK: You know, you have ideas in mind of how your business should flow and how can an architect help them when they actually look at the space or building they're going to provide?

[00:01:49] JOE BRUNO: Well, when I first meet with a potential client, we, um, we meet at their facility, whether it it's, it's a home-based office that they're planning on expanding or, or a one in a, um, commercial setting and he’ll, we, and I just sit and, and we, we discuss what their current operations are now.

[00:02:09] JOE BRUNO:  Um, also I make observations as to what, uh, how they're delivering those, those services, you know, they're, they're, they're president facilities and, and I mainly do a lot of listening. I ask questions, but I want the business owner and whomever else is in on the meeting to tell me a little bit about, not only about the business, but, but their philosophy in running the business and how, how the, um, how the facilities have, um, have, or how they've outgrown the facilities.

[00:02:49] JOE BRUNO: Not only in terms of size, perhaps, but in how the facilities are actually utilized, because a lot of times it's not a matter of the, the, the amount of space one has, it's how one uses the space. 

[00:03:03] STAN HLADIK: Right. I'm amazed sometimes. And, and you'll see like a make-over in a restaurant that you went in at one time and the kitchen is totally moved and the seating area is totally in a different spot.

[00:03:14] STAN HLADIK: And, and sometimes it's a lot more functional and aesthetically pleasing. So, you know, just because you're renting space or, or, you know, buying a new building doesn't mean you have to keep it the same way, right? You brainstorm and, and, and take a look at things, right? 

[00:03:31] JOE BRUNO: Yeah, sure. Many times it's not just a matter of how much space has, as I said, it's how you use it.

[00:03:38] STAN HLADIK: So you touched on a good point there, which I'd like to bring up to our listeners is, um, you know, often they just look at what they have and decide to tweak it. But as expensive as square footage is to rent, you know, whether it be here or you talk about, you know, the boroughs in New York city, is to really bring in a professional like yourself, um, and, and take a look at, you know, maybe they don't need all that space and they could really, you know, squeeze into some other things and obviously maybe sublease or whatever, you know, the space back and really maximize the revenue out of that, whatever they're renting because you know, sometimes the big bricks and mortars isn’t going to help the bottom line.

[00:04:25] STAN HLADIK: So maybe you have an example of what you might've looked at or done that, that, you know, maximizes efficiency. 

[00:04:32] JOE BRUNO: Well, I think, um, I had a client one time and, um, for privacy concerns, I won't mention who, but the, um, you know, they, they were actually operating out of a space that was significantly larger than they needed to.

[00:04:50] JOE BRUNO: And they felt that they needed more people in order to fill it up and, um, deliver their services. And after we got done discussing it, we said, you know, you could, you could sublease some of this space so that you're not paying as much. And you can, you can get some operational efficiency by not feeling as though, as though you're missing out on something.

[00:05:14] JOE BRUNO: And they found that some of the things that they were doing, they were doing just in order to, to better utilize the space. And as it turns out, um, a better utilization of the space was to sublease. And not everybody can do that depending on what the deal is they have with their landlord. 

[00:05:35] STAN HLADIK: Yeah, no, it depends on the lease with the landlord. It depends on your future goals to grow. But you know, you always want to always, in my opinion, be working three to five years ahead, right, so that you’re never outgrowing your space. You're always working within it, and maximizing its efficiency. Um, you know, take us through, because some of our listeners, you know, they're, they're new business owners and, and they've, they've got, uh, ideas, but they don't understand the process.

[00:06:05] STAN HLADIK: And I know you're very, um, well-versed in dealing with town planning boards. or zoning boards so how does that whole process start when you're in a particular town and your clients there may want to do something. And that could be also be on the residential side. I know you do residential a lot.

[00:06:23] STAN HLADIK: So just explain the process sometimes with, with the impediments that stand in someone's way to do what they want to do. 

[00:06:31] JOE BRUNO: Well, I think the, uh, the biggest thing is to be well-versed in the, the, uh, local zoning and planning laws that, uh, that, that are in effect. And they do vary from town to town. Um, every town in the state of New Jersey is governed by what we call the municipal land use law.

[00:06:46] JOE BRUNO: Um, uh, but those are just the rules and all the boards have to follow in dictating their, their rules. And, and I always, uh, uh, you know, educate my clients at the most that one of the most important things, first steps to do is make sure that what you want to do is a permitted use in the area that you want to do it.

[00:07:13] JOE BRUNO: Cause cause various, these towns have zoning laws and they, and they allow only certain activities to be, um, uh, to be carried on in certain areas. Like for instance, if you're in the middle of a residential neighborhood and you want to, you want to open up a candy store. Well, that's, that's a problem, um, from a zoning standpoint and, um, one that is not generally, um, able to be overcome.

[00:07:40] JOE BRUNO: Well, so, uh, so you want to, um, you want to make sure that that also the location of the business is, is in a good location for attracting business. Not only attracting business, but if you're taking deliveries, if it's a delivery intensive type of business or to, um, uh, to secure the proper, um, and necessary approvals from the municipality.

[00:08:07] JOE BRUNO: Like for instance, and sometimes as an architect, I have to be willing to, um, to pivot on a dime and, and set other things aside for the good of the project. I'll give you an example: at the beginning of COVID, I was working with a local, um, local candy shop owner, who was, who was going to, who was, um, renting out a facility that he was going to use for manufacturing.

[00:08:37] JOE BRUNO: But one of the issues was, he called me up one day and said he got a call from the local construction officials saying that they were going to be shutting down in a few days. So you didn't know how long they'd be shutting down. And, um, if he wanted to get his, uh, permit documents reviewed, we needed to get them in, you know, the next day.

[00:09:01] STAN HLADIK: Yeah, plenty of time, plenty of time. 

[00:09:06] JOE BRUNO: The fortunate thing was we were about halfway through, reached back to my college days, pulled it all nighter and, and we made it happen for him. 

[00:09:15] STAN HLADIK: So I just want to touch base, uh, you gave us a lot of information there, and I think it's important to repeat for our listeners in the beginning of the dream, you know, or the expansion of a business, you really have to know what you're dealing with within that municipality and different states vary, but every town has its its own variances, I’m sorry, its own ordinances that may require a variance and a variance is if you want to do something that doesn't fit the land use law in that particular state. So for example, if you want, and it's important to have a certain sign on, on your storefront.

[00:09:56] STAN HLADIK: Um, there could be restrictions in that town to that sign. And you may want to make sure that you can talk to the zoning official or planning board that you can get a variance to that sign. And that's, I think that's where you come in, Joe, you may know where some towns are a little willing to work with, you know, the business owners and where some are kind of real strict and hardline. 

[00:10:19] JOE BRUNO: Well, that's a very good, um, you brought up signage, uh, which is a very important thing. I think a number of years ago, I was designing a deck, uh, storefront Dairy Queen and, um, and the, uh, the town had had very strict sign ordinance where it would not allow more than two colors on a sign but the corporate corporate identity for, for signage for dairy cream is more than that. So we had to go to the zoning board and secure a variance for the business to be able to use the typical corporate sign. It’s a part of its corporate identity.

[00:11:05] STAN HLADIK: The simple thing like that, you're not going to get Dairy Queen to waive that because they want their signs to be uniform for the franchise. So you couldn't get anything off the ground. Doesn't matter what kind of space you have. You can't get that sign. 

[00:11:16] JOE BRUNO: That is correct. 

[00:11:19] STAN HLADIK: So just my listeners know me very well and, and you're getting to know me. We've met each other recently, but your candy store is Dairy Queen. I mean, you hit all the things that make hungry. 

[00:11:30] JOE BRUNO: Well, that's why I asked to do this at this time of day, so we don't have to wait too long afterwards now. 

[00:11:37] STAN HLADIK: Yeah. There's no bad time in the day for ice cream, just so you know, it's for breakfast. It's for lunch.

[00:11:45] JOE BRUNO: It’s a dairy product so if we can have milk with cereal, we can have ice cream anytime of day. Yeah. The ice cream, that conversation did remind me of one time we did a, um, uh, storefront restaurant in Park Ridge and one of the things is that many, many zoning were planning boards. Um, they, um, they, from time to time will operate based on, not only, not necessarily fear of the unknown, but concerned for the, for what they perceive as the unknown.

[00:12:19] JOE BRUNO: And I'll give you an example, had a restaurant that wants to open up, and there was a concern about whether there would be, um, too much traffic, uh, generated or whether, uh, parking would, would be an issue.

[00:12:35] JOE BRUNO: And Park Ridge is a type of town, it's such that, um, it's a very nice town, but after 6, 7:00 PM, you can pretty much, you know, blindfold yourself, bounce from curb to curb and not hit a single car. So we eased into the approval in such a way that originally the owner thought, well, maybe we'll open up for lunch and dinner. We'll see how it goes.

[00:13:04] JOE BRUNO: I said, well, why don't we, why don't you go in for dinner since that's, that's the, that's the definite. Go in for dinner because you're not going to do less than that, but you don't know whether you want to do lunch because you want to see how successful you're going to be.

[00:13:23] JOE BRUNO: So I said from an approval standpoint, it was actually more better, it was actually easier to, to essentially sell the board on dinner, because we weren't going to be encroaching into the daytime hours where traffic in the neighborhood was, was greater. Then as he established himself and their fears were allayed, um, just by seeing how things operated, we went back to the board and were able to get approval to, to, uh, for him to serve lunch.

[00:13:57] JOE BRUNO: Because he was able to demonstrate that his, his, um, his operation did not cause, um, an egregious amount of, of traffic at any given time. 

[00:14:11] STAN HLADIK: And the one thing I will tell, uh, you know, our listeners, you know, before we pivot away from planning boards and zoning boards, is if you're going to make that move and you're going to need a variance to get the permit you want, make sure you bring your professionals with you.

[00:14:27] STAN HLADIK: I know a lot of you, you know, are very intelligent people. That's why you're excellent business owners, but when you and I sat on a zoning board for five years and, and, you know, as a councilman in West Caldwell, uh, I'm very familiar and sat on the planning board. They appreciate the fact that you're willing to bring the right counsel with you, the right architecture with you, sometimes a planner, you know, all these things that they know you're doing it with best practices, where if you go it alone and it might be the same exact plan, but a much tougher road.

[00:15:01] JOE BRUNO: I would agree and it's not just to drum up business of course, but, but it's, it's a matter of, uh, boards want to know that, that the business owner is serious. And, and that's very important. Um, if the business happens to be, um, um, unincorporated entity in the state of New Jersey, the law requires that it be, um, it'd be represented at the meeting by an attorney. 

[00:15:27] JOE BRUNO: So, that's from the get-go. A professional planner is vital, especially if, if you're proposing something that is not particularly, uh, permitted by the ordinance. Architect engineer, of course, to present the design and to also demonstrate that the business owner is serious about this. Um, and, and also the, the input that the business owner has, um, in testifying at the meeting is also essential.So it's, uh, it's truly, it's truly a team effort in every sense of the word. 

[00:16:04] STAN HLADIK: Understood, understood, great stuff there. So I'm going to pivot to a question that I have and would like to pick your brain because this hasn't really been an issue for us the last, you know, 10 or 20 years, but I feel it is going to be an issue with, you know, how inflation and supply chain issues can now affect, you know, construction projects and a construction budget.So I would appreciate your thoughts. 

[00:16:32] JOE BRUNO: I think that all of those things are wreaking major havoc on construction budgets. There's no, there's no question about it. And, um, my advice to, to all of my clients, whether they be residential clients or whether they be commercial clients is to choose very carefully, whether or not this is something that needs to be done right away, or whether you can phase it in over time.

[00:16:57] JOE BRUNO: There are ways that we can, that we can do, take some stopgap measures in terms of, of, uh, planning, uh, let's say you have an existing facility and, um, you need to, you need to better plan things, okay? Say, you say you need to do a construction project, but, but the finances are just not there to do it because of all those things we, we can find stopgap measures to, um, to ease the pain of the day-to-day operation while still planning the, uh, the more permanent solution.

[00:17:34] STAN HLADIK: I see. So interesting. So, you know, it's almost as if I'm using different words, but the things you must have immediately, um, that you know, can fit your current budget with cash flows. And then the things that, you know, you want to entertain, but maybe you have to wait for, or maybe you need financing for, maybe you just have to for better cash flows for, and you put those stop gap measures into accommodate down the line.

[00:18:02] STAN HLADIK: Yeah. Interesting. Interesting. Um, you know, I, I, you touched base a little bit on residential and, and, and I'd like to talk there. I mean, every business owner I know usually has a very nice house and, uh, they're all making decisions on what to do around their house. I think COVID actually probably helped that a lot.

[00:18:21] STAN HLADIK: You weren't spending your money, uh, you know, trekking off to, uh, you know, the west coast or Europe. So you were, you know, say, let me spend it in my, in my home. So, you know, maybe you could talk a little bit about your experiences, uh, you know, in, in home renovation. 

[00:18:35] JOE BRUNO: Sure. I mean, with the advent of COVID and, and people spending more time at home, not only did they want their homes nicer, but they, but the more time they spent at home, the more apparent it became to them, how inadequate their homes actually were.

[00:18:51] JOE BRUNO: And I would normally be able to track that in January and February of every year because January and February is right after the holiday period and people would have more guests over, more entertaining, um, perhaps, you know, friends and relatives staying over for several nights or maybe several weeks.

[00:19:10] JOE BRUNO: And. And I finally realized after several years that it was a matter of probably people realizing how inadequate their homes, um, with, with the advent of COVID and this and the state home or whatever, and, and, you know, pretty much, uh, the 18 to 24 months that ensued with people mainly being home. We saw that more on a continual basis.

[00:19:33] JOE BRUNO: Um, what also was a driver was that people needed a, um, a conducive workspace at home. Whether they were a business owner or whether they were a, um, whether they were an employee, they needed a place to work while still keeping an eye on the kids who were doing a lot of their school as you remember, were doing a lot of their schoolwork at home.

[00:20:01] STAN HLADIK: That's an interesting question with, uh, you know, the pivot in the world, which I think will be a permanent one where a lot of people are going to start working from home. Um, do you find that to be, and I guess it may vary on the type of business, where you need to create the home office or, or, you know, you're just going to start producing from home where that's a problem with some towns or is it usually pretty flexible and you just have to disclose it?

[00:20:28] JOE BRUNO: I think the way we do work at home is different than it had been in the past. Like for instance, um, many ordinances have a provision for what they call resident professional. Such as doctors, dentists, attorneys, architects, um, engineers, where you know, for years we've seen doctors and dentists having, having offices within their homes, you know, and, and being able to see a, uh, very very well-defined small group of patients.

[00:21:04] JOE BRUNO: Um, I, myself, I work from home. I have a separate building on the property that was, uh, a barn back in the 1880s when the house was built. Occasionally a contractor would come here and, uh, or a client will come here, but it's like one, possibly two cars at any given time, but it's more, it's really no different than if I'm entertaining friends and family in the evening.

[00:21:33] JOE BRUNO: I have a client who works for a, um, a media production company and he's at a computer all day, just like I am. So whether he's in Midtown Manhattan or in his living room in his home, no one, no one really knows the difference other than his car didn't leave the, uh, the driveway.

[00:21:57] STAN HLADIK: It's not an issue to the neighbors. And, and like I said, it's really a, it could be an impactful savings to the business. So you don't have to pay the rents or, or have the brick and mortars elsewhere because, you know, we're all either owning our home or paying a mortgage anyway. So you get in, you know, the bang for your buck.

[00:22:15] STAN HLADIK: What do you think, um, and I'll stick with the residential side, if you feel it pertains to business, you could answer it. But what, what creates the most value these days when you, when you put it into your plan? You know, and, and what I mean by that is, you know, that extra bathroom or two, or, or is it a finished basement or, you know, cause you could spend as much as you want, you could spend $800 a square foot.

[00:22:43] STAN HLADIK: What, what creates value in, in your mind as an architect, helping that person along saying, you know, I want you to spend this, you know, $3-400,000, but I also want you to be able to get a lot of that back in the sale price of that. 

[00:22:55] JOE BRUNO: Well, you know, the tried and true have always been, been in kitchens at best, that, and that will always be.

[00:23:02] JOE BRUNO: I’m finding that and I don't necessarily like to use the word trend, but most people, not only the kitchens and baths, uh, we’ve done, but master suites, home office space. One thing that I do stress to people, and I think it's appropriate because we're talking about residential and work here is, um, I will, I fight my clients like the devil, if they want, um, a home office space as part of their master bedroom.

[00:23:33] JOE BRUNO: Or I think I'm supposed to call it primary bedroom now. I'm showing my age. Um, but the, um, the home office space should not be anywhere near where the bedrooms are. Um, cause the bedrooms should be, be a sanctuary. Business is business. Life is hard enough with the advent of the cell phone and, and the fact that, um, there's very little excuse to not be available 24/7. Although it takes a lot of, um, it, it takes a lot of fortitude to not be available 24/7.

[00:24:14] STAN HLADIK: Right. So, to recap, the answer to my question is always invest in that kitchen. Um, maybe the extra bath and, and keep the home office. It's a great thing to add to your home, but keep it in a good spot, not the, and I do say master bedroom, because I think that has a touch of class, a master bed, master bath, master closet. So one of the first things I look for in a house: the kitchen first then that. 

[00:24:37] JOE BRUNO: Also the, um, even as it relates to, uh, homework spaces because kids are doing more work at home. The worst, the worst place that you can expect the child to do their homework is in their bedroom.

[00:24:55] STAN HLADIK: We put ours in the kitchen, a nice little area, classy area for that. 

[00:25:01] JOE BRUNO: Um, it should also be a place where you can properly monitor what the child is doing. And if the child is having trouble with homework, the last thing you want is their, we'll call their sacred space, to become a space of, of, um, of angst for them, significantly worse.

[00:25:21] STAN HLADIK: So everybody out there listening, you work with your architect to make sure your space is spaced right, your office is space right, you're happy where you go and come. And, and, and don't mess with your bedroom so you can sleep tight at night. But I want to give Joe the last word here. I really appreciate, uh, the time and the banter and, and, and I hope our listeners got some, some good education as to, you know, what they can do to maximize their efficiencies at the office and at home.

[00:25:54] STAN HLADIK: Um, just some final thoughts as we close?

[00:25:59] JOE BRUNO: Sure. Um, and, and this has to do with the separation even at work, Um, when I'm planning a, um, say an office for someone, there should be a place where, where people can, can go and have lunch outside of the desk and get away from the phone for a half hour. Get away from the phone for a half hour, um, have a birthday cake if it's somebody's birthday for 15 minutes in the middle of the afternoon. There should always be a place at work where work can get shut off for 15 minutes. It's not, it's not, um, a life altering experience for anyone you're doing business with to not be able to reach, reach you for 15 minutes.

[00:26:42] JOE BRUNO: And, and, and I always strive to design. And even if you're not going to hire an architect, if you're thinking about an office space, think of a place to give yourself a little bit of peace during the day. Cause the, um, the phone calls and the emails and the texts will always be there. I know it sounds, it sounds very trite and corny to say that, but it happens to be the truth and, and, um, good design actually accommodates that. It's easy to say, but very difficult to do.

[00:27:15] STAN HLADIK: Sometimes, you know, it's in the closing moments, you never know where it's going to be in the podcast, but you might've said the most important thing that touched me is I believe that for a business to thrive, you need motivated employees. You need great morale. And I, you know, I, I see people, I mean, they'll come early, they'll stay late, they’ll work through lunch, but that's not always healthy.

[00:27:43] STAN HLADIK: You need to really take those breaks, recharge. We make our employees take lunchtime. And, and away from their desks, like you said, because otherwise their eye will be on their email and they'll burn out and, and, and you, you really, you can't thrive as a business if you're burning your employees out. So, so I, I really appreciate that on an ending note. That's great advice. 

[00:28:08] STAN HLADIK: Yeah. So it has been a pleasure. I hope you enjoyed your time here on Secret Sauce 365. Uh, it was wonderful getting to know you better. Um, and uh, I want to thank you for your time and wish you health and good luck with your family, uh, as we head into the summer and I want to thank all of my listeners for joining us, once again, on Secret Sauce 365, the podcast where we provide answers to questions that keep business owners up at night. Goodbye everyone. 

[00:28:39] Outro: Thank you for listening to another episode of Secret Sauce 365. Your feedback is how we grow. So please leave us a rating and review on your favorite platform. And if you want access to even more great information, go to secretsauce365.com.

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