C.C. Sullivan | November 01, 2011
Back at Yale University, one of my dorm-mates was a nice fellow named Frank Mars. His folks used to send him truckloads of candy or popcorn, a bonus for us hungry undergrads. When the Combos snack concept was launched, the stuff rained down on us like manna from heaven.
Young Mars was a low-key straight shooter with a strong work ethic, as I recall. That's the underlying spirit at the Mars Chocolate North America division of the family-owned company—today's sales totaling a cool $30 billion. However, Bergmeyer Associates, with its experience in retail design, renovated the two-story building to be colorful as well as functional. It's in the boondocks of Hackettstown, New Jersey, an hour's drive west of New York if you really rip it, and having a vibrant, LEED-rated office was a major part of an effort to attract employees from the big city.
There's a touch of Willy Wonka-esque mystery in the air, too. Bergmeyer principal Lewis Muhlfelder, Jr., describes the Mars corporate vibe as "a little guarded." For good reason. Top-secret formulas for the likes of Coconut M&M's and GoodnessKnows snack squares are concocted here before being produced in an adjacent factory and launched on a global scale. You don't open the door to just anyone.
Above the front doors in Hackettstown, a canopy serves as a perch for the first of a dozen animated M&M's personalities—more commonly played up in TV commercials and rendered here as 10-foot-tall versions in polyurethaneshelled foam. The character up on the canopy is Green, flirtatiously swinging her white pumps over the edge to greet visitors. Two compadres below act as candy-coated caryatids.
Enlivening the sunny, open 100,000-square-foot interior—and making branding fun—Muhlfelder and senior associate Darryl Filippi let loose with big M&M's faces and sugary colors on furnishings, walls, and a refurbished central stair. In the double-height reception area, one of the flourishes added by the renovation, there's a chocolate Dove Bar feature wall next to Karim Rashid chairs as red as a cherry Starburst.
Multicolored fabric and paint draw visitors straight ahead from reception, to the wide "main street" corridor running through the center of the office area. Its honeycombs of low workstations are a wonder to behold. The obsessive Mars ethic and well-engineered acoustics make everything ethereally neat and quiet, even as 400 employees tap keyboards and work the phones.
Branding extends to every nook and cranny. "We incorporated, abstracted, and deconstructed geometric shapes, colors, and textures from the Mars family of candies into the office design," Filippi says. Conference rooms' glass doors flaunt Mars product identities in frosted film. Even more prominent, the Snickers conference room cantilevers over reception—a chocolaty textured shell of molded polystyrene, containing caramel-painted walls and a group of Ludovica and Roberto Palomba's blobby white pendant fixtures hinting at peanuts.
Actual Snickers can be found at the "snack shacks," machines installed in the upstairs and downstairs central corridors to dispense every conceivable Mars delight at no cost. Break-out areas for collaborative work are sprinkled along the same corridors. Some areas offer sensible plastic chairs and round café tables. Others, with padded banquettes, resemble cafeteria booths.
The best things, ubiquitous free treats notwithstanding, are the simplicity and efficiency. Floor plates are big, square,
and unfussy. The LEED-CI Gold rating recognizes low-energy lighting, water-conserving plumbing, and materials with high recycled contents. Mars Chocolate North America is never kitsch or Disneyesque. It's just a comfortable and lively place to work, possibly one of the best budget-minded workplaces I've seen. Frank Mars, wherever he is, must be proud.
BBDO: Graphics Consultant. Contemporary Artisans Cabinetry: Woodwork. MacKenzie Keck: General Contractor. RDK Engineers:MEP. Sladen Feinstein Integrated Lighting: Lighting Consultant. Symmentry International: Display Contractor.