Lynne Wildenboer, owner of the Red Wolf Design Group, had grown her 20-year-old marketing company in her home office and could easily list advantages to keeping the business at home. Pressed for disadvantages, she comes up empty. But when the perfect office space became available just at the time when she was adding more employees to work on a new line of business, she grabbed it.
After a month of frantic activity, Wildenboer has completed the build-out of her new headquarters at 220 Alexander Street. Its location is no secret. It is a good bet that anyone who has crawled down Alexander Street toward Route 1 in the evening rush hour has been mesmerized by her black and bright red offices, which feature the company’s howling red wolf logo spotlighted on the back wall. Drivers going in the other direction, heading into Princeton, get a good look at a stunning pack of five very intense, very red wolves staring out from a painting on the office’s north wall.
Yes, Wildenboer’s new office, with its nearly floor-to-ceiling front windows, is also a gorgeously designed advertisement for her company, which, after all, specializes in branding.
The space was last occupied by the Marsha Child Contemporary art gallery. "Marsha Child is a good friend," says Wildenboer. She knew that Child had recently married, and, wanting to spend less time on her business, was ready to give up her offices. Child talked to her about taking over the lease, and Wildenboer saw the advantages right away. The space is light and open, and is located very close to Princeton, but not in the crowded downtown area. "I never wanted an office where parking was a nightmare," says Wildenboer.
Wildenboer, who grew up in Englewood Cliffs, holds a bachelor’s degree in home economics education from Simmons University (Class of 1973), where she also earned a master’s degree in management. She chose her undergraduate major, she says, "because my mom thought I would work for magazines." Meanwhile, she thought she would like to become a lawyer. But after studying business in graduate school, she decided she preferred business to law.
Her first job demonstrates the maxim that no education is ever wasted. She worked for a company that designed and built private brand microwaves. One of her tasks was writing a cookbook for the then-brand-new style of cooking. "It was one of the first microwave cookbooks," she says, and she keeps a copy in her home office.
From there she went on to Polaroid, where she repositioned and rebranded product lines, and then to Digital Equipment, where she designed unified ad strategies for disparate brands. She has also worked on the Western Union account for Trout Ries. Her last employer was Princeton-based John Carlino, an advertising and graphic design firm.
She went out on her own in 1985, setting up offices in her home in Society Hill in Lawrenceville. She has since moved her home — and office — to Washington Oaks. She is married to Corky Wildenboer, South Africa native and owner of Datacon, a company that designs and builds high tech data sites. The couple also have a home in Beach Haven, which is deep into a major renovation at the moment. "My husband is building me an art studio," says Wildenboer. A talented artist, whose spare landscape paintings, many of South Africa scenes, are displayed in her home office, she is grateful, but wonders where she will find the time to use it.
Wildenboer’s husband, in what could be a somewhat self-serving act of generosity, persuaded her to take the 50-inch flat screen television from their shore home for use in her new offices, where it plays a slide show of her marketing campaigns.
"I think he wants to get a 60-inch flat screen for the shore house," Wildenboer suspects.
Singing the praises of a home-office set-up, despite her new off-site digs, Wildenboer points out that clients tend to feel comfortable in a home environment. Her home office, which, at 1,200 square feet, is slightly larger than her Alexander Street office, is located in her basement and reached through her home’s main entrance.
Her company has seven employees, five of them full-timers, and she says that neither their presence, nor the comings and goings of clients, ever disturbed her neighbors or brought up zoning issues. She visited clients at their offices about half of the time — their choice. She says that most of her business is done with other entrepreneurs, and that they like the home office set-up because it indicates that she is easily able to work at any time of day. Clients often made the short trip down her basement steps after normal work hours. Busy with their core tasks — perhaps catering, or retail, or even medical practice — it was often easier to deal with advertising and branding issues after the work day ended.
"I often E-mail clients at 4 a.m.," says Wildenboer, "and they E-mail right back."
Overhead is an issue too. On her promotional materials, Wildenboer uses the tagline "innovative, responsive, affordable." Despite the fact that her home office was fully equipped and staffed, clients knew that she was not spending lavishly for her space.
Adding off-site offices raised her overhead, but not all that much, she says, calling the rent an insignificant business expense in her operating budget. The total cost of the build-out was $30,000. That sum includes all new floors, furniture from Ikea, a custom-made rug, a small kitchen area, an awning and a banner for further branding punch, computers and computer networking — and lots of red and black paint.
Almost completely settled into her new offices, Wildenboer is ready to turn her attention to refitting her home office, which will not stand vacant for long. She is on the verge of launching Red Wolf Knows, a new marketing business, and work on its projects will be done from the home office.
Red Wolf Knows is an aggregated, branded marketing strategy. Wildenboer’s plan is to create and place marketing materials for four related companies in one ad. The ads will say "Red Wolf knows the secret for looking good" or "Red Wolf knows the secret for decorating your home," Wildenboer gives as examples.
She shows a mock-up of an ad, on which four companies’ pitches appear one under the other. The Red Wolf logo tops the ad. She plans to pull together the groups of advertisers by going to her clients and asking them what related businesses they prefer. So, for example, a caterer might recommend a fish market, a kitchen supply store, and an event planner. Wildenboer would then approach the caterer’s picks in an attempt to persuade them of the advantages of appearing in the same ad as the others. She believes that each company will benefit by being associated with the others. "It’s the halo effect," she says.
While this is Wildenboer’s main new project, she is involved in a wide range of other businesses. It is somewhat surprising (understatement) when the well put together, perfectly coiffed entrepreneur, wearing high-fashion, high heeled black boots pulls out a brochure for one company in which she has an ownership interest.
The cover reads "X-11" and "Modern Army Combatives Program." Flip the tri-fold open, and there are large photos of men in fatigue gear choking one another, and engaged in activities that appear to be aimed at breaking fingers and rearranging faces. Wildenboer explains, quite casually, that she met Kelly Alwood, founder of the combative arts program, while she was attending a one-week survival program "tracking animals in the woods."
And just why was the fashionably clad entrepreneur tracking those animals? "Well," she explains, "I wanted to take the philosophy courses that Tom Brown Jr. offers, and you have to take the week-long sleep in the woods first." She says that she enjoyed the experience, and was happy to join together with Alwood, taking an ownership interest in his company. "I helped him get government contracts," she says.
She is also involved in a venture that is working at bringing desalinization technology to African countries and in Corridor, a medical answering service based in Kendall Park. She is in a position to bring value to all kinds of companies she says, because "everyone needs marketing."
Meanwhile, Wildenboer’s own marketing materials could not be more visible. The woman who has branded dozens of companies, including Bon Appetit, Princeton Hydro, Ash’s Flower Farm, and NAI Fennelly, has come up with what could be the ultimate branding vehicle — an off-site office that functions not only as a workspace, but also as a see-through billboard.
Red Wolf Design Group, 220 Alexander Road, Princeton 08540.
Lynne Wildenboer, owner. 609-683-9317; fax, 609-683-1804. Home