Off the Clock: Wrap It Up
As the Strategic Program Director for PartsSource of Aurora, Ohio, Dan Brenner travels to health care corporations across the United States for software installations. He’s been to some very high-profile environments and seen well-oiled, efficiently run operations.
But at every workplace to which he’s traveled, no matter how pleasant-looking the campus, Brenner said he’s also seen a lot of workers who are simply “going through the motions” on a personal level – focused on their tasks almost to the exclusion of exhibiting any personality. At best, he finds it sad; at worst, Brenner believes it’s a legitimate drain on the positive and collaborative culture necessary to sustain a healthy and productive environment.
“People leave their jobs and they go home to their kids, and they turn into a different person,” he said. “They’re so much happier. Why’d you change? Come to the office and act the same way; people will really like you then.”
“It’s like you put on two suits when you come to the office: this outside suit and the inside suit,” Brenner said. “I want them to drop the inside suit.”
At the same time, Brenner’s childhood friend, chef Anthony Carano, was searching for a partner to launch a food truck business. The pair saw a natural fit for the two ideas: bringing de-stressing, personally engaging activities and food-truck fare to workplaces that are focused on routine, and shaking things up a bit. They called the business Wrap It Up.
So far, Brenner said, the idea has been bringing a much-needed break from the doldrums of office life to people who are in need of reconditioning.
“We’ve got project managers, lawyers, CPAs; people from all walks of corporate life who are equally as fed up with the boringness as I was,” Brenner said. “We’re trying to take you out of your normal day.”
Despite the simplicity of the idea – to put the stress of work aside for just a moment and have some fun – Brenner described how difficult it was for people at the companies Wrap It Up visited to get the hang of it. Even on his home turf of PartsSource, which was the incubator for much of the process, it took some convincing to coax employees into dipping into a parking lot filled with mini-golf, Nerf guns, footballs, Frisbees, tailgating games, and life-sized Jenga blocks.
“It has been the biggest challenge for us to show people what we’re trying to do,” Brenner said. “Stuffing all that cool and fun activity stuff in front of the building, nobody would do it. We even offered discounts [to PartsSource customers] for people to do something fun. ‘I’ll sell you this product for 5 percent less if you’ll just high-five me.’ They wouldn’t do it. It was unbelievable.”
But with the right soundtrack – old-school hip-hop, Bruno Mars, and ’80s rock – a staff of party-motivator types, and repeated visits, Brenner said, resistance to the concept eventually waned, and fun won out. At fluid systems manufacturer Swagelok, for example, Wrap It Up became an employee reward for hitting monthly goals. When the truck showed up, executives lost their suit coats, and the Nerf ammunition flew across the parking lot.
“You can literally see the stress melting away from these people’s faces,” Brenner said.
Unlike a typical corporate retreat, which can be expensive and isolating, Wrap It Up is an activity that only lasts the length of a lunch or breakfast, and is best used simply to break up the monotony of the workday experience, Brenner said.
“You have everyone here, and there’s a putter right here with golf balls, and you can take a couple of putts real quick and clear your head,” he said.
The food side of the Wrap It Up business is the work of Carano, the COO and executive chef, whom Brenner describes as “a fountain of creativity that I just cannot stop from flowing.” The menu runs the gamut, from healthy – spinach, tomato, and egg-white wraps – to indulgent, such as the French toast and bacon wrap topped with maple syrup. At lunch, the spinach, tomato, and cucumber with black bean patty wrap is complemented by the Buffalo chicken mac wrap, which mixes in Fritos and creamy cheddar macaroni. It’s a winning combination of fun and taste that Brenner said is popular enough to franchise, and which he expects to be taking beyond the borders of its home state of Ohio within a year or so.
“Food trucks only fail because they start a restaurant,” Brenner said. “Our entire business plan is continuing to work with food trucks and hopefully franchise. If we just did this in hospitals, then we would have a successful, franchisable model.”
As people catch on to the idea of what Wrap It Up represents, Brenner said, the business “can’t grow fast enough.” He believes it could be on the verge of a corporate culture shift that, if he’s right, will not only be profitable, but meaningful, too, especially as fun is beginning to be recognized as an equally important component of the workplace as professionalism.
“Companies like Google and SAS are two great examples [of the value of workplace culture],” Brenner said. “When they were building their companies, their plan was to create a better work environment and pull in the most talented employees because of that.”
That same approach is also what helps Wrap It Up recruit and retain the engaging talent in its front-of-house business that Brenner said makes the whole thing work.
“Our employees that have gravitated towards this keep coming up with more clever things to provide our customers,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of people come to us who you wouldn’t expect to take a job as an attendant at a food truck. I had people [who worked] with nurses and lawyers say that they were interested in taking the job because it’s not just about food.”
Although the concept and effort are shared, Brenner credits the Wrap It Up team with the success of the truck to this point.
“I’m just here to make sure that they continue down the path of helping people at their jobs.”