By Kevin Casey McAvey
“I don’t spend a lot of time looking in my rearview mirror,” Peter Maciulewicz, better known as “Peter Mack,” owner of Mack Studios, told me from behind a slim, rectangular wooden table in his office. “I don’t have control over what other people are doing – the environment, what’s going on out there. What I can control is what I do, what Mack Studios does. I believe in doing the best job I can and, while you might not always win a project, if you put a good product out there, everything else will be taken care of.”
Mack Studios was started in 1964 by Peter’s parents, Casimir (Chuck) and Ethel, who built off of each other’s artistic and business acumen. In 1991, Peter purchased the growing firm from them, and continued to expand it by more than 25% per year for much of the decade that followed, resulting in a firm that now employs over forty people. Housed in a custom-designed, 70,000 square foot space in Auburn’s Tech Park, Mack Studios continues to successfully re-imagine how their customers present themselves, and their products, to the world.
“We design and build everything from product packaging to complete retail environments. We look at what has been done and what the product is, and then we think of new ways to market it within the space, given the materials available,” Peter said to me as we strolled through a full-scale mock-up retail redesign. The hardwood floors were lit up by the bright white fluorescent lighting. The sweet smell of fragrant products filled the space. If I closed my eyes and opened them again, wandering through the meticulously designed rows, it would have been all too easy to feel as though I had found myself not only in a functioning shop, but in a store I wanted to shop in. The products, arranged precisely on the shelves, seemed to glow, and the unique layout of the shelving provided space for larger items, while careful not to overshadow the smaller. It was easy to see how representatives of some of the nation’s top firms found themselves driving to Auburn from Hancock Airport.
Mack Studios’ office space is large. Beyond the front suite, it expands into several progressively larger rooms, each holding its own specialized staff – account managers, designers, engineers, until finally spilling out into a warehouse filled with workers who took the ideas and manufactured them into real products. In the back of the building, however, is Mack Studios’ showroom where, in the past, Peter told me, they have turned the entire space into such sites as a fully functional hardware store, with shelves stocked - all the way down to buckets of nails - to demonstrate the true effectiveness of a redesign to a client. Currently, half the room held another completed redesign, but further in, standing lonely on the white floor, was the frame for Peter Mack’s next significant “re-imagining.”
“We were weathering the recession pretty well until last year, I’d say around February,” he told me, walking into and out of what looked like an unfinished, free-standing room; its perfectly white walls, standing askew, each held dissimilarly sized rectangular holes. The structure had no ceiling, but rather, thin strips of plastic, no doubt awaiting an installation of lights that would perfectly highlight Mack Studios’ latest creation.
“I had to let some people go. It wasn’t easy. It never is. Fortunately, I was able to hire most of them back when things picked up, but in the meantime, I really needed to think about what I wanted to do, what I wanted Mack Studios to do, in order to keep growing. In order to stay relevant.”
Walking out of the unfinished structure, he continued. “It just so happens that around that time, I was searching for blinds for my home. You know, just going online and looking around – doing research.” He paused. “I was looking at what was out there, scrolling through dozens of these websites, looking at pictures of hundreds of these shutters, when, in my dissatisfaction, it just occurred to me – this crap is all the same. Different prices, sometimes different materials, but essentially, it’s the exact same thing. And it wasn’t what I wanted. So ... I made my own.”
“So many people,” he said to me, walking through the light that streamed in through the showroom’s towering windows, “talk about how they have an idea, talk about how they have something they want to do. But let me tell you, having the idea, that’s the easy part. Doing it, now, that’s the challenge.”
Leading me to a back corridor, Peter picked up the piece missing from the structure’s large, empty spaces – a window frame with matching wooden shutters. This one, his original prototype, was designed with whatever materials he could find - whatever he could get his hands on - and from a vision he created in his mind. Slowly, he pulled down a cord. Hesitant at first, the wooden shutters closed and revealed why this design stood apart from the rest. As the shutters sat, folded down, a carefully engraved design in the wood – a classic, quiet picture of leaning reeds – changed the plain, blank space into something special and unique.
“This was the first,” he told me. “The wood was too heavy, and the shutters didn’t fit right. But it was a start.” Since then, from paintings to carvings, Peter Mack and Mack Studios have redesigned the high-end shutter and have begun to change what it means when people close out day or night from their homes.
“To me,” he said, leading me back through the complex to his office, “with all the costs of development, this could very well turn out to be a $300,000 shutter. But that is the risk you have to be willing to take if you want to be successful. You have to accept that not everything is going to work. You just do your best and work your hardest and then let your idea stand on its own.”
Leaving his office – a spacious room, filled with light, adorned with artwork created by his own hands, and a desk holding immaculately stacked papers – it was clear that Peter Mack was not your common business professional. He is an innovator, a creator. He is a person willing to take risks, to be creative, to think differently not only about how his business could be run, but also how he could fill the gaps of need in the world around him.
As I drove back to the Institute that morning, listening to a CD of Peter Mack’s jazz band, I smiled at the thought of the infectiousness of creativity; of how quickly and wonderfully it can spread, if you let it, from your life to your career; and how perfect a day it was to be inspired, in Central New York, by another entrepreneur hard at work.
If you are entrepreneur or small business owner in Central New York and would like to be featured in one of our future columns, please contact me at the email below.
Kevin Casey McAvey is Operations Manager at the Stardust Entrepreneurial Institute in Auburn, New York. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.