It’s All About Relationships (And Maybe A Little Kismet)

It was the call I had been waiting for and it came at the worst time.

Returning to Newark Airport from an international trip in 2008, I took my phone off airplane mode and saw a message with an area code from Las Vegas. I took my chances in the Customs line and listened to it despite the officers sternly reprimanding those on their cell phones. It was Mark Rimler, SVP of Operations for the Marshall Retail Group (MRG), asking me to return his call regarding the design of two stores at the Mohegan Sun Pocono Downs casino, which was under construction in Wilkes-Barre, PA. I waited until I got to my car to return the call. Being responsible, I intended to take the call while parked. There was no answer so I left a voicemail that I had just returned from abroad and would be on the road for the next two hours, but available after that. I knew this was a huge opportunity and I relaxed knowing I had two hours to think of what to say. Two minutes later, Mark called me back just as I exited the parking lot. I answered it immediately. So much for being responsible.

If you have ever exited Newark Airport, then you know that you have to be on alert to not miss the turn onto I-78 West. The margin of error is razor thin. Being distracted, I not only missed it, but inadvertently pulled onto a toll road in an effort to turn around. This wouldn’t have been a huge deal, except for the fact that I had no money on me. None. These were the early days of E-ZPass and I was a late adopter.

As this was happening, I was talking to Mark, answering questions, and being as professional as possible. The call was going well, but just as he was asking if he and the CEO could visit my office the following week, I saw a toll boot.approaching. I began to sweat pins and needles. It had been a short drive so it couldn’t cost much, I thought. I kept my voice as calm as possible as I pulled up to the toll collector and interrupted Mark with a polite, “I’m sorry, can you wait just a minute.” I looked for the ticket to hand to her to see what I owed and realized I had no idea where I put it. I frantically checked my sun visor, the console, the door pocket, under my legs, the passenger seat, the floor…nothing. I put my hand firmly over the cell phone receiver and in a loud whisper I said to the woman, “I lost my ticket.” She bellowed a response at a decibel level I was sure could be heard three towns away, “If you lost your ticket then you have to pay full price. That’ll be $1.50.” I got out my wallet and emptied all the change into my lap, quickly sorting out the American coins from the British. Then I hit the coffee holders–the refuge for loose change. It took what seemed like an eternity to scrape up $1.50 and I literally just made it using mostly pennies (and maybe a few pence). As the gate lifted, I put the phone back up to my ear and said as calmly and confidently as I could muster, “Thank you for waiting. Yes, next week will work fine.”

The following week, Mark and the CEO of MRG, Michael Wilkins, arrived at my office in the business incubator in Scranton. I had no idea what their impressions would be of my office, which was basically a classroom-sized space with desks and a large table. The “tour” took as long as a glance. I quickly took them to the formal Conference Room that was shared by all the incubator tenants. I had expected that they were arriving with a pre-designed “kit of parts” for each store to be adapted to the new spaces. I was immediately delighted to learn that they wanted new designs and fresh ideas. As we sat there, I began sketching and delivering just that in spades. Ideas and conversation started flowing. As we got comfortable, Michael told me that he was from Northeast Pennsylvania. Then I got the question that proves you are from the area and immediately sorts me from the rest of my extensive Irish Catholic kin, “What Dempsey are you?”

I explained that I was of the Dempsey Uniform and Linen Supply branch of the family. His face lit up and he said, “Is your father Dick Dempsey?” I said, “No, that’s my Uncle who started the company with my father. My Dad is Pat. How do you know my Uncle?” He said he knew my Dad and Uncle because his family owned a resort in the Poconos and his Dad and my Dad signed their first contract together 50 years ago and have been working together ever since. That relationship clearly foreshadowed one between us that has lasted from that day to today, over a decade later.

Since that time, DxDempsey Architecture has designed over a dozen new concept stores for MRG. From men’s and women’s wear, to souvenirs, to candy–whatever the need may be, we work together to develop branded retail experiences that generate buzz and revenue. Most of these stores are located at casino resorts along the strip in Las Vegas–from Mandalay Bay to the Mirage and many in between–but can also be found nationally and internationally at casinos and airports around the United States and in Canada.

MRG has had explosive growth since 2008 due to great leadership, vision, and a committed team. We are proud to be their partner and to have contributed to their success. The Strategic Branded Experiences we create for MRG in each retail space include all 5 petals of our proprietary “5 leaf clover”: 1) beauty, 2) sustainability, 3) research-based design, 4) branded environments and, of course, our deep and passionate focus on 5) relationships.

Here’s to the next decade!

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