Mr. Sztykiel used to hold monthly strategy meetings with his executive team at hotels near his office in Charlotte, Mich., for about $1,000 a meeting. Last summer, he asked nearby manufacturers if he could meet at their offices instead.
One company he approached was Peckham, a 67-employee manufacturer of cold-weather gear and other products for the defense industry. Mr. Sztykiel says he thought Spartan could learn from Peckham, which is based in Lansing, Mich., and known as an environmentally friendly, energy-efficient manufacturer.
“We had to change some of the ways we were operating,” Mr. Sztykiel says. Spartan’s sales and profit took a hit last year. “We thought if we met at locations where they run a manufacturing business, we could see things that were done differently,” Mr. Sztykiel adds.
Both companies serve the defense industry, and Peckham CEO Mitch Tomlinson says he thought the meetings might help his own business. “There may grow out of it future opportunities to partner together,” Mr. Tomlinson says. He let Spartan meet free of charge.
He approached Wray Ward, a marketing firm nearby that has done work for Duke. The firm’s recently renovated office features bright colors, glass walls and table-tennis and foosball tables. One conference room, called the garage, has a glass-panel roll-up door, an etched glass wall and a whiteboard that converts written words into electronic files. Wray Ward let Mr. Pacer’s team meet there free of charge, saving him the $1,500 a day he pays to hold off-site meetings at hotels.
Varun Bedi, Tenex’s chief investment officer, says his employees—many veterans of trading desks where they worked in jeans and T-shirts—benefited from seeing the law firm’s “buttoned-up atmosphere.” He liked the experience so much he held another meeting at a real-estate advisory firm, where employees learned from the firm’s “entrepreneurial energy.”
He prefers it to booking hotel rooms. “If we can help it, we’d like to save money,” he says.