In 1998, Architect Eddie Gontram opened his own firm in Raleigh, NC. The one-man shop was ideal for Gontram who greatly enjoyed full involvement and single-source responsibility of a project. However, he quickly realized that the sole practitioner business model, while devoid of office politics and other negative qualities of large office atmospheres, was missing one crucial quality: participants for an NCAA basketball pool.
This time of year, offices around the country are gearing up for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, organizing their interoffice pools, and stockpiling their trash talk. Gontram Architecture, as in the previous 16 years, is hosting its annual pool. Unique to other office pools, however, Gontram Architecture’s pool is open to anyone, doesn’t cost a dime, and has great prizes such as tablet computers, MP3 players, and other rewards. It even has a horse’s butt bobble-head trophy for the person who finishes in Last Place – a valued prize that several contestants actually try to win each year.
“I really enjoyed the office pool when I worked for other firms. It was a nice diversion for everyone in the office, even for those who didn’t even follow basketball,” Gontram says. “When I opened my own firm, I had to have a pool. Being on my own, I had to come up with a creative and inviting way to be able to participate.”
Gontram’s pool has grown from 12 people the first year to over a thousand last year. Prizes have also grown from a modest gift card in 1998 to Apple iPads and Samsung Galaxy tablets. Prizes are donated from business partners. Entry is free, so “we don’t have any issues with the law.”
Some offices discourage pools because it can take away from productivity. “We encourage participation because we feel it can be a good distraction. It creates some excitement as well as fueling inter-office competition. A “distraction” doesn’t always have to mean a loss in productivity.” He credits the pool for helping recharge his own batteries. “Sometimes, you just have to goof off.”
Gontram’s pool brings in participants from all over the globe. Since Gontram Architecture is licensed to practice in the southeast United States, many of the pool participants are outside of its service area. So why do it? “It’s too much fun. It’s easy. And, it’s March Madness, baby!”