Royal Caribbean goes to Extreme with home agency makeover contest

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DARNESTOWN, Md. -- Kitty Martin, owner of home-based agency Travel Bound in suburban Washington, entered and won a Royal Caribbean International-sponsored contest called Extreme Home Office Makeover.

Now, anybody whos seen Extreme Makeover: Home Edition knows what to expect to see when visiting the makeover site: Cheering crowds, a bulldozer or two and the leader of the makeover team, Ty Pennington, running around with a bullhorn.

But as I pulled into Martins drive, I found the house eerily quiet: No hyper TV personalities dashing about, no couches being tossed out of windows. I was beginning to think I had the wrong address, when Joanne Letsche, one of Martins part-time agents, appeared and ushered me to the den and adjacent office.

Thats where things became very extreme.

The den area was covered with brochures, files and file cabinets. People poured out of the office like clowns from a car, each bearing another cabinet or part of a desk. Everyone was jabbering and gesturing: Where should I put this? Whats that? Where does this go?

In the midst of the chaos was Martin at her desk. She was on the phone, discussing Germany with a client.

The difference between Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and the Royal Caribbean version is the team.

Royal Caribbeans designers are Domingo Vega and Michelle Suarez, who usually belong to Royal Caribbean Cruises newbuild department.

These two, who usually spend their days thinking about 3,000-passenger cruise vessels, were now redesigning a room barely big enough for two desks, let alone two people, a wall of brochures, a large printer and an immutable, fireproof filing cabinet.

The goal this week is to [remove] all the clutter, make it more organized, Vega said between hauls. To sell more, of course.

Its hands on, Vega added, just like the TV show.

Rather than call in ABC-TV to help with the details, Royal Caribbean enlisted more of its own employees, including Richard Delgado, manager of sales automation. Pamela Patterson, manager of sales strategy, was moonlighting as a carpenter, vacuum cleaner and pep rally leader. She also had helped to choose the contest winners from about 1,000 entries.

The office is Martins, but it was Letsche who entered the contest in December by writing a poem set to A Visit from Saint Nick ( Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the mess ...).

And were so excited, Letsche said now, surveying the carnage.

Back in the room, Martin was on the phone again, talking about Greece, as Patterson hammered at a desk drawer.

Each winner -- one from each Royal Caribbean territory -- received $1,000 in mad-money from the team, plus the teams help, to redecorate.

And each agents needs were different.

In Martins case, it was the clutter. The tiny office had been in paper-jam mode since March 2004, when she brought her brick-and-mortar business home.

But what Cruise Planners agent Tim Kangas needs is a roof over his head. His home office, in his basement in Sharpsburg, Ga., has an unfinished ceiling and floor.

[A home-office makeover] could improve my sales because my office would be more professional; Id feel better about bringing clients to my office, he said by phone.

Kangas makeover is slated for August. And he has a little extra mad-money: Cruise Planners presented him with a bonus $500 for improvements.

I returned to Martins house on Day 2. Not much difference -- still a zoo. Reinforcements came in the form of Keith Lane, the director of sales for the mid-Atlantic region, and Ken Muscat, the regional vice president of sales for Royal Caribbean International.

That day, everyone donned their black Royal Caribbean International Extreme Home Office Makeover Winner T-shirts and got down to business.

Lane and Muscat puzzled over what to do with the stacks of brochures, while the rest of the team studied Martins fireproof file cabinet, where her ARC ticket stock is kept.

The cabinet is enormous, but the team, not knowing what was inside, hadnt included it in their extreme new floor plan. We thought we could get rid of it, Vega said.

After some pushing and pulling, they decided to remove it to the den.

Muscat and Lane had been taking out bags of trash. The sales director and the veep were now interim sanitation workers, helping out the garbage men. I put the garbage in the truck, Muscat said. It was heavy with the brochures.

More furniture pieces from Home Depot come out of the flat-pack boxes. Letsche looked at the new desk and cabinet. Im going to start working more, she said enthusiastically. Martin, as though on cue, raced out of the office: Print that in the article, she said.

The team worked through Day 2 and into Day 3. There was a lot to do: Assemble the second desk and hutch, put together the brochure cabinet, organize the brochures and put everything in its place.

By the end of Day 3, the house was quiet again. The Extreme Team had left Maryland and was on its way back to Miami. Even Letsche had gone home to Virginia. Only Martin and her family were left.

The office looked wonderful. The carpeting and walls are still the same -- and nothing got tossed out of the window. But for $1,000, Martin has a new set of office furniture as well as a freshly organized wall of brochures.

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity brochures are displayed prominently at eye level.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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