The culmination of a $35 billion wireless merger came at dusk Wednesday for the Woodbridge Sprint store staff, which prepared to give the shop an overnight makeover.
"We're going to remake this place," store manager Ernesto Montijo told one of his last customers. "Tomorrow, this place is going to look totally different."
With last-minute customers looking on, district manager Patrick Gulley began tearing off the old red Sprint panels to make room for new ones with Sprint Nextel Inc.'s yellow-and-black logo. In the backroom, Sprint repair technician Robert Temple started brewing coffee, because it was not yet 9 p.m. and Temple, Gulley, Montijo and five other staff members faced four hours of stocking new Nextel inventory, pasting new price tags and posters, and peeling the old red "welcome" sign off with a razor to make way for a new one.
It wasn't just a store being reborn.
On Wednesday and Thursday, all 1,600 Sprint and Nextel stores were scheduled for a redesign like the one at Woodbridge -- a major test of logistical prowess for the merged companies, and the most visible step in the high-stakes consolidation of the telecom industry. The company said a total of 100 million items -- including 10,000 banners, 34,000 uniforms and 16,000 name tags -- were shipped to stores around the country. On Wednesday, just over two weeks after the merger closed, 104 of the 105 Sprint stores in the Mid-Atlantic region finished the makeover with only a few glitches: A store in Fairfax failed to receive new inventory and posters because of shipment delays caused by Hurricane Katrina.
A store in Chantilly received a shipment at 6 o'clock on the night of its makeover, making it difficult for Gulley to decide whether to tell employees to prepare for an all-nighter, or give up and go home.
Consistency and coordination were critical for presenting the united front: Today, the combined company is launching a multimillion-dollar advertising blitz that will use 150 newspapers, 250 television stations and 36 national magazines.
Staff members at Sprint's operational headquarters in Overland Park, Kan., spent several months before the deal closed planning every detail of the changeover, down to where to put the faceplate accessories and how many stenciled logos need to be changed on the store's frosted-glass panels.
Each store received a "planogram," an architectural blueprint of the store, with numbers mapped on the diagram to match each bin, accessory, brochure and sign with its proper location.
At 9:15 p.m., with some customers waiting to finish their transactions, Matrona Busch, a manager who oversees roughly 50 stores, took some cleaning solution to one of the new posters.
Temple and Renato Roscigno, a sales rep, stationed themselves next to the new Nextel phone display, tethering the phones to the wall with metal cords. Many of the 60,000 Sprint and Nextel employees have been trained in the jargon, systems and features associated with their former competitors' phones.
"Have you seen this one?" Temple asked Roscigno, pointing to a Nextel flip phone. "It has the sharpest, clearest display I've seen."
For Roscigno, Sprint is practically a family business. His brother, Rico, is a store manager in Tysons Corner who was also working the graveyard shift on his own store's makeover.
Roscigno is the most senior employee at the Woodbridge store -- "I've worked here since it opened, on day one" -- and he's seen the company through various logo changes that, for him, always meant uniform changes. "After five years, do you know how many uniforms I have? A closet full. I've got red, white, gray, maroon, denim -- everything."
When he arrived to help open the store, 10 hours later, he was wearing a new one -- a black button-down long-sleeve number with the new yellow logo.