Part of FTSE 250 company Workspace, Club Workspace this week announced plans to expand its network of business centres aimed at entrepreneurs, freelancers and large businesses looking for small footprints in the capital. Flexible Boss editor Heather Greig-Smith talks to Club Workspace managing director James Friedenthal.
Workspace has always been relatively flexible, specialising in letting space to small businesses, generally with a three-month rolling break clause. Since the recession people want even more flexibility, especially when setting up their own business. We decided to put together some flexible packages where people don’t have to commit to a lease, accessing business space as you would gym membership.
Who are your members?
We thought it would be very small businesses, with one or two people in them. They are in the majority but actually there is demand from large corporates as well, for example retaining a London presence if they relocate, or setting up mobile sales teams. LG Electronics uses our spaces for its research team. Then there are those who want to work with the best graduates setting up their own businesses or want to assist in start-up funding. It has become a buzzing eco-system.
What does it cost?
The £200 a month package is for three days in a specific centre, though we have £100 a month promotions at the moment. It rises to £300 for access to all centres any time.
How big are the centres?
Some have up to 80 desks, some are around 50. We will go up to over 100 but not too big.
What is the atmosphere like?
We encourage people to be fairly loud and collaborate with those around them, but if people want to have a quiet space to concentrate we have private team rooms and other meeting rooms available and we try and design private desks where people can go and sit as well. Generally everyone is web-based and working on some kind of e-commerce platform. The way you know that they don’t want to be disturbed is that they have their headphones in.
The key thing is a business-grade data connection with unlimited downloading and uploading capacity. It will be interesting to see what happens with 4G technology. There are more and more compelling reasons to be mobile and flexible. The challenge to business space providers is how you keep your product relevant when any outdoor environment could be a place to work from with the right device and the right connection. Our network is very important here as roughly a third of our new business is for general membership. That, with the events we run in the evenings, is a key differentiator for us.
Will you expand beyond London?
The current expansion is just within our business centres but it doesn’t have to be London-focused, we are looking at other locations. Within London we have made a deliberate decision not to go into the West End and Silicon Roundabout, despite the fact we have properties there – it is oversaturated. We’re looking at fringe locations. Wherever young, creative businesses want to be, there will always be demand.
How long do people stay?
We have customers who have been with us since we opened two years ago and others who started with one or two people and then expanded to eight or nine, moved into their own offices and then to larger offices from there. We want our customers to grow and leave us. We want a dynamic environment with churn and success stories because it keeps people motivated.
What do you predict for the future in co-working?
Ultimately this marketplace is going to be getting a lot of interest from individuals, private equity houses and big corporations. It is a market that will evolve very quickly and in directions people aren’t expecting.