Whether we’re looking at new workplace schemes, walking around industry shows or talking with key figures from the world of corporate interiors, our conversation will, undoubtedly, turn to the subject of trends.
What are the latest trends to permeate their way into the industry? Well, we can talk about agility, collaboration, advancements in technology etc all day long. Trends they might be, but fashion they’re not. We can’t see any of the above disappearing or falling out of favour any time soon. Another of these ‘trends’ is the not-so-sudden ascendency of the modern serviced office.
We say not-so-sudden because this is not some new fad that has hit the news pages in the past 12 months. Hugely successful businesses such as Office Space in Town are no new kids on the block – as the Group’s Founder and Chairman, Giles Fuchs, can confirm. ‘Back in 1979 my father, who was a jet-setting businessman, and my mother – who was a stay-at-home mother – owned a very small office building in Northampton town centre,’ Giles reveals. ‘It was empty, un-let – it was very difficult to let property in 1979. My father came back from New York one day and said to my mother, ‘There are these things called Business Centres in New York – you should do it!’ So she did – and the first business centre in the UK was born. She then went on to do another in Northampton. In other words, my mother is the founder of the serviced office industry in the UK – and they are still serviced offices today.
‘In terms of business modeling, I think that suggests that the concept of the serviced office is capable of working in both recession and boom time. Those original centres have been making a profit and providing income for 38 years now.
‘My sister Niki took over the business from my parents in the mid-1990’s and grew the portfolio – becoming the largest management company in serviced offices in the UK. She then went on and sold that business in 2005-2006.’
Giles, a self-confessed serial entrepreneur, was just 22 years old when he set up his own first business, which was an estate agency based in Northampton.
“My father came back from New York one day and said to my mother, ‘There are these things called Business Centres in New York – you should do it!”
‘I had a small chain of estate agents in Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire,’ Giles tells us. ‘Then my sister told me to stop being so lazy and to make my inheritance work for me! So in 2009 we came together and decided we would do the same thing she had been doing previously – management contracts. In other words, managing buildings for owners. It was no cost to us and we would bring our expertise and know-how to the table.
‘The first thing we did was exactly that. We went to one of our wealthy friends and said ‘You need to finance this business on the top three floors of Euston Tower’. We decided we’d done the rest of the UK and not London – so now we should do things the other way around.
‘So we found a friend who would finance that and I immediately went out and found another building in Liverpool Street that needed buying. Again we went out to friends, only to find that many of them weren’t as wealthy as they purported to be! So I then fell across a fund who said they’d do it – but they wanted us to put some money into it, some skin in the game, as they like to call it. We went behind the sofa and found a few pennies – not very much at all to be honest – and they then told us that they didn’t want to do just one. They had billions of pounds they needed to spend and they wanted to do three! So that’s where it all started this time around. We bought three in very quick succession.’
Giles tells us that, through a series of new funds, platforms and exits and financial matters that go some way over our journalistic heads, the business today provides attractive well-appointed office space to suit organisations of all sizes in the heart of London’s business districts, including Monument, Liverpool Street, Mayfair, St Paul’s, Farringdon, Waterloo and Euston, as well as offering exceptional office space to rent in Cardiff, Northampton and Edinburgh.
‘We’re delighted to say that we now have investors who are extremely keen to get involved – which is obviously a lovely place to be,’ Giles grins. ‘In terms of the day-to-day roles within the business, Niki is MD, so she runs things and manages all the managers. I do money, find buildings and turn buildings around, essentially.’
We really like Giles. We always like someone who can talk well – and he certainly does that – but he does so with a smile on his face and with great enthusiasm. While much of the conversation until now has been about business and finance, Giles is equally passionate about the design and the culture that permeates throughout Office Space in Town. He talks about models such as John Lewis and Cadbury’s. As well as being an entrepreneur, there’s clearly a little bit of philanthropist here.
Whilst some might suggest that this is all right place, right time, knowing the right people stuff or about catching the zeitgeist, there is far more to the Office Space in Town offering than square, white rooms and a post box.
We’ve been fortunate enough to visit the amazing Alice in Wonderland inspired Waterloo facility and, today, have been given the grand tour of the latest nautical themed Monument offices (to be featured in a near future issue of Mix). These are spaces that go way beyond the cheap and (not so) cheerful offerings that were in danger of giving the serviced office a poor name.
“A top lawyer in, say, Leeds can come to us and have that shop window in London for £7,000 a year!”
‘When we started Office Space in Town we wanted to build a company that reflected who we were as people and the ethics and morals that we live by,’ Giles says. ‘We aspired to build a business which was all about our clients and staff.
‘We want the beautiful environments we build to be places where people are inspired to work hard and be focused, to endeavour to be great at whatever they are doing, be happy and energised and to always consider others and make them feel special and individual.
‘We knew that we would never reach the end of our journey because we would always be asking our clients and staff ‘What else can we do?’ So each new project we do is better than the last and that every day we are looking for ways to make our clients say ‘Wow’.
‘Our clients take four- through to 60-person offices – that’s our sweet spot. What you don’t want in London is 50,000 sq ft – because it’s too expensive. What you want here is a shop window. What we’re starting to see now is provincial businesses looking at us. A top lawyer in, say, Leeds can come to us and have that shop window in London for £7,000 a year!
‘We are very much design-led. Our St. Paul’s centre had a great deal of influence from Jeffery-West. We met with Guy West – he’s a real rock star! The scheme has leather everywhere – which is a nod back to Northampton and the shoe industry.
‘For this space in Monument we have had a lot of influence from Sunseeker – there’s boats and ships and nautical stuff everywhere! That comes from the proximity to the river and also to Lloyd’s Register of Shipping – and because I love boats!
‘The Waterloo scheme came about because that area was where top hats were made. The hats were made using mercury and that mercury sent the hatters mad – hence Mad Hatter and the Alice in Wonderland theme.
‘We try to design for the locality. We don’t brand – it’s their building. This isn’t a transitory thing – this is a terminus. People come here and they stay. We don’t have an in-house designer. We work with Sam Kopsch from Sam Kopsch Studio, who used to work with Peldon Rose. I suppose you could say she’s almost in-house but she’s not in-house. We really like working this way – we like going to her. Anything design, we call on her.
‘I do lead the design in terms of thinking about the locations and the themes, and I also lead the strategy behind each of the buildings. I set the brief for Sam, as it were.
‘It’s so important that we provide inspiring office spaces and 100% reliable business facilities for our clients. You have to look after your clients. Each one of our buildings is fully furnished and totally adaptable to meet our clients’ needs. Our meeting and conference rooms feature the very best audio-visual presentation, IT and communication facilities.’
Office Space in Town also offers turnkey virtual office solutions and tailored office support such as personalised call answering, message management, mail forwarding and administration. Thus enabling businesses to run highly productive remote offices at a lower cost, whilst maintaining a strong local presence.
Before we say our farewells, we ask Giles about the future. ‘We want to buy five more buildings, all in Zone 1, in the next four years,’ he reveals. ‘We currently have £165 million of assets – which we’ve essentially done in three years – and we think the next five years can take us north of £500 million. They’re pretty big numbers, aren’t they!’