Here’s something a little different for you – in more ways than one.
Not only are we taking an in-depth look at an exciting, innovative and groundbreaking project, we’re going to do so over a series of articles – revealing the hopes and aspirations, the process and, of course, the results.
We’re on the outskirts of Manchester, just a stone’s throw from Trafford Park’s immense retail offering. This is still very much the industrial heartland of the North West and our destination comprises a series of industrial and warehousing facilities, as well as tired and unsuitable office space. But not for too much longer.
We’re here to meet with Regatta – the leading outdoor clothing retailer, which today boasts stores nationwide and a quartet of successful brands. Having negotiated our way into the heart of the complex here, we are greeted by John Mulvihill, Regatta’s Group Commercial Manager Contracts Manager Group Services and Supplies, who begins by telling us how his involvement in this project has changed his views and perceptions of workplace design. ‘I’ve gone out and seen a lot of places – and some of them are a lot of fun and there is a lot of thought that has gone into them,’ he considers. ‘I will never look at an office in the same way again!
‘We started off by taking away offices and walls – we wanted an open space, a very, very free working area.’
‘We’re not just building an office here – we’ve got a huge parallel track here to do with the culture and to do with how we want to work. This is going to be a huge change for us as a business.’
John continues by giving us a background to the business. Regatta Great Outdoors, we learn, is joined by the Craghoppers, Dare2b, and retail offerings Countryside and Hawkshead Outdoor brands. ‘We have four separate entities which are, at the moment, on different floors in this building or they are in a remote office around the corner – which has approximately 80 people in it. They are very much their own brands with their own identities. We’re a big company now – and the vision was to get everybody together and to do it in such a way that we can share good ideas and learn from one another, while still retaining the identity of the four brands.
‘We started off by taking away offices and walls – we wanted an open space, a very, very free working area. We wanted to move away from that culture of wanting to know where everybody is every minute of the day. We wanted to create breakout areas and collaborative working areas – we wanted to get to a point where people actually meet each and interact naturally.
‘We have three floors here, and often I’ll come into this building in the morning, go through reception and down to my office – and unless I have to go and see someone, I just don’t see people.’
Rather than just take down the walls and head, gung-ho, into a new open plan ‘utopia’ (as so many businesses have unsuccessfully done), the guys here at Regatta considered every aspect of the cultural change extremely carefully. We ask John what the greatest considerations have been. ‘The one major concern we had was how to keep the identities of the brands separate,’ John tells us. ‘They are very separate brands – Craghoppers is a travel brand, for example, which as its own feel, its own style and its people have their own ideas of what Craghoppers is. If you put Craghoppers and Regatta together in the same space, you run the risk diluting the brands and not being able to differentiate between them any more.
‘The idea is that we have this large open space, we have a Regatta area, a Dare2B area, a Hawkshead/Countryside area, a Craghoppers area, and then a group area because we have a lot more group functions now, such as finance, and then we have the central Camp Site – an area where everybody can come together and share stuff. This way, each brand has its own identity, while still being able to interact – you still have to have that open area where people can come and meet, catch up and share ideas. This is where ideas get generated.
‘Our core values are entrepreneurial, collaborative, honest and great relationships. These values underpin our business – and we want these values to be at the heart of this new space.
‘Another challenge here was the look and the feel of the space. We are an outdoors company – we create clothing and equipment for people to enjoy the great outdoors. We wanted to create a space that would enhance that feeling – and that’s why we’ve gone for the outdoors indoors approach. We’re using natural materials, such as wood, throughout. We have a series of amazing 20ft self-irrigating high trees, which I’ve sourced from Holland, lining the space. Even the carpets have that green to reflect grass and the outdoors.
‘It has been a long haul, to be fair. One of the first hurdles we had to jump over was with the planning people. Their response to us saying that we want to turn an old warehouse into a bespoke, modern office space for our business was to suggest that we relocate to Sale town centre or Urmston town centre. There’s no footfall in these town centres any more and we fought that. This is a global headquarters and we wanted to do something that would work for us, something different. Nobody out there is selling or renting office space that would work for us. This is our building – and the warehouse that the office space is going into was our very first warehouse. We had this for 20-something years and we only closed it down a year ago in order to facilitate building the new office. This is where we started, where we grew and where we’ve now outgrown. Our warehousing is now in a 650,000 sq ft facility in Ellesmere Port.’
‘This is our global headquarters and we want the business to carry on growing and we want an environment that people will want to come and work in.’
Like John said a little earlier, this is a big business nowadays – certainly a far cry from the 12 people who started Regatta back in 1981. What is fantastic to hear is that those connections to these roots and that personal approach have not been lost by growth. Staff are constantly kept in touch and involved in what is happening here – and many of these people have been here since Day 1.
‘This is going to cost us £8 million building this office,’ John reveals, ‘and this land is worth whatever it is worth. Putting £8 million into an office is not going to make it worth £8 million more. This office is only for us, after all. This is our global headquarters and we want the business to carry on growing and we want an environment that people will want to come and work in. We’re putting a gym in here, we’re going to have a dry cleaning service, a games room – we’re even going to have our own radio station!
‘We want to introduce flexibility into the way people work. We pay people to do a job – not to work from 9 to 5. The idea is that we’re not just trusting people to do that job, we’re also giving them the space to do that job in. If people want to go away from their desk and sit on a sofa, then they can – and nobody will question that. We don’t just want people to be present – this isn’t school.
‘We’ve put a huge amount of time and effort into this. There have been some battles along the way – but nothing worth doing in life comes easy. The great thing is that we can now see what it will be. We have a finish line – we just have to get there. I think once this is done we will have one of the best working spaces around – and I think we will have a bunch of people who will be very, very happy and will be energized and will enjoy working in the space. This is still very much a business – but a modern way of looking at a business.
‘I’ve been working on this for 14 months now – and I just can’t wait to see things going in. There are going to be 350 people in here and I think it’s going to blow people’s minds. It is a big statement – and certainly the difficult option – but I’m certain it is going to be so worthwhile.
We haven’t even spoken about the process, about the appointment of architect Fletcher Rae and interior designer Space Invaders, about the structural work, the landscaping (including allotments, John tells us) and much, much more. We can’t wait to come back next summer and see the fruits of everyone’s labours