More business startups find space-for-hire an economical approach
By SANDRA BAKER
Since the first of the year, Thad Pittman has seen a 25 percent increase in the number of inquiries from folks looking to lease office space in the executive business centers he owns, including locations in Arlington and Dallas.
Many of those calls come from laid-off executives and other unemployed business people now starting up their own ventures, said Pittman, president of Arlington-based Corporate Office Centers. Some callers, for example, are lawyers who have been let go by their law firms but are now starting their own practice, he said.
The increase stems from a combination of factors, Pittman said.
“Some people find working out of their home is very difficult,” Pittman said. “People have recognized a much more cost-effective way to use our resources. It makes more sense in this environment.”
Likewise, entrepreneur Roger Duck has taken a simple self-storage center in Richland Hills and an adjacent strip center and rebuilt them into what he’s calling a business incubator to meet the demand of unemployed people who are starting their own businesses.
“In recessionary times, small-business formation pulls the economy out of recession,” Duck said. “We offer a product perfect for a person to get out of a garage or a house.”
Both men may be seizing an opportunity during the recession, but as a way to appeal to their markets, they offer incentives such as month-to-month leases to help keep costs down for the fledgling entrepreneurs.
Getting out of the house
Duck started building self-storage centers about seven years ago, when he was out of work himself.
A few years later, he bought a former movie theater on South Bowen Road in Arlington, just north of Interstate 20, and turned that into an incubator. The enclosed center is fully leased with 42 tenants, but it is distinctly different from the Richland Hills site, where tenants have storefronts.
“The success we had in Arlington, we’re trying to replicate here,” Duck said.
He bought the Richland Hills location, 7410 Boulevard 26, a couple of years ago, which then consisted of an old metal barn with a small strip center in front of it. He added a three-story, 30,000-square-foot self-storage center in between and retrofitted the existing property to make individual business spaces.
The offices, which Duck says cost $499 a month, have Internet access, and all utilities are paid. Three of the 17 units are leased.
“The biggest thing small businesses need is flexibility,” Duck said.
Matt Shaffstall, economic development specialist with Richland Hills, applauds Duck’s venture.
“This is a great opportunity for a small business to come in and grow, and move into much more traditional space,” Shaffstall said. “The best way to work through the recession is to work with your existing small businesses.”
In 1992, Pittman founded Corporate Office Centers in Arlington, 2000 E. Lamar Blvd., to cater to professional businesspeople and companies. He now has 27 centers in nine states, each averaging about 20,000 square feet of leasable space.
In the past several months, Pittman said he’s seen a big increase in the use of “virtual” offices, an inexpensive way to establish a more professional address while remaining, for example, in one’s home.
For about $200 a month, phones are answered and forwarded to the “tenant,” he said. His customers also have use of the conference and meeting rooms at the business center for anywhere from two to 40 hours a month.
The space is not limited to individuals. Many tenants are firms with several employees, he said. Companies are finding that it doesn’t make sense to lease a lot of space long term, Pittman said.
Many clients use the office once or twice a month. For example, a large national jewelry chain has a monthly managers’ meeting at his center in Arlington. Corporate Office Centers cater the lunch and provide the audio-video equipment, Pittman said.
“There are a ton of Fortune 500 companies that use our offices,” he said.