ABCN WorldView Forum 2014: Opportunities Abound in Our Changing Industry (Day 1)

Budapest, Hungary
Budapest, Hungary

If there’s one thing delegates learned from the 12th ABCN WorldView Forum, held last week, it’s that the opportunities available to business centre and workspace operators across the globe are multiplying.

From 9th – 12th April 2014, the beautiful Hungarian capital of Budapest set the scene for a meeting of the minds. ABCN members and friends from 20 different nationalities, from as far afield as Australia, the US and India to the European nations of Romania, Holland and Turkey, convened at the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus to learn, share, collaborate and of course, party!

The challenge of change

On the morning of Thursday 10th April, John Milhado introduced members and delegates to ABCN’s 12th WorldView Forum. During his introduction, John presented Dr. Sándor Erdei of the DBH Group with a special accreditation by ABCN for his wide-reaching contributions to the success of members worldwide.

Frank Cottle then kicked off proceedings with an insightful glimpse into one of the most challenging factors currently facing workspace operators: change. Advancing technology, new generations, fresh demands and a slowly altering business landscape represent new challenges and the need to not just keep up, but to be ahead of the curve.

Frank highlighted some of the most impactful changes currently happening – such as the burgeoning SaaS (Space as a Service) model, and the arrivals of new ‘third place’ (or perhaps fourth place?) concepts like Breather – a service that connects people and businesses with informal, quiet spaces to work, meet, rest or simply ‘breathe’. The dozens of new online marketplaces that have sprung up over the past 24 months to connect niche spaces with local businesses are also changing the way business centres market their services.

“Our industry doesn’t change – we have to be the drivers of change,” he said.

How’s your ‘public face’?

Yours truly, Jo Disney, stepped up after Frank to shine the spotlight on PR and marketing. Specifically, this presentation focused on the importance of a combination of factors – including traditional press efforts, social media and website content.

In today’s digital age, fewer and fewer people turn to paper-based directories to find the services they need – over the past 5 years, usage of directories like the Yellow Pages have declined by 50%. Instead, search engines have become the directory of choice, and it’s this rapidly expanding online marketplace that needs your attention.

Content marketing, the practice of growing your website by filling it with useful, relevant information through blogs, press releases, company pages and resources, is becoming all-important – and it’s here that you can enhance, or even re-invent, your public relations. Or as I like to call it, your ‘public face’. As well as on-site content, industry sources like OfficingToday can also help to support your marketing efforts and direct traffic to your website.

Think of all the businesses that ‘meet’ your brand for the very first time online, following a Google search. Is your website and overall web presence up to scratch? We’re not just talking about your homepage. You also need to focus on those Google map locations, press releases, choice of images, online reviews, social media, Foursquare comments – the lot. Or do you plough too much energy into your offline image? Perhaps it’s time to turn the tables.

What do workspace clients really want?

Hauke Haas, MatchOffice

Hauke Haas, MatchOffice

Following Jo and tying in nicely with Frank’s focus on brokerage and marketplace models was Hauke Haas of Danish serviced office brokerage, MatchOffice.

Last year, Hauke and his team surveyed their clients and gathered a mountain of data that asked direct questions on what they really wanted from their office space.

In a sector renowned for its service provision and all-inclusive nature, it was unsurprising that more than half (50.7%) of clients rated cleaning and maintenance as a priority. However, the sector is also well-known for its ability to help businesses elevate their profile and image by providing smart buildings and professional secretarial services. Interestingly, MatchOffice found that only 37.2% of clients valued a reception service, and even less – 33.8% – appreciated the fact that their guests were greeted at reception.

Could this be a sign of the times, that fewer businesses want – or even need – front of house support like this, and instead prefer to carry out their own reception-style services? Or forego the formal greetings altogether, like coworking?

Hauke went on to reveal that when it comes to choosing a workspace, a massive 86% select a business centre based on location. This is followed by price (64.2%), access to other facilities (51.6%) and flexible contracts (39%).

“The industry is booming right now,” said Hauke. ” The demand is there and it’s growing. We’ve never seen so many business centres cropping up, not just in Europe but across the globe. Of course this means more competition, but it’s also a positive sign that the industry is healthy.”

Can you revive a dead asset?

Next up was William Benkő, Chief Commercial Officer of DBH Group, who delivered an inspirational talk on the art of sewing seeds and making use of dead assets. For instance, William highlighted the case of Zipcar. Rather than buying a car, why not make use of the millions of cars that sit idle in car parks and garages every single day? This turned out to be a highly fruitful business concept that served a very simple need.

But what of the everyday essentials, like motivating your team or growing your business? Momentum is all-important in business, says William, as it carries you along and keeps your business moving. “If you hit a bump, if you have momentum, you can keep moving forward,” he said. “Without it you’ll stop.”

Momentum is gained through, among other things, staff motivation. William placed emphasis on this by focusing on Michael Collins – a NASA Astronaut and the third member of the Apollo 11 mission. This was of course made famous as the mission in which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon in 1969. Collins remained in the spacecraft and orbited the moon while his colleagues walked on it. “Imagine being the guy that went to the moon but never left the spaceship” said William, who says that it was Collins’ passion – one of the most important aspects of running a business – that made the mission possible. It also made history.

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People that are passionate and motivated create momentum, and have the power to drive your business forward and realise your ambitions. “The new currency is not money, but passion” he said.

An open discussion on industry trends

Hauke Haas and Frank Cottle kicked off an afternoon panel discussion by focusing on what operators need to do in order to improve the way they do business with brokers.

One of the first and most important elements highlighted by Hauke was the use of images on their website. “Images make up 80% of the client’s decision” he said. It was also suggested that some brokerages are so keen to get it right that they are commissioning their own photographers. He also highlighted communication as a highly important factor, along with speed of response. “Whoever responds first to broker enquiries has a better chance of getting the business, especially if they set up a tour first,” he said.

Where are the next generation of clients coming from? According to Hauke, they are coming from business schools and universities. Another interesting trend to note is that corporate clients aren’t necessarily the big household brand names, but the sub-contractors and independents who work there. “Corporates themselves are difficult to get to, but the contractors who are employed by the corporates are more agile and easier to reach, and often have workspace budgets.”

On the topic of how business centre operators can attract new clients, Frank pointed to the ever-varying range of industry terminology and a smaller reliance on terms like ‘serviced office’ and ‘business centre’. “These terms are flattening, but search terms like ‘coworking’ are growing fast. Look at your website language and make sure you’re catering to this new vocabulary.”

Tony Freeth of Medusa Business made a valid point by highlighting that people walk into business centres for different reasons – often for a meeting, whether or not that person is already a client. More searches are carried out online for meeting rooms than for serviced offices. He explained that the meeting industry is larger than the serviced office sector, and suggested that new clients will be the people who are already in contact with your space.

The value of partnership

Finally, Day 1 was concluded by Randy Williamson of Penzias, who brought the ICT (Information Communications Technology) sector to light and emphasised the importance of partnerships when running a business centre. “When things go wrong, it becomes a blame game,” he said. Ultimately, operators that work with as few suppliers as possible – particularly in the systems and communications field – can establish a partnership and therefore gain more value out of their supplier.

Cocktail party at DBH Group's business centre in Budapest.

Cocktail party at DBH Group’s business centre in Budapest.

All that, and we’ve only recapped Day One! Come back for a summary of Day Two tomorrow, here on OT.

We concluded Thursday with a trip to DBH Group’s superb headquarters and business centre in Budapest, including their new coworking space, KoWerk. Take a look at the photos on their Facebook page here.

Did you attend the Forum? What did you think? What did you take away with you (apart from Pálinka)? And which presentation did you find most valuable? We’d love to know, and remember to join the conversation on our LinkedIn page too.

Top Image: The Danube River and Chain Bridge in Budapest, with Gresham Palace and St Stephen’s Basilica in the background. Credit: Wyx, Wikimedia Commons.

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