The US Flexible Workspace Market Is Dominated By Independent Operators

New York is a dominant location for flexible workspace. But according to Instant’s latest review of the US market, demand in other markets across the country is continuing to grow.
  • The Instant Group recently published its 2018 US Flexible Workspace Review
  • The research found that independent operators make up 93% of the US market
  • It also found that 67% of landlords would rely on a 3rd party to operate and run a flexible workspace within their properties

The Instant Group recently published its 2018 US Flexible Workspace Market Review. The study found that the US market for coworking and flexible workspaces showed “sensational growth in 2017.” Surprisingly, this sensational growth is not being driven by the giants of the industry, but rather by local, independent operators that run one or two centers and that are creating niche spaces.

“The top 10 operators in terms of total  number of centers account only for 34% in what is a highly fragmented market.”

And while this is great news, the even greater news is that there is still space for more operators, especially in smaller markets. “While the flexible market is continuing to expand, the majority (51%) of the total number of centers are located in just five US states.” And although these states host a number of operators, the research also found that countrywide, “occupier demand is being maintained,” which means that the industry is yet to reach its full potential.

And although supply to the market is concentrated in three key states — New York, California, and Texas — demand in “emerging markets across the country appears robust.”

In a recent blog post reflecting on GCUC 2018, Cat Johnson wrote that we should think of the flexible workspace industry as the coffee industry. “On one side, you have Folgers and Maxwell House and Starbucks. On the other side, you have countless local, craft coffee roasters in towns and cities all over the world carefully making coffee for their local community at human scale.

“The successful craft coffee folks aren’t freaking out about Starbucks and Folgers. They’re focused on their craft, their products, their customers, the experience they offer, their brand, their outreach, their content, and engaging in their communities.

“Don’t get scared off by big money shared workspaces,” Cat writes. “They’re here and we’re going to see lots more of them in coming years.

“But small, independent spaces with a solid business backbone and a strong focus on what their members and community want are here too. (…) There’s plenty of room for everyone and, as with a good local coffee shop, a good local coworking space is far more appealing than big box coworking to a lot of us.”

Instant Group’s research proves that Cat is right in what she is saying. And even though “the slow process of consolidation may have begun as the bulk of growth in the market during the last year came from operators with 10+ centers (…) this has not deterred new entrants to the flexible space market. (…) The new entrants, in particular, seem to be driving the trend of ‘niche-ification’, providing spaces that cater to specific audiences and interests.”

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These niche spaces tend to be owned by local, independent operators, as they “have a strong association with their membership base, and, as such, really understand the market drivers on a hyper local basis. Their local market knowledge means they have the confidence to open space that really caters to a particular form of demand,” John Williams, Head of Marketing at The Instant Group, stated in the research.  

Moreover, single city operators make up 93% of the market, and although they only run 53% of the total US market, they “don’t (need to) panic” as Cat Johnson wrote. “There is a real sense in the market that it is easier to compete in your local market, where the drivers of occupier demand are better known and the relative value of property understood. This adds to the sense of small, organically grown businesses that give the market its distinct flavor and is adding to the awareness of specialist occupier demand.”

Shifting towards management contracts

This year at GCUC, Jamie Hodari of Industrious encouraged attendees to start thinking about management contracts to run a flexible workspace. Some believe management contracts are the future of the industry, especially as property groups and real estate owners begin to add coworking spaces as part of their building amenities.

Luckily for current operators, “landlords are not as knowledgeable in orchestrating these types of experiences” and they are in learning and relying on experienced partners for help.

Instant’s research found that 66% of landlords believe the trend towards flexible workspace is “extremely likely to impact their business.” Of those, only 33% of them currently offer coworking space within their building, and although only one third of them are thinking of providing flexible workspace in the future, 67% stated that they would use a 3rd party to operate and run the flexible workspace business.

Which means there is a big opportunity for operators to diversify their business and find creative ways to grow their footprint.

Additional findings from the report

  • There is now an estimated 80 million square feet of flexible space in the US
  • Boston is the most expensive city with an average desk rate of US$1,889
  • San Francisco, San Jose, Dallas, Austin, Boston, and Washington D.C. are the top 6 high growth cities
  • The average number of centers per operator is increasing and operators have started to diversify the type space they are offering to the market
  • Amenities are now the expectation; “a well-recognized wellness partner and food provider within the building are the new must-haves”
  • Portfolio deals for 12+ months are up 10% over the last year
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