- Earlier this month, a private equity firm invested £8.2 million into UK brokerage Flexioffices as part of a management buyout
- Flexioffices Managing Director, Geraint Evans, discusses what this means for the company and how it will transform their growth plans
- In addition to immediate updates, Evans discusses the longer-term ramifications for the 18-year-old company and their plans to expand internationally
From WeWork’s sky-high valuation and IWG’s continued expansion to Ucommune’s relentless acquisition spree across China, flexible workspace — and its operators — are big news.
But there’s much more to the growth of flexible workspace than space and place.
Technology companies, architects, interior designers, furniture companies — many of these suppliers have played (and continue to play) a vital part in positioning the sector as the innovative, agile workplace solution that companies, from the independent to the multinational, are looking for. Now they too are reaping the rewards of a growing sector, and the investment is pouring in.
Another sub-sector of the industry that has worked diligently to raise the profile of flexible space is the broker community. Some of the best-known flexible workspace agents have been in the business for many years, even decades — certainly for a lot longer than many of the industry’s biggest workspace brands (the aforementioned WeWork and Ucommune among them).
One such company is Flexioffices, which was founded in 2000, and they have just become one of the latest beneficiaries of multi-million investment in the form of a management buyout backed by NVM Private Equity. Allwork.Space spoke with Geraint Evans, Managing Director at Flexioffices, to find out what this means for the London-based brokerage company and how it’s set to transform their growth plans.
Allwork.Space: Firstly, you announced earlier this month that Flexioffices has received huge investment from NVM Private Equity. What does this mean to you – and how will it impact your day to day operations?
Geraint Evans: In terms of the day to day operations, it will take time to see any significant changes. We have a representative from NVM who has joined us on the Board and they will help with strategic decisions and longer-term planning, although we do have a number of projects set to go live over the next few months. For instance, we have a new website set to launch this summer with an improved search and user experience, which will make it easier for people to find the space they need anywhere in the UK.
And what are your longer-term plans for Flexioffices?
We are looking to take the business global. Currently, we’re the only one of the top 5 brokers in the country that just deal exclusively with UK enquiries. We now have the capability to build on the company’s solid foundations and take it further.
Paul [Paul Slinn, founder] created the company back in 2000 and successfully grew it; now we’re in a position to spend money to grow the business significantly and we want to take Flexi further than any other UK broker. We’ve recently taken on a couple of employees to focus on corporate requirements, and we’re also looking into the potential for a managed workspace offering.
You’ve had a lot of experience in the sector, including co-founding Avanta. How has the industry changed over the past 20 years?
I started in 1999 with Avanta ‘Mark I’ at a time when the term for our industry was ‘serviced office’ but hardly anyone outside the industry knew what it meant. Every sale was an education to occupiers and we had to work hard to convince commercial operators that it was a suitable option for them. Now look where we are! People are coming to us and they know exactly what they want, and what they can expect from our sector. They’re looking for a space that’s creative, motivational, flexible — and that’s exactly what we’re giving them. It’s all going our way.
In terms of industry growth, how does it look from your perspective?
It’s great to be on the broker side. The demand is certainly there — we’ve seen plenty of appetite for London especially, and lead flow has increased circa 5% this year compared to last, even with certain turbulence around Brexit. So there’s demand, and there’s plenty of supply too. It’s a mega market. Sub 8% of real estate in London is flexible; it’s got to grow to keep up with demand.
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What are the key trends you’re seeing? What are your clients really going for at the moment?
We’ve seen a large increase in small enquiries for 1-2 people, and coworking fits that requirement perfectly. Typically in London, clients looking for a small serviced space often find that it’s too pricey. So they look at a shared space as a temporary option, and they find that being in an open environment isn’t as intrusive as they think. That’s how we’ve seen coworking develop.
What’s interesting is that there aren’t very many spaces that provide coworking exclusively. Most of the time, coworking is tagged onto a business centre with a larger proportion of private space. But good quality communal space is a massive selling point. Now, we’ve got a lot of providers offering large open space that has all the amenities people want — fresh coffee, filtered water, sometimes even beer. If you get that right, it’s a really great start for a small business.
We know that London is leading the field, but what are you seeing out in the regions?
Lead flow has definitely increased in Birmingham and Manchester and rates are increasing there too, along with other areas like Thames Valley and the M4 corridor — we’re seeing a real resurgence there. It’s possibly related to high London prices and companies looking to cut costs, but it’s more because businesses can work from anywhere and don’t necessarily need a large space in the city centre. For instance, you can have a small space in Central London but have the bulk of your workforce in Reading, from where you can be in Zone 1 in 20 minutes.
Do you think the growth and demand for flexible space will continue for some time yet? Will it level off anytime soon?
I don’t think we’ll see growth as rapid as it has been, but I think flexible space is now a way of life. People don’t have to go to work and do the 9-5 anymore, and they can work from home. That super trend is only going to continue to go one way. I do see demand continuing, albeit the pace might slow down a little, but at the moment the demand is there and supply is keeping up.
Let’s talk about the dreaded ‘B’ word. What are your thoughts on Brexit, which is now less than a year away?
From our perspective we’ve not seen any downside as a result of the Referendum. When it does happen next year, it might put off some companies that are looking to come over. But London is still a core and important city, a strategically placed city, and that won’t change. It’s great for English speaking countries such as the U.S. and it’s a great point of entry into Europe.
We haven’t seen this major uprooting of banks and financial companies — it hasn’t happened to the extent that people feared. So far, so good. Plus, any uncertainty at all is actually good for our sector, although it doesn’t rely on that. As I said before, flexible working has become a way of life. There has been so much talk of work life balance, but it’s gone beyond that now — work and life have become one and the same.
I remember, during the summer, business used to be awful for us. We would lose half our lead flow due to holidays and decision-makers taking time off. Now that doesn’t happen. Enquiries maybe drop by 10% and decision-making is a little slower, but people continue to work, even during the summer holidays. It’s much better for business!
A few parting thoughts. What are you most excited about for the second half of the year, and where do you see Flexioffices in 5 years’ time?
Long-term, I would like to see us in a whole variety of locations globally. I want us to be specialists in lots of other areas and to have a greater corporate presence. I want to generate far more repeat business, make the whole process stickier and bring people back to us each time they need to change or upgrade their workplace.
This year, I’m excited about the new projects that we are working on — the website, the enhanced search and listings, corporate growth, and of course going international. These are all things we’ve long wanted to do, and now we have the backing to do them, we’re making up for lost time.