Industry Growth In Singapore Has Led To Increased Competition Among Flexible Workspaces

Low to mid-tier flexible workspace markets in Singapore are experiencing a high saturation point and competition has intensified among operators
  • Colliers International recently published a report that looks into Singapore’s flexible workspace market growth
  • Industry growth has led to increased competition between operators and M&A activity
  • Small operators are most at risk, as their specific market (freelancers and SMEs) is already saturated

Asia is among the world’s fastest-growing flexible workspace markets. Early this year, there already were clear indicators that the industry was set for a burst of activity. The region hasn’t disappointed, especially if we look at Singapore’s growth, where flexible workspace stock has almost tripled since 2015.

There are currently about 2.7 million square feet of flexible office space in Singapore, much of which (84$) is concentrated in the Central Business District (CBD). According to recent estimates, operators account for 4.5% of office space located within CBD Premium and Grade A buildings. The industry is among the top five office occupiers within the Singapore market.

Colliers International recently published the report “Breaking New Ground: Opportunities amidst the rapid growth of flexible workspace and emergence of flexible leasing strategies in Singapore”. According to the report, the industry experienced a record annual growth in 2017– +44% year to year. 2018 will be no different, as “the sector looks to be firmly on track for another 30% growth in total stock.”

This growth has been mostly driven by international operators that have in the past couple of years eyed the region; including WeWork, ucommune, and International Workplace Group (Regus and Spaces).

With growth, however, comes increased competition and M&A activity; like the one we’ve seen in the US, UK, and other Asia-Pacific countries. And Singapore will be no exception, especially considering that there’s “some market saturation in the low- to mid-tier brackets.” This is likely to put pressure on occupancy rates and desk prices.

In fact, Colliers reported that “the volume of closures and distressed acquisitions have accelerated over the past 18 months.”

As for competition, flexible workspace operators are already promoting “generous offerings of sign-on membership incentives”, including free rent ranging from one to six months for 12 to 24 leases. It’s a competitive climate dominated by 7 large players, where small operators will pay the higher price.

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According to Colliers, International Workplace Group (IWG), WeWork, JustGroup (JustCo and JustOffice), The Executive Centre, Servcorp, Campfire, and The Great Room make up for almost two-thirds of the entire Singapore market. The remaining part is shared among 110 other operators, most of which operate a single location below 2,000 square feet.

Small Operators are at Risk

Colliers’  research found that the most saturated market “appears to be single-location operators”, as offer has far surpassed market (SMEs and freelancers) demand for these types of spaces. It’s these operators who are currently having to compete against each other, as they can’t compete against the larger operators that are catering to larger and corporate occupiers.

It’s these large players who are “better equipped to cater for the next lap of growth from corporations seeking a flexible leasing strategy.”

Small operators, therefore, will need to differentiate themselves from the competition if they want to survive; they should look into diversifying their services, growing their location portfolio, or negotiating with landlords and developers. Landlords and developers in Singapore and across the world have come to realize that flexible workspaces are no longer an option, but rather an essential building amenity.

Where the Opportunities for Growth are

Though currently a significant amount of flexible workspaces are found in Premium and Grade A buildings, growth in that area is limited.

“Most of the Premium and Grade A office supply due for completion over 2018-2020 already have a flexible workspace component secured, whether managed via a third-party operator, or on the developer’s own initiative.”

Colliers has additionally found a steep decline in the number of deals transacted in these types of buildings. This means that operators seeking to grow need to look into Grade B properties and retail spaces. Moreover, they should look into growing beyond the CBD area and consider decentralized submarkets.

Future growth of the Singapore market will be driven by multinational corporations and large companies signing flexible workspace leases, which is why partnerships between flexible workspace operators and landlords or developers will prove to be a wise choice. Landlords are already exploring flexible space “in a bid to achieve more stabilized occupancy for their retail properties,” which is why they are proactively incorporating these types of spaces into their commercial real estate portfolios.