Viewpoint: Victoria Rea

October 2, 2019

North East Times’ property writer Chris Dobson talks with Victoria Rea, asset manager at BizSpace, about the UK’s largest provider of flexible workspace’s growth, customer care and its increased presence in Newcastle

There is certainly a ‘wow’ factor to the statistics behind BizSpace. You are present in 104 locations across the UK and have around 4000 businesses trading from your space. What is the inspiration behind this?

BizSpace started originally from one site back in 2000 and has grown to become the UK’s largest provider of flexible workspace. Our aim is to be the place small businesses are proud to call home: we look to support the UK’s growing army of freelancers, SMEs and micro-businesses by creating business communities centred around well-designed office and workshop space. There’s a lot of buzz around co-working, flexible working and incubator hubs right now, but flexibility is something we’ve been offering for a long time. What sets us apart from some of the other providers is that the majority of our estate is freehold, so our position as both landlord and operator makes it easier for us to provide highquality space at an affordable price.

Of the 104 locations I notice the North East features some less than frontline business locations such as Hadston, Consett and Bishop Auckland. Is this to avoid high occupational cost locations to pass on the benefits to occupiers?

Flexible workspace often makes people think of city centre co-working, but actually there’s much broader demand than that. Manufacturing and research and development businesses want flexible space too, with Consett and Hadston being two of our industrial centres. Research tells us the vast majority of our customers – whether office or industrial – don’t want to commute longer than 22 minutes. With technology making it more viable to work from anywhere, we’re seeing a huge rise in popularity of local working and our business centres are well placed to meet that demand.

You offer office options from office/studio space, workshop and storage space, coworking, virtual offices and meeting rooms. What is the ideal building type and size that you prefer?

There’s really no typical BizSpace property. We have a mix of modern business centres, converted mills, industrial estates and storage centres. Our current acquisition drive is focused on more modern offices as that’s where we see the greatest opportunity at present. Ideally, we look for c. 20-50,000 sq ft on the edge of towns and cities, part income producing, with good transport links and the ability to split the space into smaller suites. We’re not actively acquiring industrial as there’s a lot of competition in that market right now, but multi-let industrial estates with sub-1000 sq ft units are our sweet spot.

As the asset manager, what are your responsibilities and what is the nature of the team you lead?

All our properties are set up so that they have individual site managers who deal with licences and the day-to-day running of the centres, as well as supporting the businesses who are based there. They report directly to the regional sales manager. I support the local team through site disposals, refurbishment and investment projects, anything to do with leases and legal, as well as leading nationally on the annual portfolio valuation.

I see that you have just bought Amber Court, Newcastle, as a sale and part leaseback with WSP, one of the world’s leading engineering professional services firms. What is the plan for the space?

We’d been looking to upgrade our offering in Newcastle for some time and Amber Court ticked our boxes. Newcastle Business Park is a good location with lots of great businesses here already and its position on the river makes it an idyllic place to work, only 1.5 miles from Newcastle city centre. We have 210 car parking spaces but it’s also the perfect place to cycle to work. We bought the building from WSP who were reducing their space requirements. Due to more modern working practices, downsizing is becoming quite common, so there’s a lot of opportunity out there for us right now. Where typical landlords see vacant floors as unattractive, we look at them as an opportunity. The ground floor of the building has just opened as a business centre with WSP leasing the upper floors. There’s a communal break-out space where people can sit, watch TV, work or network and it gives a real community feel.

Adding nearly 400 customers across the UK in the last 12 months is a remarkable achievement. What does this say about the BizSpace offer?

Our growth has been down to a combination of growing demand for flexible space. More people are going freelance, setting up their own businesses, working remotely or simply don’t want to be tied into long-term leases, and our acquisition and refurbishment drive, which means a growing number of people have a local BizSpace centre, offers them high-quality, flexible and affordable business space. Our average occupancy is currently 86 per cent nationally and 88 per cent in the North East.

Lastly, what is Bizfeed? I note you make a lot about customers working together, the happy environment, almost the WELL building principal. Do customers stay with you much longer because of this approach to letting space?

Bizfeed is an area on our website where we showcase some of our customers and provide news updates. For us, creating great quality space is only part of the business. It’s also about recognising who our customers are, what is important to them, and thinking about how we can help them and foster a small business community at each one of our centres. For example, we have teamed up with Enterprise Nation to help our occupiers with business support. We have a good customer retention rate and I think this is due to all sites having dedicated site managers. Customer care is key. Churn isn’t always bad either: our statistics might show that a customer has left a unit, but in fact they have just grown and moved into larger BizSpace premises. Or, we have a customer leaving us at one North East site who has been with us for a number of years, but their business has grown, and they’ve had the opportunity to buy their own place. We love success stories like this.

BizSpace
www.bizspace.co.uk

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