Rent-a-workspace firm gaining steam

When mobile business people are in Columbia and need office space they have a few options other than coffee shops, including upscale executive workspace provider, Regus.

Alternative workspaces are a growing trend versus conventional offices, according to Regus, which is gaining popularity among the Fortune 500 types and the frugal, upstart entrepreneur alike.

The international company, which occupies a floor of ramped up and ready to go executive office suites in the Meridian Building downtown, has been in South Carolina since 2011.

For a fee, Regus provides a professional workplace setting, usually in a top business location and virtually on demand. Their locations typically include smartly appointed furnishings, phones, commercial-grade internet connections, cable, conference rooms, video conferencing capability, receptionist services and more.

Prices vary depending on a lot of different factors. For example, a customer with a special card can use the office lounge for as low as $15 a day. And the Columbia office is running a special starting at $577 a month for a small interior economy office. Daily rentals average around $120, but all are negotiated per agreement.

Under the Regus concept, such monthly expenses as power costs and other utilities are shared among clients, and upfront expenses such as utility deposits, equipment costs and installation, and certain business license expenses normally associated with conventional office setups are blunted.

Personnel costs for receptionists are shared, too, while the concept still allows for the energy to be reaped from networking that is typical to most offices, company officials said.

“We’re great for a startup company or a company that’s looking to downsize,” said Melinda Lofe, Regus general manager in Columbia, “particularly that they don’t have to put up a whole lot of money.

“In a recent survey conducted by Regus, 86 percent of respondents believed that retention is improved as a result of flexible working practices. And 75 percent said they are more productive with flexible working over a fixed office working,” Lofe said.

“The trend has been a push from employees for their companies to make changes,” she said.

For the business traveler, their laptop or other personal information device is all they need to get going under the Regus concept, officials said.

“You’re going to see a lot of that,” predicted Denita Kozeny, Regus Greenville general manager, who is offering discounts to fill the new space they just moved into in March, and already has such clients as tire producer Michelin using space.

For entrepreneurs, Kozeny said, purchasing a conventional office is expensive and can be very risky. “They don’t really know what it’s going to look like five months down the road, so they’re looking at more of a Regus solution, because they’re looking to reduce the overall cost by growing their business and having the flexibility for a workplace solution, too,” Kozeny said.

Regus opened in Columbia in July 2011 and also has office suites in Greenville and Charleston. The company plans to open workspaces in August in Bluffton.

Regus has 51 offices in the Meridian Building, Lofe said, and only a few vacancies at present.

Experts say only a company or two offer square footages of space for naked office rentals, or for ready to go office rental.

“The cost is more than it would be for traditional office suites, but you have a lot more services,” said Ben Johnson, CBRE Columbia research director. “It is something that we do run into every now and then: Someone will call me and say, ‘Hey, I just need a room.’ Regus has been very successful there.”

Because it’s not cheap, typically what happens is a lot of businesses decide whether or not they need the higher level of services, Johnson said.

“You can rent a room normally from somebody. For instance, somebody will have a friend who is an attorney, whose firm has an extra office in the building and they want to make an extra 300 bucks a month. Or, some of the houses along Devine Street will do some small leases, or stuff like that.

“The difference in the level of services is in the cost per square foot that you have to pay for that room,” Johnson said.

In downtown Columbia, the average cost of commercial space is $16.80 per square foot, Johnson said. However, the average cost of class A commercial space in the Columbia downtown is $20.28 per square foot, he said.

The cost of Class A office space in the Meridian Building is $22 per square foot, Johnson said, highlighting the difference.