Another Player Joins WeWork In Trendy Co-Working Niche

By Jeff Ostrowski The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The co-working concept created by WeWork has become a venture capital hit, achieving a valuation of billions based on its model of ping pong tables and afternoon happy hours. Meanwhile, new ventures such as PivotDesk and Liquid Space operate a model similar to Airbnb, allowing landlords to offload empty space.

WEST PALM BEACH

With flexible office space all the rage in big cities, West Palm Beach-based United Franchise Group hopes to capitalize on the latest trend in commercial real estate.

United Franchise Group's new concept has a trendy name -- Venture X -- and a marketing pitch based on providing entrepreneurs with work space for as little as $99 a month and without long leases.

Venture X opened its first office space in Naples and is working to add locations in Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Miami, New York and San Antonio, said Ray Titus, chief executive of United Franchise Group.

Venture X is aiming squarely at entrepreneurs and freelancers who are a bit too prosperous to keep toiling on the couch or the local coffee shop.

"Working from home and Starbucks works for a certain amount of time," Titus said. "But once you build the business up, you outgrow that. When you've got machinery in your living room, or inventory in your den, or vendors coming to tour your facilities, it becomes an issue."

The concept of business suites is nothing new. In fact, Titus said, United Franchise Group rents space in Las Vegas from Regus Business Centers, a long-established provider of office suites. Servcorp is another longtime player.

And the co-working concept created by WeWork has become a venture capital hit, achieving a valuation of billions based on its model of ping pong tables and afternoon happy hours. Meanwhile, new ventures such as PivotDesk and Liquid Space operate a model similar to Airbnb, allowing landlords to offload empty space.

"It's a hot market with a lot of competitors, but that's something we're used to," Titus said.

He positions Venture X as a concept somewhere between Regus Business Centers' relatively staid approach and WeWork's hipster vibe.

Tenants can interact with each other and use their memberships at Venture X locations in other cities.

"It's really a comfortable business atmosphere," Titus said. "There's some fun, but we're not promoting ourselves as this just-for-startups type of scenario."

Pricing starts at $99 for a basic membership that grants access to Venture X's space but not much else. For a dedicated desk and filing cabinet, prices will rang from $250 to $400 a month, depending on the metro area. And a full private office will cost about $2,000 a month, Titus said.

Venture X locations typically will span about 10,000 square feet and have a couple dozen private offices plus a conference room, lobby and cafe. United Franchise Group is marketing the brand, but it's up to individual franchisees to lease space, hire staff and otherwise run the local operation.

In one case, a Dallas franchisee is taking over half of a former Staples office supplies store and converting it to a Venture X office.

United Franchise Group runs the Signarama and EmbroidMe brands, along with a chain of business brokerages, eatery chain Jon Smith Subs and repair stores for Apple products.

With employers turning to independent contractors and virtual employees, the nature of the U.S. office market has been changing.

However, playing the office suite market isn't without risk. During Florida's real estate boom in 2007, Crexent Business Centers of Davie opened locations as large as 60,000 square feet in Jupiter, suburban West Palm Beach and suburban Lake Worth.

Crexent no longer operates the Palm Beach County properties, according to its website.

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