Big Interview: SOS
Managing director of Search Office Space, Richard Smith, talks about his experiences of starting up the company as well as the many challenges he has faced during his 18 years in the serviced office industry. Established in 1993, Search Office Space was the original serviced office broker in the UK and has since continued to develop into one of the leading companies in the global office space market. Search Office Space prides itself on its personal and professional care and allows clients the opportunity for impartial guidance and tailored advice to suit individual requirements.
What made you decide to set up Search Office Space?
In the early 90’s, the London office market was struggling as a result of the recession. A few landlords had recently decided to start experimenting with serviced offices due to their convenience and flexibility. We realised that while conventional deals could take months to complete and often involved expensive professional fees, serviced offices offered simplicity as well as much shorter completion times of weeks or even days.
What were the most challenging aspects of setting up Search Office Space and how did you overcome them?
The most challenging aspect of setting up Search Office Space was the technology (or lack of) at the time. In the absence of email, we did everything by fax. This was a laborious process as each Business Centre had an individual number and there were no facilities for doing anything in bulk. We designed our own software which would allow a fax machine to work the way email works nowadays in order to send multiple introductions to Business Centres, as well as multiple buildings options to clients. It was all very complicated! Quite often things went wrong and incorrect information was sent to people. While we eventually became experts in telecom and faxing, the introduction of email was a relief.
What were your initial tactics to get Search Office Space into the public eye?
In the early 1990’s, marketing was very different compared with today’s methods. Besides general networking and dealing with commercial property agents, we would use the Yellow Pages and the Talking Pages, as well as The Evening Standard as our primary methods of advertising.
How has your role within Search Office Space changed since 1993?
In 1993 I founded Search Office Space, along with my co-Director Laurence Beck. During the first few years of the business there was only myself, Laurence and one admin assistant working for the company. Since then, we have expanded and now have offices in Stanmore, Central London, Germany and New York. My role has developed as the company has increased in both size and location and I am now responsible for a staff of 50 persons across our global network.
Search Office Space was established in 1993 and was the first Serviced Office Broker in the UK. How has the introduction of other office brokers into the industry impacted SOS?
Undoubtedly, the serviced office broker market has become much more competitive as the serviced office industry has continued to increase in size. There are now around 5 major competing brokers in the UK market as well as competition from individual business centres. There is also a similar level of competition in the US as well as further brokers competing in the global markets. While this competition may have reduced Search Office Space’s market share, it has been an important factor in driving the industry forward and maintaining the efficiency and level of quality provided by SOS.
What are the relationships like between rival companies?
At CEO level, I am in touch with all the owners and Managing Directors of all our competitors. I think it is important to maintain this relationship in order to ensure that brokers get a fair deal within the industry. Additionally, we also attend a number of Business Centre events where our sales team has the opportunity to network with competing companies. While there is a high level of competition within the industry, we have always demonstrated high levels of respect and professionalism, which has in turn been reciprocated by our competitors.
How would other people describe you?
I think others would say that I am passionate about my work, motivated and driven. They may add that perhaps I can also be a little eccentric and impatient…. on the odd occasion! Also someone who love sales and the buzz of doing a deal.
If you were an office, where would be your ideal location?
Good question! Well, my first choice would probably be the Maldives! Failing that, I think I’d choose Mayfair for a central London location or close to Times Square in Manhattan..
What are the most rewarding aspects of working at Search Office Space?
The most rewarding aspect for me is having a happy and content work force. In addition, receiving positive feedback from clients of all different sizes and within many different industries helps keep us on the right track.
What are your opinions on the current market situation, and how has the recent recession impacted Search Office Space?
I think that serviced offices have become an important factor in the recovery of the property market from the recent recession. As the economy continues to recover, serviced offices have now become an attractive, lower risk option for many companies. Serviced offices don’t require large deposits or long term commitments and allow the option of flexibility which is beneficial for companies requiring to expand or downsize. Further to this, there are no hidden costs such as service charge or dilapidations that are often relevant with conventional leases.
Where do you see Search Office Space in 5 years’ time?
In the last 19 years, Search Office Space has continued to strengthen its reputation as one of the leading office brokers in the global serviced office industry. I would like to think that within 5 years we will continue our recent progress and continue to increase our respect and the awareness of our company throughout the global commercial property market.
What has been your greatest success to date?
Running a successful business and bringing it through the worst recession that the UK has ever seen has definitely been a challenge. I am very proud to be part of a company that has managed to generate business and keep its employees content despite the economic struggle.
What advice would you give to anybody wishing to start up a business in this economic climate?
A serviced office is always a good option for any new business start-ups. They provide lower risk and the opportunity to downsize or terminate the contract, in worst case scenarios. They also allow firms to increase their office space as their companies grow.
Lastly, if you were stranded on a desert island, which 5 things would you choose to take with you?
I would take my Blackberry so that I could keep up to date with work emails, and I’d also take my Arsenal ‘Invincibles’ DVD, as well as my weights, my Amex card and all my wonderful employees at Search Office Space!
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