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All-in-one office suites make a comeback.
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Setting up shop in a garage wasn't exactly what Simon Platt had in mind when he and three partners founded StoneTurn Group, a firm specializing in dispute consultation and forensic accounting, last April. Platt had just left a position at one of Boston's top accounting firms, and he was accustomed to a traditional corporate office environment. What's more, he planned to target tony law firms across the country, and a home office in the suburbs projected an image that was less than professional. What he needed was the right address.

Complicating matters was the fact that Platt wanted to go national right away. But establishing offices in far-off cities seemed daunting and expensive. So, at the suggestion of a partner's mother, Platt contacted Regus Business Centres, a company that offers all-in-one offices -- suites that are ready to go, with everything from Internet connections to filing cabinets to receptionists. Platt signed a lease, and within two months, StoneTurn had offices up and running in four key markets on both coasts.

The all-in-one turnkey office concept isn't new. Such suites were particularly popular in the late 1990s, as high-tech start-ups searched for low-overhead, low-commitment alternatives to traditional office space. But as the economy cooled and commercial rents fell, many fledgling entrepreneurs turned instead to short-term subleased offices, which offer many of the same amenities, often at cheaper prices. These days, however, subleases are a lot harder to find; that has led many start-up entrepreneurs to head back to the all-in-one suites.

Regus, for example, says that business has jumped 15% in the past two years. The company has leased space in 350 buildings throughout the U.S., which it then tastefully outfits and leases to businesses. Its Park Avenue offices in New York City, for instance, feature cherry desks, well-appointed conference rooms, and walls that are adorned with works of modern art. Rents tend to reflect the local real estate market and are likely to increase as commercial rental markets heat up during the next year.

Even if they do, office suites will be a relative bargain, especially for cash-strapped start-ups. Platt's offices -- in Washington, D.C., Boston, Austin, and Walnut Creek, Calif. -- came equipped with telephones, a T-1 connection, Web servers, a kitchen, and conference rooms outfitted with white boards and stocked with bottled water. Regus also supplies an information technology support staff, mail delivery services, a receptionist, a maintenance staff, security, and an answering service, all of which are shared by each suite's several tenants. For a total of 2,000 square feet of office space in all four StoneTurn locations, Platt pays just $150 a month for each of the company's 20 staff members. That's about $36,000 a year, a little more than a third of what he probably would be spending on traditional office leases. "We could not be here without this kind of arrangement," he says.

And the benefits, Platt adds, extend beyond cost savings. His office suites, for example, have provided him with a built-in network of fellow entrepreneurs, including a mediation firm and a personal security service. He even landed a client thanks to one of his neighbors. And when it comes to presenting a polished image, having the right address on his business card has proven to be essential, Platt says: "Credibility is an important part of our business."

While they are usually thought of as quick fixes for start-ups with small staffs, all-in-one office suites can also provide longer-term solutions for companies with employees who telecommute or require flexible work schedules, notes Michael Joroff, professor at the Massachusett Institute of Technology's architecture school. And as Platt's experience suggests, they are also a good option for new companies that are looking to expand nationally without the logistical headaches.

Indeed, finding a shared suite tends to be far less time-consuming than searching for traditional office space. There are now about 4,000 locations nationwide, according to the Office Business Center Association International, a trade group. Regus, Office Suites Plus, and Premier Business Centers are among the biggest national players. But you may get a better deal with a lesser-known regional company. To find an executive suite in your community, perform a free search on Offices2share (www.offices2share.com) or check out the website for the Office Business Center Association International (www.obcai.org), which features a directory of hundreds of members throughout the country. Keep in mind that most all-in-one office suites can be leased on a month-to-month basis. And the leases, which typically run about one or two pages, are easy to understand compared with traditional commercial leases, which are usually a dozen pages long or more.

If there's one problem with shared suites, it's that you can't tailor your office to suit your company's personality. Nonetheless, Platt says he feels perfectly comfortable in his new digs and has recently upgraded to larger suites to accommodate StoneTurn's fast-growing staff. He has no plans to move into traditional office space anytime soon. His company, he notes, could never afford a "real" office on M Street in Washington, D.C., or on State Street in Boston. "This has saved us thousands of dollars," he says. "Even if we had twice as much money to spend on overhead, we would not have been at the right address."

Office Suites 101

Explore Your Options

Depending on your local real estate market, a subleased office space may be a better move.

Think Small

Regional office suite companies are more likely to cut you a deal than national players, so shop around.

Read the Fine Print

Before signing a lease, determine which services are included in your rent, and which cost extra.

Last updated: Mar 1, 2005




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