The ever-expanding coworking sector in Stamford has added another competitor.
Office Evolution, a B2B franchisor of coworking centers nationwide, opened its first Connecticut location on May 30 at 750 E. Main St., not far from the likes of Serendipity Labs at 700 Canal St., Comradity at 845 Canal and Workpoint at 290 Harbor Drive.
What sets Office Evolution (OE) apart, say franchise co-owners Rochelle Dede and Nicole Maddox, is its flexibility.
“A lot of these places are gearing towards millennials, which can tend to leave nonmillennials feeling left out,” Maddox said. “We want to send the message that we’re open to everybody. Our clients can make their space their own by painting the walls or decorating it as they want to.”
The 10,000-square-foot center offers 34 private furnished offices, as well as a large coworking lounge, and other amenities, including free gym memberships and Starbucks coffee.
Maddox said that in addition to monthly membership plans — ranging from a dedicated desk starting at $499 to micro offices starting at $699 and private offices starting at $1,099 — OE Stamford is also “completely open to nonmembers.”
As an example, she said the ala carte option can come into play when a Los Angeles-based firm is looking for an East Coast office for a meeting but doesn’t want to spend for a hotel conference room, which usually requires a minimum of four hours.
And as a national brand, OE members can access any of the company’s 50 other locations without paying extra, Dede said.
The pair met in early 2001 while working as legal associates at Chadbourne & Parke LLP in New York City. “We were working in different departments, but our relationship grew over time,” Dede said. “We started thinking about going into business together and began looking for something that would expand our horizons and allow us to be entrepreneurs.”
Intrigued by the growing coworking sector — which professional services and investment management company JLL said has been growing in the U.S. at an average annual rate of 23 percent since 2010 — the pair said they ultimately went with OE both for its flexibility and its amenities.
“People refer to franchises as ‘business in a box,’ but we don’t think that’s what this is at all,” she said. “You feel the earthiness at the office in Colorado, but for us on the East Coast it’s a little more edgy. (OE management) allows everyone to personalize their space — it is definitely not a business in a box.”
Noting that they both are litigators by trade — Dede continues to work as an intellectual property attorney at BASF in Manhattan — Maddox said, “We problem-solve all the time. One of the things that appealed to me about this is that it allows us to help others solve their problems.”
The duo has also bought into OE’s corporate principle “Ohana,” a Hawaiian word used to describe a group of people fighting for the same purpose. As such, Maddox said she and Dede are dedicated to helping the surrounding community when they can, either through established charitable initiatives or through making their space available to anyone in emergencies.
“When something like the tornado that hit Newtown a few weeks ago happens, we’d like to offer our space to anyone who doesn’t have power,” she said. “We see our space in more ways than one. And as franchise owners we’re able to do those kinds of things.”
The Stamford location is the first of five franchises the women are looking to open, with another in the Princeton area likely to follow; Dede lives in central New Jersey, while Maddox resides in Sandy Hook.
“We’re looking at 8- to 10,000-square-foot spaces,” Dede said, “depending on the real estate that’s available.”
Office Evolution Founder and CEO Mark Hemmeter said he started the business in 2003 after a career in real estate. “I was working out of my house with three young daughters, which wasn’t really as effective as I wanted it to be,” he said from corporate headquarters in Louisville, Colorado, near Denver. “I became a member of a shared-office company in 2001 and wound up loving the concept.”
Unlike some of his competitors, Hemmeter said OE is focusing on suburban towns rather than major cities. “That’s where a lot of older small-business owners tend to be and that’s who we’re targeting,” he said.
The company is being careful not to overexpand, and guarantees its franchisees a three-mile radius of protected territory. Franchisors are required to pay an initial $39,500 fee, followed by an investment of $217,000 to $749,000 to cover various expenses, fees and landlord requirements. Hemmeter said that typically it costs $300,000 to $500,000 “to be all in.”
A second Connecticut location — not operated by Maddox and Dede — in Westport is under development. Hemmeter said that, pending the signing of its lease, he was not able to provide specifics beyond that it would be on Post Road and consist of 8,000 square feet, including at least 30 private offices. All told, he expects to have more than 125 OE sites running by the end of next year.
“Right now the shared-office industry in the U.S. makes up 1 to 1.5 percent of all office space,” Hemmeter said. “And I’ve seen estimates that that could end up being 10 to 30 percent in the future. We’re all trying to figure out it’s going to be, but obviously there’s a huge growth potential here.”