Coworking culture on the rise

Trend introduces office-like atmosphere into traditional retail spaces

By Molly M. Fleming
BridgeTower Media Newswires
 
OKLAHOMA CITY – A couple of years ago, Devon Mobley was enjoying collaborating with his team at work, but his wife, Jordan, wasn’t feeling the same way.

She works as a photographer, so she often spent time editing photos in coffee shops or her own home.

After noticing an increase in coworking businesses, where an owner rents a large space and then sub-rents different space sizes to other people, the Mobleys decided to try it out.

“We wanted to create something that can be a place for community for someone outside their home office,” said Jordan Mobley.

The Mobleys, who live in northwest Oklahoma City, talked to their friends Matt and Kaylea Vaughn about a possible location. The Vaughns, who operate a coffee shop in Moore called The Boxcar, shared with the Mobleys their love of their location in the Avondale Square shopping center, 2100 N. Eastern Ave.

Unfamiliar with the Moore area, Jordan Mobley said she was hesitant. But the concept is working. The Mobleys opened the Rise Coworking space in January and are on track with their goal to be at 50 percent capacity by this time.

“Something we’re really excited about is the responses we’ve gotten from people that live in Norman, even further south,” she said. “We have people coming from Yukon and Mustang.”

Rise is part of a growing national co-working trend, which is taking an office-like atmosphere and putting it in traditional retail spaces. Rise has about 3,600 square feet in the shopping center.

Coworking space in retail properties is expected to grow about 25 percent annually through 2023 and reach at least 3.4 million square feet by that time, according to JLL’s research analytics.

Avondale Square co-developer Joshua Kitchen, who also oversees the property’s leasing, said when the Mobleys approached him and his development partner Greg McAlister about being a tenant, they thought the office-like setting made sense.

“I think having a live-work environment is attractive today, especially in Oklahoma City,” he said.

He said having multiple people coming to the center for Rise helps generate more activity for the other businesses, such as The Boxcar. Jordan Mobley said Rise offers black coffee, but members can get a discount at The Boxcar.

“When you mix office and retail, or office and restaurants, they bring more value to each other,” Kitchen said.

In Edmond, Vault 405 project coordinator Marla Lance said she sees coworking tenants visiting the shops and eating at downtown Edmond’s restaurants.

At 10 N. Broadway, Vault 405 occupies about 12,000 square feet. Similar to Rise Coworking, people can rent individual offices or individual desks, or sit at a large table.

Lance said the offices are the most popular space type. At Rise, private desks are the hot commodity, said Mobley.

Vault 405 is expanding to add five more office spaces, bringing its total to 18. The farm-to-shelf grocery store Urban Agrarian is opening in Vault 405 soon and has built what would be two office spaces into its store. Having a retailer inside the coworking space is another popular trend, according to JLL’s coworking report.

“Across all types of coworking formats, more than half incorporated retail selling space within their walls,” according to the report. “This coworking and retail mix is a burgeoning trend of multifunctional mixed-use spaces. This opens up opportunities for local, niche or startup concepts that do not have capital for their own location to flourish as part of a shared retail space.”

In Tulsa, The Bridge coworking space isn’t in a retail center, but it’s near homes and not far from one of the city’s most popular shopping areas, Brookside.

Gary Crouch owns the building at 5272 S. Lewis Ave. He already had his other technology-related businesses in the building. When his daughter shared her experience of using a coworking space while studying abroad in London, he wanted to get one started. He co-owns the operation with Shawn Slavin.

Crouch has owned his own businesses since he was 25 years old, so he said he felt like this would be a good way to nurture other entrepreneurs.

Manager Daniel Blaho said he’s seen a lot of coworking tenants working together with other tenants. Since many workers are in creative-type businesses such as photography or graphic design, there can be a need to get someone’s approval on an idea.

Mobley said she’s seen this in Rise, and she’s heard that it’s helped some people with depression. She knows the sadness that can come when working alone and there’s no one to talk with. Tenants have also told her that being at the coworking space makes them more productive, so paying the rent is worth the investment.

Crouch, who is a baby boomer, said the coworking culture is something he didn’t understand.

“My generation corners itself into individual workspaces, then we come together for meetings,” he said. “(The millennials) don’t need that quiet that baby boomers seem to thrive in. If (millennials) want to concentrate, they put on their headphones and listen to music. It’s a different culture.”

And it’s the millennials’ appreciation for sharing space, from houses to vehicles, that’s one of the drivers behind the coworking growth. But it’s hard to see if it’s a fad or a trend that’s here to stay, said Beth Moore, CBRE’s managing director and real estate practice leader.

But technology is changing the work environment and that’s not going to slow down, she said.

She said having coworking in a retail environment is beneficial for some companies because they need the exposure to possible new clients. About 400 coworking companies are testing various models.

Like Vault 405 and Rise, coworking seems to be most popular in suburban areas, according to JLL.

Suburban shopping centers are seeing a rise in big-box stores being vacated. More than 50 percent of coworking spaces are in suburban locations, according to JLL, and about 70.7 percent of those are in low- to mid-tier retail properties.

Moore said brokers who may have to find a home for a coworking space should use one to really understand the concept.

“You don’t get it until you’re enamored in the experience,” she said.

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