Relocation trepidation

Looking for commercial premises can be frustrating. Tim Rich’s foray into the property game raises some tricky questions and takes him on a voyage of discovery.

“Harry Buckk-Teethe hare, of De Wynter, Pinkerton and Plonquer. You telephoned me regarding commercial property in central London. What exactly do you do?”

Did you know looking for a new office involves a string of telephonic interrogations from the sort of chump who skips around SW6 at the weekend with the collar of his rugby shirt sticking up? Well it does.

Buckk-Teethe is awaiting a reply. I intend to say “What do I do? I run a company peddling heroin to children and I’m looking for suitable office space in the W1 area. Perhaps something near a school?”

But it comes out as a rather inspirational speech about my business instead. As my last consonant gallops eagerly down the phone line, Fulham Man declares “OK, ware only handling spaces of a rind 1500m2 and upwards, I’m afraid. Good bye.”

Dealing with these kind of twits is just one of the many challenges behind an office relocation. It might sound odd, but the most difficult of all is deciding what type of space you actually need. What values do you want to convey? How much are you expecting to grow in the next five years? How much space do you really use? How much money can you safely commit? Tough questions.

What you’re doing is trying to create a workable equation which contains answers to the above while accommodating a few mystery factors, like an economy that won’t reveal whether it’s dipping or plummeting.

Finding a new studio is particularly troublesome for design consultancies, not least because they generally need to house everyone under one roof. So unlike BT Directory Enquiries, whose operators sound as if they’re located well north of John O’ Groats, a consultancy simply can’t shift its workforce somewhere cheap, but remote. Lovely as the Celtic fringe is, clients won’t visit, bike bills will be huge and designers crave Prada and Budvar more than home-knit jumpers and a pint of heavy.

What’s more, design consultancies can’t maximise profitability per square metre by working to a 24-hour shift system. The only time those lovely Apple Macs see any 3am action is when someone gets addicted to Doom or when distinguished members of the criminal fraternity break in.

Then there’s the profitability per person issue. They might be a bit thinner than the rest of the staff, but junior designers take up more or less the same amount of desk space, while generating less income. Employers might like to consider an idea from the domestic realm, namely bunk beds. Why not install bunk desks for your little nippers? They’ll love arguing about who gets to go on top. Bunk desks – coming to an issue of Wallpaper soon.

This question of location values is also tricky. Move your enormous studio to Mayfair and clients will think you’re overcharging. Relocate to Thamesmead and they might think you’re going out of business. No wonder Clerkenwell is full of design groups; it provides the magic numbers for the equation.

Property – what a game. The same rules apply wherever you are in the world. I’ve just spent a few days visiting Web designers in Reykjavik, Iceland, some of whom are rather elusive. I finally tracked one company to an industrial estate on the edge

of the city. A crate of cabbages and some unsmiling individuals in pointy hats, white coats and industrial sandals were standing outside the main entrance.

Apparently, they share their building with a food processing company. When I finally found the designers’ bit of the building it was barely big enough to swing a cabbage. And it was very dark, very quiet and very locked. I left unimpressed and spent the journey back staring at the fat numbers being thought up by the ruthless taxi meter.

I vowed never to go back to cabbageland, but, intrigued, I arranged for the company to come to me. The designers turned out to be 18 and 21 respectively, and absolutely shit hot. They’re making profits by sticking the engine room of their business in cheap lodgings and doing all their meetings at clients’ offices. They’re building up cash reserves and then they’ll shift everything to a space with the right values at the right price. They’re learning to play the property game.

Next day. I’m watching baggage carousel seven at Heathrow do another empty circuit. My phone rings. “Arr, Rupert Hackett-Blazer of Mary, Mungo and Midge commercial property agents hare. I believe you are sarching for property in W1. Tell me, wart exactly do you do?” I clear my throat. “Well, Rupes, you see it’s like this…”

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