Co-working as a field has been the subject of intense competition over the last few years. As WeWork’s meteoric rise spawned new rivals as well as readjustments from existing players, each of these firms has been searching for the right combination of experiences and amenities to make their brand stand out. But all the competition underscores a co-working truth: there is little truly unique or irreplaceable in the field. Each firm is, at its core, just another office operator with little “secret sauce,” despite the branding strategy, table games, or tenant relations app included.
The one area where the co-working operators truly can stand out is in terms of partnerships and location. Location is a bit of a no-brainer and the race for the best office locations is nothing new. But partnerships represent an interesting opportunity for co-working companies to build a stronger and more attractive value proposition by allying with other firms that offer synergistic services.
One example is the recent partnership between co-working firm Industrious and upscale gym company Equinox. Launching in the brand-new Hudson Yards development in New York City, the site’s Equinox gym will include space for an Industrious co-working office within the same building, offering clients the opportunity to pump some iron and then immediately crunch some numbers. It’s a winning combination. After all, who wouldn’t appreciate all that convenience?
For residents of Hudson Yards, it keeps everything local. For workers who commute, it cuts down on the number of destinations needed to complete a daily routine. All in all, the partnership is a win-win for Industrious, Equinox, and the local community. An interesting side note to this partnership is that both Hudson Yards and Equinox are owned by real estate giant The Related Companies. This makes the partnership seem somewhat inevitable and could lead to a similar arrangement in other Related properties.
As co-working spreads, the question becomes whether the spaces will ever come to areas outside of downtowns or similar centers-of-the-world like Hudson Yards. But what about the rest of the nation outside of the urban centers? While rural America is a little less than half as populated as the country’s cities, the suburbs account for more than twice as many people as urban America.
For their part, Industrious has their eye on the suburbs, telling us that they recently announced “expansion plans into highly-affluent suburbs of major metro areas: Short Hills, NJ right outside of NYC, and Walnut Creek, CA outside of SF, for example. It sees strong alignment between the demographics in these areas and its existing member base.”
For workers in smaller suburbs or truly rural areas, the choices are more limited. The truth is, the big co-working operators require dense populations to thrive, and the far-flung suburbs of Fargo just don’t pencil out. The best hope could lie with local operators, such as Lake Forest, Illinois (itself a very wealthy town, but perhaps a little too far from Chicago) LifeWorking co-working space. One other possibility is Office Depot’s growing co-working platform, another example of a strong co-working partnership (in principle, even if it is all one company). Plus, Office Depot is taking a different approach by actually targeting some truly suburban areas, such as Lake Zurich, Illinois, and Chanhassen, Minnesota. Perhaps co-working spaces are part of the answer to the empty big box epidemic sweeping the nation.
As WeWork continues to grow, the rest of the co-working industry has a choice: find unique partnerships, underserved geographies, another angle…or fail. There’s no secret to good co-working, only creativity, collaboration and convenience.