In an interview with Nick von Stein of eBizRadio.com, Mari Schourie provides interesting insights into XtraSpace, its growth and the services it offers.
XtraSpace had its beginnings in the self-storage sector in 2007. Since then, the company has expanded rapidly, opening facilities across the country and entering innovative new lines of business. Today a key focus of the company is on providing small to medium businesses and entrepreneurs with affordable office space solutions.
Listen to the interview to find out more about the benefits of using XtraSpace serviced office or co-working space, as an affordable alternative to traditional office space. Mari explains exactly what facilities and services clients can expect. She also discusses XtraSpace’s plans to open multiple new office space facilities in the coming months.
Nick: You are listening to ebizradio.com. The place to go if you want to know about the world of business or the business of the world. You can follow us on Twitter, Facebook or at e-bizradio.com where we screen 24/7 most of the time as well as podcasts and some interesting articles. My name is Nick van Staden and joining me on this edition of ebiz insights is Mari Schourie from XtraSpace, and they basically help small entrepreneurs and small companies find an office space at a very reduced price. So, hello Mari – it’s nice to finally chat to you today.
Mari: Thank you for having me Nick.
Nick: So I love it when our podcasts cross platforms and connect with other podcasts and recently we did a podcast series with Deon Chang where we were talking about the sharing economy and this links directly to it. So before we get to that little point, let’s start off with your business experience and who and what XtraSpace is and does.
Mari: Okay, so XtraSpace started off in 2008 as a storage… supplying people with storage, self-storage facilities, and we about two years ago, in April, we decided we’re going to do office service space, and we started with that. At the current moment we’ve got eight service offices with a combination of co-working space and we’ve got four projects at the moment, but by the end of this year we will be looking at about 12. It’s definitely my experience, where I come from, I have been in the service office industry for 15 years now, and I have joined XtraSpace now two years ago and it’s a booming industry – it’s for the small to medium business and it’s a passion of mine. I have lived it and I’ve breathed it for 15 years so that is my side; that is where I come from.
Nick: You can see that there’s obviously a need for it at the moment – economic times are incredibly tough and people are looking for new ways to adapt, and whether it’s the fact that office space is too expensive or the fact that people want to be flexible with their time and what they’re doing with their money, you can see the need for this in the modern day economy. I was reading earlier up that it could cost on the average R45 000 to rent an office in one of the big commercial areas in the country. Let’s take Sandton for example. If we had to pay R45 000 per month here at ebiz just for an office, we’d be out of business very quickly.
Mari: Definitely. This works so well for the small to medium-sized business or for the start-up business. People are looking more and more at serviced working offices and co-working space than to the traditional office space. There is a few things that I can give to you, the pros and the cons for instance. Like you say, in Sandton for instance, you would be looking at a minimum of taking up unserviced space of about 250 square metres, which ranges between R115 and R118 per square on average. That just covers your rental. Over and above that, you have to pay utilities, refuse, water and electricity, and then that doesn’t even talk about setting up your office – buying furniture – the infrastructure of the telephones, receptionist, cleaning staff – all that type of thing that just adds up to the account every month. And what makes service offices so ideal is all of that is included in your package for a fraction of the price at the end of the day.
Nick: Okay, so take us through the process. I’m a recently graduated accountant from the University of Johannesburg and I’m opening up my own business, and I come to you because I’ve seen and heard about you guys. What is the next step?
Mari: Okay, so basically we can set you up within 2 hours – it’s that quick. If you start with a service office – both sides actually works very similar – co-working is a Monday to Friday thing during normal office hours, where serviced offices – if you take an office with us, you get 24-hour access to your space. So, it starts with you coming to have a look at the office space. If this works for you, you choose your office or you go for the co-working side of things. So it is dependent on what your needs are. And then what it includes is…everything is very modern and upmarketly furnished, so you got a first stepping stone into the business market, is you’ve got an address, you’ve got a telephone number. The girls in the front answer your calls in your company name, they take messages for you, they pass that onto you via e-mail or SMS whatever suits you best. So you’ve got a full infrastructure ready behind you where there’s staff, people when they come in and visit you, you actually walk into a corporate building and a corporate environment and they could get seated into a beautiful meeting room where we’ve got facilities of projectors, video conference, conference calling, etcetera, printing – anything you can think of that’s supposed to be in an office. You then get your office space – your office rental, like I say, then includes the ladies in the front – they basically deal as your receptionist – they also are the managers of the building so you have got that onsite management support. We’ve got very flexible terms – month to month, we’ve got 24-hours access to the premises. Personalized phone answering. Messages taken like I’ve mentioned. Water and electricity is included. Air conditioning is included. The street business address. Full reception function. Completely furnished offices. Refreshments are included – teas and coffees unlimited. High-speed fibre optic we’ve got – so top-of-the-range technology that you can get, we’ve got in our offices. All our sites have got generator back-up. The cleaning staff is there, you don’t have to worry about that. You never have to worry about maintenance. Secure parking is included in the deal and like I said, as well the meeting rooms, which is a big thing and that is included in your rental, it is purely just on a booking basis – first come, first serve. That is basically all of it in a nutshell. So you walk in, you pay your monthly rent and over and above that you will only pay for usage like your telephone calls, which we don’t put any mark-up on either – it’s just normal Telkom rates.
Nick: Now I have probably a dumb question, but I’m still intrigued – so let’s say that you’ve got five businesses or five different companies in one office space, and someone calls the front desk. How does the reception know which company they need to answer for?
Mari: Ok so we’ve basically got to put it in terms, funny terms, we’ve got the Rolls Royce of switchboards. Our ladies that are actually onsite, our management, they do the programming themselves. The minute you sign up with us your number gets allocated to you. That number is dedicated to your business. If you’ve got five businesses or ten businesses, we can give you ten different numbers. We allocate those specific numbers to your company. It gets programmed onto the board. The minute someone dials that number, it appears onto their screen and they answer it in that company name. So yes, you can run multiple businesses from one office suite.
Nick: And you said that you guys have grown rapidly since you started the business. I heard you at the beginning – you said that you now are in eight different office complexes. Am I right?
Mari: We’ve got eight facilities that are open and running at the moment, in Jo’burg, Durban, Pietermaritzburg (we’ve opened up recently in February). We’ve got Midrand, Centurion, Randburg we are opening now in August, the Linden office – we’re reaching out, we’re going out to Pretoria – just off Atterbury – we’ve got CBD, that is in the pipeline as well, that we’ve just bought now, which is in Village Road, and then we are also going out to Ballito’s side – so we’re everywhere basically. We’re trying to be.
Nick: Now what do the offices look like? Is it an open plan? Is it segregated so that each business can have its own privacy? I’m trying to form a mental image.
Mari: Definitely. Okay, so when you walk in, you’ve got a very corporate image. Like I said, we’ve got a full reception facility, so even when you do collections and deliveries, the staff in the frontline will handle all of that for you. Then like we’ve got a combination now of the two – we’ve got service offices and we’ve got co-working on the same premises. What will happen is co-working is more of a collaborative work space – so there is more open plan, you’ve got private booths, you’ve got hot desk seating – if it makes any sense to you but then also we’ve got the serviced offices, which is more of a, if I can put it like that, a traditional office where you have got your own private lock-up space. You’ve got access to that office – it’s your private office and there is where you work. So you can have the option between the private side of things but you can still have a neighbour next door who does something different from what you do. So the networking still takes place, which is very important, between the customers we’ve got – it’s a big deal to us. And then you’ve got the co-working space – so the co-working space is, like I say, much more open planned. It’s a little bit like taking away the businessman from the coffee shop and bringing him into the co-working space.
Nick: And I imagine this must be very popular with people my age, so late 20’s, early 30’s, that are all starting their own businesses, and also our generation is also very keen into networking because that seems to be the way that the world is going into the future. So have you seen collaborations between businesses that are both in your offices?
Mari: Oh definitely, all the time. The difference with service offices and especially with the co-working bit that has taken off by storm now, is…what makes the difference is that you’re part of a community and like-minded people – people that understand the same challenges that they’re going through, you’re going through. There’s big challenges for small start-up businesses and small business owners and their support, they definitely – you’re looking for a bookkeeper – we always make sure that you’re not just a number inside our buildings. Our management, they are onsite – they are on the floor – they actually do a lot of the networking as well – they would know exactly what industries we have in our buildings, what the businesses does, and they connect the people up with one another. We also do networking events between our branches and inside our branches we do that. It’s really important for us to assist to actually make these small businesses grow. There’s lots of stories I can tell you and it is very exciting for us. This is ideal for like freelancers as well start-up businesses, travelling entrepreneurs, but also the guy that is going to stay a four-man business at the end of the day. It’s an automatic networking space and you can generate income from where your workplace is. I see it happening all the time. So basically the spaces we’ve got here definitely accommodates for the networking and it happens all the time – even us as XtraSpace, at the end of the day, use some of our clients – they become suppliers of us.
Nick: Now I mean I see that you guys have offices in some really nice areas – Melrose Arch was the one example I saw. So you guys have this new innovative means of doing business and providing an office space, but how come other people haven’t adapted to this, because if I’m looking at two office spaces and the one is costing me R45 000 a month and then the other one is costing me a lot less with you guys – I mean most of the time, people are going to gravitate towards you automatically. So is this a trend that is going to be picked up on?
Mari: I definitely believe so, yes. There is a distinct trend. The business owners are looking more towards serviced offices and co-working space at the moment. It’s also our new generation – you know we have to cater now for the new generation. The people, definitely, they do network within the building. It happens all the time. It’s phenomenal actually, to watch sometimes seeing the people going into the one office and the next discussing business, and it’s definitely a big support structure and also because you have got such a vast industry range coming into the building – you’ve got anything from even a lawyer to somebody that does promotional stuff. There’s such a difference between every company but they always manage to find someone to actually use within their company within their businesses – so there is a lot of networking taking place on the premises definitely.
Nick: And obviously it must be nice for your guys to see all these companies that you help facilitate and grow in especially…in such difficult economic times at the moment, where people are looking for good deals to be honest.
Mari: Oh, for sure and the one thing that makes XtraSpace special as well is that we are extremely flexible – we really genuinely do care – we know what it’s like out there. We know that times are tough and we try and accommodate people as much as we can. We run specials quite often but also when we don’t and somebody comes to us and says that I really need this space and we need to make a plan for them, we go out of our way to do that because we do take pride in it and we do feel that we play a big role as part of building the economy of South Africa because it does lie within the SME at the end of the day and even the staff, we try and imprint that on our staff – it’s so important for them also to understand that they are the front of these little businesses and that they are the people, the first contact of the clients coming through, and it definitely does shine through. I think anybody…if you had to pick up a phone and phone one of our clients, we’ve got a very good reputation with our service we deliver, but it’s also because it’s a passion of ours and we imprint it on our staff as well, definitely.
Nick: What is your expansion plans for the year and for next year because there is obviously going to be more demand for your products.
Mari: Definitely. Well currently at the moment, we’ve got Melrose Arch; we’ve got a branch in Sunninghill; we’ve got Durban; Morningside Manor; One Chadwick which is just off of Greystone and Standton; we’ve got Pietermaritzburg, we’ve got Midrand; Centurion; and like I said, we’re currently busy with Randburg; Linden which is opening in August, just off of Attebury and Pretoria, which is opening on the 1st of October, and then early next year, we’re opening Village Road, which is Johannesburg CBD. Billito is also opening 27th, which is presently being built, and yes there’s lots of fingers in the pie basically. We’re looking everywhere, and we’ve opened up a storage facility in Mauritius, and we’re looking to expand with our service offices there as well. There’s various options that we’re looking at, and definitely the growth is going to be quite rapidly. What is quite nice, the reason we also have to look at things like that, is when you do take up space with us at XtraSpace, if you took up space in Sandton at One Chadwick for instance, you can go to Durban and use our facilities there, you can go to Pietermaritzburg, you can go to Melrose Arch, you can go to Morningside Manor. So once you’re a client of ours, you can use the other facilities as well. We’re definitely looking into expanding into Cape Town as well, and yes, it just makes it so much more convenient for the travelling businessman to have an office where he can use all the facilities countrywide.
Nick: Yes, I was about to say you forgot about poor Cape Town. What happens when we here at e-biz radio need office space one day?
Mari: Exactly. I just threw it in there last – we are definitely expanding into Cape Town, yes, so that’s all that I can say at the moment, but we are looking at it, yes.
Nick: And lastly, how do we contact you guys?
Mari: Well you can reach us – you can always go onto our website which is XtraSpace.co.za, you can look at all our branches there – we’ve got pictures up of every single branch which is to let and, yes, you can reach us as well. You can always contact me if you’d like – I don’t know if you wanted me to give you the number?
Nick: Yes, go ahead.
Mari: Sure, my number is 083 441 9991. And then like I say, go onto our website – all our branch numbers are there. If there’s a specific branch you want to go to, you’re welcome to pop in at any time, and I always say the ladies I’ve got a gentleman in Durban, actually I must stop doing that, but the staff are always ready to show you around and to welcome you into our space.
Nick: Mari, I thank you so much for your time today. It’s a great venture that you guys have going and the fact that it connects with this new shared economy is very good, and it bodes well for you in the future. I wish you the best of luck.
Mari: Thank-you very much for having me, Nick. I appreciate it – it was nice talking to you.