Tom Abuaita and his business partner own a successful franchise in food and beverage, but he was looking to diversify into another sector. He’d studied for a Masters in Real Estate a few years ago and loved property. The flexspace industry caught his eye in particular after he learned of its huge growth potential. So, it was serendipitous when his business partner introduced him to his former associate Julian Chambers, IWG’s Head of Franchise, UK & Ireland. He told him IWG was looking for franchise partners in the UK and Abuaita jumped at the chance.
As market leader in the flexspace industry, and with years of experience riding economic ups and downs, IWG impressed Abuaita with its resilience and he felt confident that it was the right partner for him. In March 2019, he signed an agreement that consists of seven different territories, all across the Midlands.
Last month, he opened his first centre in Wolverhampton, Regus 84 Salop Street, converting two floors in the iconic former Carillion headquarters building. The 13,000sq ft space includes two meeting rooms, eight coworking desks, a 1,000sq ft business lounge and a large range of offices, from one-person up to capacity for more than 80. The centre is already filling up with a huge range of businesses – everything from accountants and law firms to housing support and recruitment companies.
Abuaita says he likes to take a very hands-on approach to franchises and is very involved in the daily running of the centre, working closely with the centre manager to get a sense of the business on the ground. Once his team there has grown, he will take a step back and begin developing his other patches, finding new properties to develop.
An educational experience
As with any new venture, it’s been an education – from shaping the initial property deal and site acquisition to negotiating on the lease, right through to the design and fit-out stage. But thankfully IWG has offered its support throughout, assisting with anything he needs. Someone is always on call to help.
Abuaita says owning a franchise in the flexspace industry has been a hugely rewarding experience: “I enjoy turning a standard office into an amazing coworking space,” he says. “That’s one of the things I like about Regus – they are top-end, quality coworking spaces. Also, you get to meet some great businesses and amazing people along the way.”
Looking to the future
Since the pandemic, of course, conversation about new ways of working has intensified, with the future of the traditional office under question. Abuaita believes current uncertainty about what lies ahead means businesses need to adapt quickly and part of meeting that need is investing in top-quality workspaces on flexible terms. “Long gone are the days of rigid, inflexible leases,” he says.
But how will the COVID crisis shape the future of the flexspace industry? Abuaita agrees with reports that the acceleration of home working will lead to a ‘hybrid’ approach that blends home and office working. He points to the so-called ‘hub-and-spoke’ model, where businesses opt for small spaces in core city centres and open up more regional bases in the suburbs nearer to employees’ homes.
“Coming out of this pandemic, it is likely there will be more new businesses and startups – as we saw after the financial crisis of 2008,” he says. “They will likely need office space on flexible terms – even sole traders who work from home may need a professional base for one, two or three days a week.”
Abuaita remains optimistic about the future of the office – including his own franchise. His ambitious growth plans include expanding into his other territories and he wants to be one of the most successful Regus franchisees in the UK, with a large portfolio of centres. He also hopes the workspaces will benefit thriving local businesses and open up job opportunities for local communities.
So, what advice would he therefore give to someone considering becoming an IWG franchise partner?
“Go and look at existing IWG centres to see what is being offered and how the business works,” he says. “‘Mystery shopping’ competitors is also a good way to see what the flex industry as whole is offering – it gives you a more holistic view. And speak to existing franchisees as well. They can tell you what you need to know.”