Insights from a Suburban Pioneer, Pt. 5: The Right Suburb, The Right Mix

In last week’s episode of Everything Coworking, host Jamie Russo interviewed Mara Hauser (25N CEO + Founder) on the ins and outs of an emerging market and subject close to our hearts: suburban coworking. Read on for Mara’s perspective on the challenges (and unique opportunities) that coworking outside of the big-city limits can present—from corporate coworking and growing small-town economies to advice on opening a suburban workspace for yourself.

The Future of Suburban Coworking: Challenge Meets Opportunity

J: So I think we’ve talked about a lot of benefits of being in suburban locations, are there any, sort of, unique challenges that you’ve come across—compared to your urban counterparts?

M: Yes, basically some of the awareness-building has been a really big issue. In the urban centers, coworking is something that people are more aware of, but coworking is not something that the generations in the suburbs know about. One of our biggest competitors wasn’t another coworking space, it was local building owners who had extra, one-office spaces available. Some of them have shared amenities, but nothing like what we’re doing. And when local real estate brokers started to learn about what we wanted to accomplish, we go a lot of push-back.

 How are we going to make sure that everyone who walks by, knows what we do in there?

The other thing has been advertising, marketing, getting the word out—it was really a guerilla marketing affair. I guess I would call it that because, you know, we had to try dozens of different things. We put ads in some subdivision publications, but the rule of thumb is that people need to see things like, 3 times before it sinks in. So it wasn’t anything that was fast-acting. Although there was walk-by traffic in Geneva, people would look in the windows and think “oh, they’re selling office furniture.”

J: They weren’t getting it.

M: Yeah. We ended up having an advisory board meeting where I was like, “How are we going to make sure that everyone who walks by, knows what we do in there?” So we went with signage—the logo was out there already, our website URL was out there already—and we wound up putting statements and taglines on the windows like “Innovative Workspace,” “Private Offices,” “Meeting Rooms,” “Office Services,” “High-speed WiFi”—just to really spell it out on the glass.

 There are a lot of people in urban environments that will be moving out to the suburbs in the future, moving out to the next phase in their careers or in their lives.

J: Yeah, I think in urban locations, operators are more focused on their SEO & digital advertising spend—people are searching for them already. They can do some more scalable things around marketing. But you’re, like, in hustle-mode, trying to use your available window real estate… So, you are having a great experience with suburban coworking, not without its challenges, but you just expanded into Arlington Heights, and suburban coworking seems to be growing along with the industry in general. Do you think we’ve hit a tipping point for more suburban coworking success? I mean, how far are we away from that?

M: Well, it has to be the right suburb, the right size. There’s still some volume issues involved, and I think that density is what makes the urban coworking model so successful. So we still have to think about that. And, of course, what your market is. There are a lot of successful suburban coworking spaces who are either makerspaces or focus on a particular industry—niche coworking—so I obviously believe the opportunity is there and I’m very interested in expanding our brand. But to find the correct, proper location, with the right mix, is the key. And I think, too, that there are a lot of people in urban environments that will be moving out to the suburbs in the future, moving out to the next phase in their careers or in their lives, and we’ll be ready for them. Do we build it before they get here? Do we build it once they arrive? There’s a couple different ways to think about that!

J: If someone is thinking about opening a suburban coworking location, what’s one big piece of advice that you would give them as they’re working through their process?

 Get connected with the community. Know what makes them tick.

M: Get connected with the community. Know what makes them tick. Work with the local Chamber—they know a lot of what’s going on as far as economic development—and they are also connected with business owners that will help you, one, determine if it’s a viable community for coworking, and, two, to build respect and support as you create your space.

J: Great advice. Mara, thank you so much for sharing your time, and your insights, and your experience.

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