Michael Kelly, founder and managing director of flexible workspace business Glandore, says the 20-year-old all-Ireland firm came about “by chance”.
ith its foundations in Dublin, the business branched out over the years and today its Belfast arm plays an integral role in attracting foreign direct investment into Northern Ireland.
The demand for the Glandore model of working has grown in recent years. That’s partly down to the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on working patterns.
But it’s also because many businesses are seeing the benefits of an all-inclusive workspace, shorter, flexible tenancy agreements and the additional concierge service, Michael says.
“Many businesses start by chance, and I had a building in Dublin that became vacant. The tenant we had outgrew its business and the building became too small,” he says.
“I then got a phone call to rent the building on a short-term lease, so I looked into the market for short term accommodation and discovered there was a crying need for it. Most landlords at the time were offering 25-year plus leases with the rent rolling in every quarter without the need to offer any management.
“And when I discovered that real need, I began operating that building as serviced offices back in 2001. We filled that 4,000 sq ft building very quickly and then opened a second, 30,000 sq ft site, also in Dublin.”
Among his first tenants in Dublin were social media giants Facebook and Twitter as well as Dropbox and even media company Bloomberg. All used the Glandore site as a launch pad to expand into their own offices in Ireland.
It was 2006 when Michael and his team, which includes his three daughters Fiona, Clare and Rebecca, decided to take the flexible workspace to Belfast.
“We were before our time,” he says, but the up-take was to be indicative of the success that would follow.
“We were very early in the flexibility space market in Belfast when we opened the 2,000 sq feet building in Arthur Street.
“We furnished and fitted it out and people said there is nothing like this in Belfast and I said, ‘you’re right’,” he adds.
One of Glandore’s earliest Belfast clients was Bank of Ireland and ESB but some of the city’s most established FDI businesses also began their NI journey there.
“Over the years Invest NI has done a super job in bringing FDI to Belfast.
“In the last 10 years a whole host of international brands have come in and we’ve provided space for them including Cayan, Bamboo Rose and Bazaarvoice as well as Rapid 7.
“We’ve provided that space for them to grow and we will continue to do that.
“Invest NI has done really well attracting businesses in key areas including financial services, tech and cyber security and we’ve worked with them to provide a space for those businesses to land.
“They could come in to view the office today and be sitting at their desk a week later. It’s a smooth and efficient operation.
“In addition to catering to those companies coming in, we also travel out to the States and have recently been in Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Texas, working with Invest NI to meet new prospects and to support their work.”
The appeal of Glandore’s flexible workspace goes beyond the physical office setting and flexible leases.
It’s about the add-ons, Michael says. “The member has a choice as to how long they stay for. They’re offered that flexibility, whether it’s six months or two years but the main offer there is the flexibility.
“We also provide scalability. You can begin by taking the space for 20 people and then scale up, or down. I think the market really needs that, especially now.
“On the IT front, our buildings are fibre connected and they are resilient connections with more than one coming into every building.
“Internally we offer a secure data network and use the highest quality equipment from an IT point of view and that’s always been the case. We always offer the best in class, and we continue to invest in that. Things must work well, and we ensure our infrastructure is the best it can be. Then we offer a concierge service, a support team whether it’s operations, IT or running an event we have someone there to help.
“And if it is someone is coming into the city for the first time we can hold their hand and collect them. We have our own network of trusted providers too that we can connect them with.”
Glandore says that it prides itself on being the first in the flexible workspace market in Ireland. This year it is celebrating 20 years in business.
Its Youtube Channel commemorates those two decades with testimonials from former and current Glandore members including Belfast Chamber’s Simon Hamilton and head of Facebook Ireland, Gareth Lamb, among others.
Glandore has 3,500 desks across its venues in Dublin, Cork, and Belfast with two separate sites in Belfast’s Arthur Street. Arthur House and Arthur Place provide around 800 desks.
Companies currently located at Glandore in Belfast are new additions Simon Community and Belmont Strategy. They join Turner Townsend, Riskonnect and DXC as well as Belfast Chamber of Commerce and Women in Business.
Glandore employs 75 people, the bulk of whom work at its Dublin restaurant facility. Around nine staff members are based in NI. Growth is on the cards for the business too with a second NI location in the pipeline, Michael reveals.
“There are currently 800 desks in Belfast, and we have plans to add 200 next year — expanding our existing space, but we would also like to look further and open a centre in Derry soon. We’re not there yet and we believe there is an opportunity and demand there.”
Beyond the start-ups and the FDIs seeking an Irish launch pad, Glandore is welcoming an influx of SMEs, who have reviewed their usual office set-ups after the pandemic.
Michael says these businesses are prioritising core corporate needs rather than office space contracts.
He says: “The small and medium sized businesses have really understood the advantages of flexible workspace because of the pandemic and we’re now seeing those businesses approach us.
“We’re seeing local business come to us more now, which would’ve been the case when we first set up.”
Right now, the entrepreneur is focusing on expansion and celebrating 20 years of business.
He adds: “There will be a party but right now we’re celebrating what we’ve brought to the market. We’re at the end of October and autumn has been good.
“Companies don’t want to tie themselves into long leases anymore. More employees will be working from home for at least part of the week so less office space will be required. We see a growth in demand for flexible options and also more meeting rooms and collaborative workspaces which we can certainly provide.”
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