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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 12, 2019 2 months ago

In the flow: Co-working firm aims high with new concept

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Phillippe Houdard dreamed up Pipeline before the shared workspace craze hit. He has big hopes for expansion in the region.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Lack of new office space plus a booming economy has added up to a co-working craze in the Tampa Bay area. Station House, The Ring, WeWork and Industrious are just some of the co-work entities that have jumped into the race to provide space to both businesses flocking to the region and firms already here who have outgrown abodes.

Pipeline, based in Miami, is one of the region's newest entries. It takes a different approach to the more traditional co-working concept by focusing on a client roster made of professional services firms that value a more luxurious working space with a high level of customer service.

“A lot of the members in our space would not be interested in other ones that are more informal, loud and rambunctious,” founder and CEO Philippe Houdard says. “It’s a very professional environment.”

“Many companies like having an outpost in a co-working space, so they can network, engage new prospects and be closer to the community.” Pipeline CEO Phillippe Houdard

Houdard says the usual suspects — tech firms like Microsoft and Google — have placed workers in Pipeline offices. So has payroll giant ADP and on-demand delivery startup Postmates. Even smaller, local businesses, such as law firms, have signed up for Pipeline — but not to move their entire operation there.

“Many companies like having an outpost in a co-working space, so they can network, engage new prospects and be closer to the community,” Houdard says. “Also, there’s a risk that companies will experience ‘groupthink’ if employees are around only people who are working on that company’s activities all day.”

Houdard, 50, has so far found success with Pipeline in both Miami and Philadelphia since launching the concept in 2012. But with all the competition, locally and nationwide, a core challenge is to continue to grow membership and to add new locations. 

One way is in appearance. 

“Once we get them into the space, and they take a look, we’ve found that our conversation rates are very high,” Houdard says. “They can just feel the vibe. A lot of household names are on the doors — big companies — but also interesting, dynamic, young companies. People want to be a part of that.”

Houdard says Pipeline also differs from the competition in that he considers it a hospitality company — not a real estate company. “The people we hire to work at Pipeline come from a hospitality background,” he says.

Pipeline founder and CEO Philippe Houdard says the Miami firm's expansion to Tampa is going well.

The hiring strategy, he adds, is to find talent with experience providing “white-glove treatment” at boutique hotels. Pipeline looks for candidates who excel at interpersonal engagement and customer service, and then, if necessary, the company teaches them how to sell the office space.

Rent rates start at $199 per month for a flex, unfixed desk space and run as high as $3,000 per month for the largest, 10-person office size. Dedicated desk space is available for $449 per month, and small offices start at $649 per month. Parking is available for an added fee.

Pipeline Tampa, on the 15th floor of Park Tower Tampa, at 400 N. Tampa St. downtown, is about 75% occupied, with 150 people calling it their place of work, Houdard says. Because it’s not a street-level co-working space aimed at attracting drop-in customers, office leases are the key to sustainable growth. 

“Occupancy is really what drives the business,” Houdard says. “But we want to have people working in the open spaces because that creates the vibe and environment that people want to be part of.”

Houdard acknowledges Pipeline’s desk and office lease rates are at the higher end of the spectrum, but he doesn’t see that as a barrier to growth. Pipeline, he says, delivers added value to its members, such as social events and thought-provoking presentations by visiting leaders from the worlds of business, politics, science and sports.

“We’re trying to create an environment that's unlike the traditional work environment that people have experienced in the past,” he says. “It’s about creating a community. Working in solitude is, I think, anathema to being productive and engaged. When you're working in a place like Pipeline, you're able to meet a lot of interesting people from many different walks of life.”

Citing Sundberg P.A., a large Miami law firm, as an example, Houdard also says a great deal of cross-pollination goes on at Pipeline. Sundberg used its Pipeline Miami space for new business development. “A lot of members end up doing business with one another," he says. "When we see that happen, it validates the initial concept that we had.”

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