The Sunday Independent: Glandore creating space for it and other firms to grow
Starting any new business requires finding the right office. For companies coming to Ireland, there can be uncertainty about what pace they will grow at. As a result, finding workspace that is flexible and can accommodate unpredictable pace and scale of growth is important. Michael Kelly spotted this when he set up flexible workspace firm Glandore and has, over the last 16 years, played host to many well-known Irish and multinational companies.
This article first appeared in the 13.08.2017 version of The Sunday Independent.
Set up in 2001 by Michael Kelly, Glandore has grown to become a leading provider of flexible workspace solutions. With six locations, four in Dublin and two in Belfast, the company now provides over 1,600 desk spaces – 1,000 in Dublin and 600 in Belfast – employs 60 staff and has an annual turnover of more than €12m.
With prestigious office locations in Dublin’s Silicon Docks and Central Business District as well as in Belfast city, the company has provided flexible workspace to numerous Irish startups as well as a long list of foreign-direct investment firms. Among these are well-known names such as Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox and Smartbox.
“Our focus is on creating space where businesses can grow,” says Michael. “When companies start with us, they get immediate access to an already fully-fitted workspace with maximum flexibility regarding the length of term they need to commit to as well as the ability to scale from a one-person operation right up to a 350-person space, and all in prime city centre locations.”
Thanks to the range of workspace solutions on offer, from virtual offices, meeting rooms and co-working, to private offices and project space, the company supports a wide range of businesses. From freelance workers to international firms establishing a base in Ireland, right up to larger and more-established multinational firms, Glandore’s clients – or members as they prefer to call them – come from a diverse range of sectors that includes everything from tech and fintech to financial services, banking, legal, insurance and pharma. “To make life easier for these companies, we offer a fully tailored, ready-to-go IT solution while our reception and operations team manage all the facilities as well as providing general support while the company get on with the process of hiring their own staff,” says Michael’s daughter Clare, who is the company’s marketing director.
Flexible workspace or serviced office space is a concept that has been around since the late 80s. Many are run by international companies. But Glandore has carved out a name for itself as a landing pad for US firms looking to get started here.
“Modern companies are scaling and failing more quickly than ever and so it is essential to have flexibility in both space and the length of term they are required to lease space. In Ireland, commercial property leases in the city centre are generally longer than in most continental markets, typically 20 years with a break after 10 years,” says Michael.
“While this is great for investors, such leases don’t work for many companies who are scaling or where they simply require short-term overflow accommodation or short-term space for a specific project. What they want is speed to market with minimal risk or upfront costs”.
Michael Kelly is something of an accidental entrepreneur. Having grown up on a small farm in Caltra in Co Galway, he graduated with a degree in science from UCD. He then enjoyed a successful career in sales and marketing, firstly in the pharmaceutical sector with firms such as Eli Lilly and Glaxo, and later in the area of consumers goods where he worked as sales and marketing director for Johnson Brothers.
During that time he completed a part-time MBA at the Smurfit School of Business.
By 2001, Michael had already invested in the property market and decided it was time to look after his assets on a full-time basis. One of the office buildings he had bought, 33 Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin, had been rented to a pharmaceutical firm which had out grown the space and needed to move. At the same time, legal firm, Mason Hayes and Curran, which were also located on Fitzwilliam Square, inquired if he might be interested in renting the building to them for overflow space for a short period while they too searched for a new, larger headquarters.
“Damage to a stairs that needed to be repaired, meant that we couldn’t actually rent the building in the required time frame,” says Michael. “While it was a negative at the time, this turned out a blessing in disguise because it prompted me to research the market for flexible workspace in the Dublin area. What I discovered was that there was a significant and growing interest in this type of model and so I turned 33 Fitzwilliam Square into a small business centre, with 4,500 sq ft of space with 75 desks and Glandore was born.”
The building soon filled and Michael and his team began offering a concierge-type service helping to connect these new companies with everyone from business banks and recruitment firms to providers of residential accommodation and childcare services. In 2005, Michael purchased the landmark Bank of Ireland building at Leeson Street bridge, now Fitzwilliam Hall.
Such was the demand, the new building, comprising 30,000 sq ft with 400 desk spaces, was 50pc pre-let before it was officially launched onto the market nine months later.
Michael later converted the penthouse accommodation in Fitzwilliam Hall into a private conference centre and events location. Michael had also previously bought two office buildings on Arthur Street in Belfast and in 2006, converted one of these into flexible workspace to test the market and later converted the second building to provide 600 desks in Belfast City Centre.
Clare joined the business in 2008. A qualified occupational therapist, she had studied at Trinity College and afterwards worked in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire and in Sydney. “I love working with people and I believe my training in occupational therapy has helped us create a holistic approach in the way we support our members’ needs,” says Clare.
“We set our Glandore Member Network as a way to help our members get to know each other better. We also host a range of educational, social, and corporate social responsibility events as a complimentary Wellness Programme to help promote fun and health in the work environment.”
Michael admits that 2008 was a tough time for all businesses. “But we knuckled down and focused on surviving,” he says. “Then in 2011, we opened our own restaurant, Suesey Street and the following year, a private dining venue in No.25 Fitzwilliam Place.” Michael’s two other daughters also work in the business: Fiona is in charge of the company’s expansion and Rebecca is sales director. With demand for space increasing, Michael and Clare remain focused on growth. Later this year they will open a new building, No. 24 Fitzwilliam Place, where they will bring another 100 desk spaces to the market. They are also on the lookout for new facilities to host another 400 desks.
Michael is happy that his company is contributing to the economy by helping companies get started or to grow here. Clare too has found her niche. It seems to be a winning combination.