Following the launch of Area’s dedicated SME service, we speak with James Dunlop, the project director who will be leading the team responsible for delivering projects for small to medium enterprises.
Can you explain your professional background?
I would describe my professional background as eclectic with a consistent thread of creativity and strategy weaved through it. Breaking that down, I spent four years as a designer running my own business, four years as a branding consultant advising on strategy, brand integration and product development and the past three years in the design and build sector as a project director.
What is your role within Area?
I am a Project Director at Area, focusing on small to medium sized enterprises and business units; effectively the 2,000 – 8,000 square feet market.
What are your main responsibilities?
To listen to our clients’ needs, understand their business, culture and ways of working. Then with our team, advise them on the best possible design solution that will embraces their culture, improves productivity and maximises efficiencies, all in a budget that works for their business.
Can you explain what Area’s SME service is, and how it supports our clients?
Area SME is a design and build service of Area that serves the small to medium sized enterprise and business unit market across the UK. Working with companies ranging from 20 – 100 staff or occupying 2,000 – 8,000 square feet of space.
It offers a great deal of support to our clients because we are focused on this sector, we understand their needs, challenges and desires and we have a dedicated team geared up and experienced to design and deliver the exceptional office they want, cost effectively.
How does this complement the other services that Area offer?
It complements the Area offering as it is made up of an experienced dedicated team that focuses purely on this sector and comes with the presence, strength, stability and expertise of the Area team and the wider Fourfront Group, which has been trading profitably since 2000 and has an annual turnover of £150m. In addition, regardless of project size, our Excellence in Delivery programme remains the same.
In what locations is this service available?
The Area SME proposition is currently focused on the UK market place. In time it could be something that we look to expand into Europe and through our global partnership, The United Workplace.
For any SME business, how a workplace project is financed is an important consideration. What’s your advice on how businesses approach this?
It’s a good question. Cashflow considerations are an important factor for the SME market. We have advised many clients to look at either fully or part financing their fit-out. There are many advantages to this approach, which include: capital retention, it’s 100% tax deductible, you can spread the VAT over the course of the repayment and you have ability to invest in more high-quality finishes and furniture should you wish to.
Many SMEs often start out in serviced office spaces. In your opinion, how and when should a business transition from a serviced office to a conventional office?
Serviced office solutions are great for many businesses providing benefits including fixed costs, shorter leases, great amenities and often great design (evidenced by our own work in this sector!) For the businesses we engage with the tipping point for a move to their own leased space tends to be less about size and more about having their own ‘front door’, owning the look and feel of the space and control of the environment they live in daily. Culture is also a major factor, being able to build and sustain a company and their people’s identity. We love that we get to work with businesses delivering this vision that not only inspires their people, but affects how their customers see and interact with them.
What advice would you give to businesses who are on a limited budget and need to show ROI, but don’t want to compromise on innovative office design?
I would start by saying not to compromise on design. Some may take the approach of just filling the space with desks and cheap furniture and that their people are there to “work”. Yes, work is important, but to get the best out of your people you need to accommodate their need to relax, switch off, work in different ways, collaborate, share ideas and foster their growth. Good design has a value far beyond just aesthetics. ROI is achieved through increased productivity, team wellbeing, satisfaction and retention. If upfront capital is going to hold you back from affording good innovative office design, I would suggest exploring the financing route.