By Matt Kelly, Associate Principal, Earles Architects and Associates
As landlords in Chicago continue to look for creative ways to attract tenants and differentiate themselves in a market that increasingly is shifting to the tenants’ advantage, many are turning to “spec suites.” These speculative spaces, which can range from 2,500 to 10,000 square feet, are designed to help prospective tenants more completely visualize their new office space.
Spec suites are a powerful way for landlords to bridge the visual divide between raw space and finished offices. As some tenants have difficulty looking at a floor plan or office shell and picturing the transformation into finished space, these spaces can help make that connection.
The key to success with spec suites is to provide enough visual definition to the space without making the space too personalized. It is also important to “future proof” the spaces by adding features in the common areas that are widely accepted by most tenants. Among those options are a mixture of internal and private offices; various conference and meeting rooms; and flexible break rooms.
Spec suites can take many forms, from partial to full build out of the space and from traditional to highly contemporary designs. A partial build out involves framing out a few elements, such as the public areas of the suite—perhaps the reception area and conference room(s)— and adding lighting and other finishes to part of the space. This is the least expensive approach and is designed to show some finishing touches while minimizing construction costs.
A full build out involves taking the spec suites from raw, or outdated, square footage to finished space. The suites most often include private offices, several groupings of work stations, project areas for employee collaboration, conference rooms and a reception area.
The full build out is the most expensive route, but will give prospective tenants a clear view of how the space will look and function. Some landlords take these a step further by completely furnishing the suite and installing electrical devices and low-voltage cabling to make the suite a true “turn-key” space.
In some cases, a hybrid approach is the solution, as it creates varying levels of detail in different suites and can incorporate multiple styles.
Regardless the level of construction, there are common design themes in today’s spec suites. Many suites are designed with some level of openness and collaboration. This fits well with current trends in office design, where employers are adding vast expanses of glass to allow natural light to filter in and focusing on group work stations to encourage employee interaction on projects.
A pop of color also is important when marketing space to tenants, as it can help draw attention to the space. A bright blue light fixture or a unique wall covering with a dose of orange also can help prospective tenants remember the space long after they have left.
When building several spec suites, it is wise to offer a mix of styles to appeal to a range of office tenants.
At the Illinois Center, for example, the spec suites were designed in three distinct styles. One is semi-traditional, with private offices and standard work stations. The second has a clean, Scandinavian look and a mix of offices and open work spaces. The third suite has a strong contemporary design, with bright colors and lots of glass. It’s designed to appeal to tech and start-up firms.
When presented with multiple options and varying design styles, tenants have many choices for how they want their reception area, conference rooms, employee work stations, and other areas to layout. They may select one style or mix and match from components seen in different suites.
Tenants also gain a better understanding of how the office furniture and equipment can fit into a new space. They may not be able to picture the various elements on a floor plan, but can walk through a spec suite and see how work stations, desks, conference furniture and employee break areas will fit into a specific space.
This is particularly helpful for tenants who are trying to be more efficient with their square footage. They can see firsthand what a 100 square foot office or 5-foot wide benching station looks and feels like. This gives them the opportunity to “kick the tires” on different types of furniture and office layouts.
This type of visual approach to leasing has many benefits for the brokerage community as well. The finished conference rooms, reception areas, and break rooms can help prospective tenants visualize what might work for their employee culture. Those tangible visuals can help shorten space visits and transaction time.
Speculative suites have become an increasingly popular trend during the past 18 months, as landlords work to increase occupancy percentages, reposition their buildings, and provide a positive tenant experience. By adding a tangible space to the leasing process, they are going a long way in helping prospective tenants identify their optimal office environment.