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7 easy tricks you can use to improve your office on a budget

June 10, 2019

Podium, Andrew “Ace” Houston

As a designer, I often get asked by growing companies how they can improve their offices and create maximum impact with a minimal budget. And it’s a great question, because engaging employees is key to recruitment and retention.

So, if you’re looking for ways to improve your company’s offices, or just your personal workspace, I’ve gathered seven easy steps to help you out. Enjoy!

1. Paint

A change in color is one of the easiest ways to give your space a new feeling. This can also be a straightforward way of taking your company’s brand and putting it right on the walls.

I’d recommend looking into color theory for specifics on mood, but a good thing to always remember is how much natural light you have in your space. One of our offices was recently painted white to spread limited daylight from a window further into this meeting room. Darker colors will absorb light and lighter colors will reflect more of it into the space.

2. Plants

Plants have been proven to improve people’s moods and can also improve indoor air quality, meaning they are key for clean air and a clear mind. In fact, a recent University of Exeter study shows that houseplants can increase productivity by 15 percent! That’s why co-working offices place so much emphasis on placing plants in their spaces.

The number of friends I have that have killed a plant at home could fill an auditorium, so given the nature of business I’d recommend a low-maintenance option like a snake plant paired with some taller plants like an indoor palm.

3. Abstract art

I classify abstract art as art that is open to many interpretations. It provides a conversation piece for visitors and office members alike or can simply be a punch of color in a monotone space. Other good art choices include pop art and/or something related to the company itself.

Extending branding to your physical space can send the message that you live your motto. A recent study from the British Council for Offices shows that 86 percent of employees believe that art “is more relevant than ever” in today’s office environment.

4. Varied lighting

Our brains like variety, and lighting can provide that. Usually offices only have overhead (typically fluorescent) lighting, which can be very drab. I’d recommend providing task lighting at each desk, or if the budget is tight, a showpiece floor lamp.

With lighting, you always want to think about what you are trying to light and what you are trying to do in that area. That will dictate the kind of fixtures you will need, the direction of the light, and the brightness of the lamp. Task lighting, as shown in the image above, is a great option because it gives users control and allows for some personalization. Research done by furniture brand Herman Miller also shows it’s great for your eyes.

5. Breakout space

The best offices provide at minimum two places, if not three: 1) desks, 2) a meeting room, 3) a breakout space.

This is because as an office worker sitting at a desk is fine for a few days, but sometimes a change in scenery is needed to get the creative side of your brain working.

Providing a more casual space with a comfortable couch or armchair allows for more casual conversations, and sometimes the best ideas come from those spur of the moment conversations. I’ve definitely had a number of lunches on couches with colleagues in the past that turned into design solutions that were applauded and implemented by higher ups.

6. Something soft

Recent trends in open office design have been all about wood, steel, and minimalism. What does this translate to? Beautiful, but loud.

Soft materials absorb sounds and can reduce the dreaded echo chamber. Whether you choose to add a carpet, a plush chair, or even curtains, these choices can also add a bit of approachability to what is usually a fairly stuffy or rigid space (think bean bags in an office).

My go to choice depends on the size of your space, but if your budget is a bit higher you can try some of these options.

7. Break it up

For larger offices, one of the issues is that there are rows and rows of desks without any variety whatsoever. This translates to a dull and uninteresting environment that people do not want to be in for very long — or worse — a modern-day version of Office Space.

I would suggest using some of the earlier tips to create visual variety: this stimulation translates to mental stimulation and will keep your office engaged and interested.

A number of these items can be implemented on your own, however, I always recommend using a design consultant for your unique project. Every space is different and hiring a designer ensures that you can achieve your dreams of an office environment people want to be in and a part of.

5 Tips for Startup Companies Looking for Office Space

Advice to Help You Find the Right Home for Your New Business

June 5, 2019

Most entrepreneurs, startups, or young companies are searching for work space for the first time, and may not know where to start looking, what rent prices in their market are, or even what their basic needs are for an office.

Here are five essential factors to keep in mind when looking for space in the beginning stages of a company.

1. Focus on Location First

While there is a temptation to cut costs by looking at the least expensive options, cheap space is generally in less central locations, meaning the team will have longer commutes. In the first few years of a company’s life, the founders are usually working overtime, and every minute is valuable. The first space that a company leases will likely be smaller than 4,000 square feet, so the cost per square foot premium between the preferred location and an inferior one isn’t material. For example, a $4,000 per month premium for 4,000 square feet might sound like a lot of money to a startup, but with 20 people in a space of that size, that’s an incremental cost of $1.00 per hour per person given a 200-hour work month.

2. Think About More than Money

Don’t let rent alone drive your decisions. Better space will have an impact on company culture, the ability to recruit and retain talent, and the outcome of work product if the office fosters creativity and inspires people to work hard. Having a location that has amenities such as a fitness facility or food service on site will help attract key early employees. It will be worth the extra cost to have a space that is safe, clean, professional, and is in a well-maintained building with nice restrooms, reliable air conditioning and elevators. While that generally means paying more, most companies see the value in that decision.

3. Measure the Right Amount of Space

Many early stage companies either lease too much space and expect to grow into it, or not enough space to have room for future growth. I recommend initially taking a space to accommodate the first year’s worth of growth. Most early stage companies with an open office configuration can plan for 160-170 square feet per person, which includes the break areas, conference rooms, storage, utility areas, reception lobby, restrooms, and more. For example, if a company needs space for 10-20 people, 2,000-4,000 square feet would fit a team of that size nicely.

4. Select Shorter Lease Terms

Do not sign a lease longer than your company has been in business. A five-year lease is standard, but can be fatal to a company that has only been in business for two to three years. For smaller spaces below 5,000 square feet, many landlords will consider a shorter term lease for 2 years, as long as the landlord does not have to spend tenant improvement money. There are also coworking solutions, and the market always has “plug and play” sublease space available as well.

5. Find a Tenant Representative

Most commercial brokers do not work for you as the tenant, but rather for the landlord of the building you are considering. These real estate professionals will always outflank the entrepreneur at the negotiations table. Find a broker who only represents tenants and is going to be on your side—who is complete in their sourcing of spaces, including subleases, and will be an advocate for your company’s needs without dual agency conflicts of interest.


About the Author: David Marino
David Marino is executive vice president and co-founder of Hughes Marino, a commercial real estate firm committed to only representing tenants in their lease and purchase transactions of commercial space. David has been exclusively representing tenants since 1991.

3 Ways a Tenant Allowance Can Be Structured Before Lease Signing

Understand Your Options Before Trying to Negotiate

June 4, 2019

If you’re entering a retail lease, you might hear the term tenant improvement allowance thrown around. This lease inducement—incentives that the landlord may use to “induce” you into renting space with them—may be allocated in a variety of ways, and for a variety of reasons. To better understand what you may get from this type of lease inducement, it’s helpful to learn about your landlord’s motivations.

Straight Cash

The most common format is straight cash. The landlord will allocate a specific dollar amount per square foot that will be applied toward your construction costs. This is most common among Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), and institutional landlords that are cash rich and trying to increase rents in their centers by offering cash upfront for the preferred rate. These monies are not given without security; Landlords will commonly ask for a personal guarantee or corporate covenant from a party with substantial assets to make sure their money doesn’t walk away.

Landlord’s Work

Landlord’s work is another format of inducement. The landlord may choose to do the majority of the work required to bring the building up to the required standard. This is very common in restaurants, wherein HVAC upgrades, ecologizers, plumbing, electrical and gas requirements can become major obstacles. The landlord will take on additional work inside the membrane of the leased space to alleviate the build-out costs and bring your cost of opening down. Typically this is restricted to base building requirements and assets that the landlord can easily reclaim in the event of a default, but sometimes the inducement lends itself to items as customized as millwork and kitchen equipment. This type of inducement is used more often among private landlords that own or manage construction companies as well. It allows them to leverage their own resources to improve the space and your opportunity to open for business.

Rent Concessions

Net and gross rent-free periods are a typical method of inducement for the small or independent landlord. They will ask for the value of the base building requirements, and instead of giving cash or landlord’s work, may offer a net or gross rent-free period to compensate for this amount of money. In some cases, this will be spread over several years, so as to mitigate the risk on both sides, and costs the landlord less money up front. This inducement is in addition to the Gross Rent Free provision which is typically offered during the fixturing period of building out your space.

One thing you have to remember in all of these scenarios: All of this money, in one way or another, is being built back into your rent. Ultimately, you are paying for these benefits. The cost of taking this money from the landlord at their internally calculated interest rates may be much higher and more risky than the cost of borrowing from a bank. However, in some cases you may not have a choice. Landlords are motivated to lease their space and increase their rents, and inducements are usually the quickest path to both.


About the Author: Shawn Saraga
Shawn Saraga brings more than 13 years of experience to the Toronto office of SRS Real Estate Partners , and has helped sign hundreds of franchise agreements and leases over the course of his career. Shawn started his own company, Mr. Franchise, which worked with more than brands across Canada to recruit franchisees and provide tenant representation and marketing consulting services. A subsidiary, Marathon Realty, was created in 2012 to strengthen the real estate portion of the company and merged with Cushman & Wakefield in April of 2014. There, Shawn headed up a team responsible for recruitment, tenant representation and marketing consulting services to franchisors across Canada and abroad. Of the dozens of retailers that Shawn has worked with, many of them are notable national and international brands such as Burger King, Arby’s, Winmark, Kona Grill, Cacao 70 and many more.

Greenwood County one of nation’s best for workforce development

October 28, 2017

The Index Journal, Adam Benson

This aerial photo from the Greenwood Partnership Alliance shows boundary lines of the North Greenwood Industrial Park.

Before a region can host new economic development, it has to be prepared to bring investments in, through a trained workforce and the availability of ready-made sites.

And Greenwood County’s work on these behind-the-scenes priorities has positioned it as a state and national leader.

On Wednesday, Duke Energy announced that Greenwood County’s north industrial park is one of three South Carolina properties selected for the company’s Site Readiness Program, which qualifies them for a $10,000 matching grant from the utility to help attract projects.

That follows a September designation by Site Selection Magazine that named Greenwood as the country’s second-leading county for attainment of the National Career Readiness Certificate.

“We are laser-focused on the development of a ready workforce, as well as increased product offerings,” Greenwood Partnership Alliance CEO Heather Simmons Jones said. “Companies need sites and buildings that match or have the flexibility to quickly match their needs, and what good is a facility if you can’t fill it with qualified workers?”

With initiatives such as The Greenwood Promise and the pending construction of an advanced manufacturing training center on the campus of Piedmont Technical College, Greenwood’s development of career readiness programs helped vault its reputation. Oconee County was ranked 6th by Site Selection Magazine for workforce certificates.

The ACT WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certificate is an assessment-based credential earned through scores on three ACT WorkKeys assessments – applied math, graphic literacy, and workplace documents – that measure foundational employability skills. In the 2014-15 school year, South Carolina introduced a statewide initiative to require all 11th-grade students to complete the WorkKeys assessment.

“Greenwood and Oconee counties are showcasing the Upstate’s talent pool and the payoff of collaborative efforts to connect today’s students to tomorrow’s career opportunities, in both urban and rural communities,” said John Lummus, president and CEO of the Upstate SC Alliance, said in a statement. “I’m proud that not one, but two, Upstate communities stand out among the nation.”

In August, County Council voted to spend $1.1 million for construction and engineering of an access road, sewer lines and signage leading to the North Greenwood Industrial Park on 31.7 acres between Hodges and Ware Shoals.

The funds are coming from three places: $600,000 from a state Department of Commerce grant, $125,000 from Duke Energy’s site readiness program and $395,000 from the county.

Councilman Theo Lane, who is also Duke Energy’s district manager for government and community relations, has been a proponent of the business park. He said in August that early action on site preparation and land clearing sends a strong message to potential investors.

“I fully believe the north industrial corridor is the best development opportunity out there for Greenwood County. In the south end, because of road access and getting product to customers, we’re probably not going to be able to put any significant industry there,” he said. “When they (potential businesses) see it graded and grubbed and all the work going in with a marquee out front, that says, ‘this isn’t a pipe dream, it’s something that’s really going to happen.’”

From June 2014 to June 2016, at least 20 projects were lost for Greenwood because of lack available buildings and 19 requests for information were never submitted because of a dearth of building space.

On May 1, county residents began paying an additional 1 percent in local sales tax to finance $85 million in capital improvement projects after voters approved the levy in a November referendum.

The North Greenwood Industrial Park is slated to receive $8.4 million of that for development of a 31.7-acre parcel offering businesses ready-made pads. Plans also call for the construction of a spec building that can be presented to potential investors.

‘I never looked elsewhere’: Caroline Davis is Uptown’s latest young entrepreneur

October 23, 2017

The Index Journal, Adam Benson

Caroline Davis opened her stationery shop, FIG, in the Greenwood Building in May.

Caroline Davis doesn’t call herself an entrepreneur, but like the adage goes: Actions speak louder than words.

The 31-year-old Greenwood native is still in the infancy of living out a dream to run her own business, six months ago opening Fig in Uptown Greenwood, a stationery store specializing in personalized invitation located in the Greenwood Building.

“I really say that this is exactly what I envisioned and I’ve been blown away by the amount of support. It kind of all came together,” Davis said. “I can’t imagine it any different.”

Davis, who graduated from Greenwood High School before earning a bachelor’s degree in education from Clemson University in 2008, said her inspiration was born out of childhood memories shopping Uptown.

“I’ve been thinking about this about five years. I just thought there was a void and we needed it here, kind of a younger gift shop. People haven’t had a place to go for invitations in a few years now and I knew they were excited about it,” Davis said. “There’s probably about two to three invitation orders a week, and I was not expecting that.”

Davis is among a wave of young investors who are putting money into Uptown’s continued renaissance. She’s just a few dozen feet from Think Tank, a business incubator with Main Street retail space. Just down the block, The Mill House continues its expansion.

There’s also the addition of Fat Daddy’s BBQ to the Shoppes at Hampton Place.

Uptown Greenwood Manager Lara Hudson said Davis’ presence adds a dash of dynamism to the area.

“We love to see young entrepreneurs invest in Uptown. Caroline was already a familiar face to Uptown while she was at Blossom, and now she brings a refreshing, stylish and unique shopping experience at Fig,” she said.

If someone asks Davis whether she views herself as an entrepreneur, there’s a long pause before her answer.

“I don’t know, it’s something I ever thought of,” she said. “I’m not one looking for attention or wanting to be in the spotlight. I’m just very unassuming, but I thought there was a need for this and it’s something I enjoy doing and I needed to transition.”

Davis spent the past five years working as an events planner in Savannah, Georgia, but wanted to come home to spend more time with her family.

“I was ready to move back to Greenwood, or closer to Greenwood, and this just kind of happened,” she said. “I have learned a lot, and there’s way more to learn. I’m learning something new every day.”

With her sights set on teaching, Davis quickly changed her goals after graduating from Clemson in 2008 and into the teeth of the Great Recession.

“When I moved home, Greenwood was actually under a hiring freeze, so I couldn’t get a job,” she said.

Davis got her start in Uptown working at Blossom Shoes and Such, a Main Street boutique. The store’s owner, Kimberly Thomasson, fostered Davis’ goal, helping her with site selection and offering money saving tips.

Now, Davis has ambitions to expand her 650-square-foot store and has hired a part-time employee.

“I felt that I took my time, and I’m not the type to take a big leap. That’s why I took plenty of time,” Davis said. “People really have turned out and been so supportive.”

As a small business owner, Davis said she has benefitted from Uptown’s emphasis on providing quality products to nurture local spending.

“They like the local, they like the one-on-one interaction — especially when they taught me kindergarten or knew me growing up,” she said.

Finding a home in Greenwood Building brings Davis full circle. Her grandfather worked for Greenwood Development and her father was with Greenwood Mills — both had offices in the iconic Uptown structure.

“It just kind of came about one day. They said they had a space available that I should look into, and you really had to walk in and envision it,” Davis said. “It very much was an office.”

Now, Davis has the further advantage of owning a store in one of America’s great places of 2017 as recognized by the American Planning Association. “I think it’s definitely the place to be. When I was opening, I never looked elsewhere,” she said. “This is the best place to be, especially for a small business. All of the owners are so supportive of each other and bringing people Uptown. This was the best fit.”

Uptown Greenwood seeks downtown residents

August 24, 2016

GSA Business Report, Teresa Cutlip

Uptown is downtown in Greenwood. City Administrator Charlie Barrineau believes the concentrated commercial area got its name from the years of residents saying they were going “Uptown.”

Uptown Greenwood encompasses the Main Street square, the eastern side of the square to Phoenix Street and the western side of the square to Edgefield Avenue. The area is designated the Uptown Greenwood Special Tax District. It was created in 1984 and is comprised of approximately 13 city blocks and 57 acres of property.

In the early 2000s, city leaders set Uptown Greenwood on a path of revitalization that Barrineau said continues today.

“I’m a firm believer that revitalization doesn’t have a date, it is ongoing – it never should stop,” he said. “If a community is healthy, it is constantly investing in its downtown.”

What’s new?

Barrineau said the Greenwood City Master Plan in 2004 helped revitalize the Uptown area.

Greenwood in the 1970s (Photo provided)

Greenwood in the late 1970s (Photo provided)

Greenwood in the 1970s (Photo provided)

“Since those early 2000s we have seen the number of hospitality venues grow tremendously. We’ve got the office settings; the Inn on the Square is thriving; we’ve got hospitality venues and great outdoor spaces where people can gather,” he said. “Now we are developing the living component. In 2006 the city council amended the zoning ordinance to allow second floor housing. We’ve had a vision for residential living for many years.”Tim Burke, owner and developer of 332 Main LLC, is developing the old textile building on Main Street. The 45,000-square-foot building was built in the early 1900s, has eight stories and once was the home of JCPenney. Barrineau said that when JCPenney left, a few industries still had corporate offices there, but then by 2003-04 “it was totally vacant and has been vacant for about the past decade,” he said.

“It is now thriving. There are big sold signs in the windows where those are being turned into condominiums. Floor by floor it is being sold,” Barrineau said.

Burke completely gutted the building, which now houses three retail shops on the first floor. He is developing six stories of the building into condominiums. The $4 million project will offer 15 finished or build-to-suit condos ranging in size from 1,800-square-feet to 1,915-square-feet, with the purchase price of each finished condo ranging from $250,000 to $298,000. Build-to-suit units may cost more, he said.

In addition to developing the living component Uptown, Barrineau said the city is looking to connect the various “hubs” in the area that include the medical district, Lander, Westside community/neighborhood. In 2012 the city created the South Main/Edgefield Corridor master plan, the major component of which is the construction the Carolina Avenue Connector, a road connecting South Main Street to the medical district that includes the Greenwood Genetics Center and Self Regional Healthcare.

“We hope to build a connection with the road, with sidewalks and bike lanes,” Barrineau said of the Carolina Avenue Connector. Barrineau said unding consideration for the Carolina Avenue Connector Project will be included on a Nov. 8 Capital Project Sales Tax referendum to be considered by Greenwood County voters.

The city also wants to better connect Lander University with Uptown so the student population can have easier access.

The city also is partnering with the Westside community group to determine how to revitalize that neighborhood. The work includes a partnership with Greenwood Habitat for Humanity, which has been “strategically working through that area to renovate homeowner occupied homes, and also buying dilapidated, unlivable properties and working to get those removed with the hopes of creating a long term plan of new Habitat homes in that area,” Barrineau said.

One of the many success stories to come out of the Uptown revitalization efforts is the Mill House, Barrineau said. Owner Gianpaolo “Geep” Bonaca purchased the building in 2008 to open a pizza restaurant, the Mill House.

“He had so much success with that he purchased the next building and expanded the restaurant and created a brewery, Good Times Brewery,” Barrineau said. The continued success led to Bonaca purchasing a third building, which is now under renovation.

“Right now we’re leveling the building. It’s old and decayed somewhat and we’re trying to level it up to give us a nice clean slate to work with,” Bonaca said of the building on Maxwell Avenue. “We’ll be expanding the brewery and possibly adding a new restaurant venue downstairs; then have like an entertainment venue upstairs, for weddings, concerts, etc., and we’d like a balcony on the second story for outdoor dining.”

Bonaca said the city has been very helpful “with everything from providing a source for funding through a loan program and also just through the administration and inspectors and everyone working closely with us to help keep us on track so we can open successfully.”

How it started

“I guess the biggest line in the sand for Greenwood in the last four to five decades was the decline of the textile industry, which also created the decline with the railroad. Greenwood was a railroad hub,” Barrineau said.

Once upon a time, Greenwood had five major railroad lines running through the city. One of those lines went through the middle of Uptown, on Main Street, “hence the phrase that Greenwood had the widest Main Street in the world,” Barrineau said. He added the train would sometimes stop in the middle of town, forcing the city to station a fire truck on one side of the square since the town had just one station.

A plan was created in the 1970s to remove the railroad tracks and divert the trains around the square. Now the rail operations have no impact on city operations.

There was also a vision for a hotel in the Uptown area in the 70s which resulted in the Inn on the Square in the early 1980s. Also, 60 laurel oak trees were planted along Main Street in 1985.

“Now when you drive in you have an oak tree canopy,” Barrineau said. “What that did and why it’s so critical is that having the widest main street in the world does not make your main street walkable. People did not feel safe.”

Greenwood now (Photo provided)

Greenwood now (Photo provided)

Barrineau said the oak trees have created a vertical visual connection and “unconsciously shrunk the disconnect between the eastern and western sides of the square.”

The anchor project of the Greenwood City Master Plan, according to Barrineau, was the The Arts Center, located at 120 Main Street.

“It was originally the first Greenwood post office that was constructed in the early 1900s. Later the federal government added to the building, added the federal courthouse onto the back,” Barrineau said.

The federal government decommissioned the building in 2002. After that, Barrineau said the city and county took joint ownership of the building and worked with the Self Family Foundation to revitalize it into what it is now, a 25,000 square-foot center where art is showcased and fostered.

An important component of developing any downtown, or Uptown, is to do things that create a unique draw that tie somehow to who you are as a community, according to Barrineau.

“When you say Greenwood, most people who maybe haven’t been here or don’t know much about us will immediately think Park Seed, and so you think flowers,” he said.

Barrineau said volunteers visited Epcot in Orlando, Fla. and watched the process of building and growing live topiaries so they could bring something like that to Greenwood and capitalize on being home to Park Seed.

“In 2007 the community introduced its first 13 topiaries during the S.C. Festival of Flowers. Fast forward a decade, we now own and present 43 live topiaries on the square during the summer,” Barrineau said.

The topiaries are on display throughout Uptown from mid-May through July. The topiaries include a variety of animals and characters, from an elephant to a giraffe to a gorilla, as well as a Tiger and a Gamecock. They are housed in a city-owned greenhouse where they are maintained throughout the year.

“No other single project or vision in my mind has put more pedestrians on the street seven days a week than that project,” Barrineau said. “Similar to Greenville in that they took advantage of Falls Park, we took advantage of the fact that Park Seed was so well known. The result is a jaw-dropping display of flowers.”