New London Architecture

Five Minutes With… Elliott Sparsis, Head of UK at Convene

Tuesday 26 July 2022

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

Elliott Sparsis

Head of UK
Convene

David Taylor chats to Elliott Sparsis, Head of UK at Convene, the meeting, event space and workspace provider now open in 22 Bishopsgate, about its plans to expand across London and shake up the offices market.


David Taylor  
So hello, Elliott. And thanks for taking my call.  I wanted to chat to you about Convene. What exactly is it? And how does it differ from people like WeWork, etc?
 
Elliott Sparsis  
Hi David. Firstly, I appreciate your time. It's a great question. This has really evolved over the 13 years that we've been trading. But our North Star really is: What if you run an office building like a hotel? And we fundamentally start to think about our approach. We are a true hospitality business. We pride ourselves on our NVS score that sits at high 80. And we are essentially three physical products. We are a large meetings and events business. We are a progressive workplace business. We also run a virtual events business that we've now combined into a true hybrid experience. Now, post COVID, the physical environment's come back. So ultimately, we are a large meetings and events business and workplace platform.
 
David Taylor  
And this began in the US, did it? Because I'm talking to you in New York at the moment…
 
Elliott Sparsis  
Yeah, indeed. Yeah. So, 13 years old. Born out of New York, founded by two young guys at the time. The idea really came from when they were walking through a hotel lobby that was hosting a large corporate event on one side of the lobby and there was actually a wedding happening on the other side of the lobby. And it occurred to them that, actually, there were two very different pieces of business happening there. They were colliding in the same environment but just didn't intrinsically feel right. So, they created a Monday to Friday, corporate-focused, premium large meetings and events business which has now evolved into what the business is today.
 
David Taylor  
And you've got sites, I think, in Chicago, Boston, Washington and Philadelphia. What made you leap across the Atlantic to London and 22 Bishopsgate?
 
Elliott Sparsis  
Yeah, we're in six different cities across the US. Our clients are predominantly the big financials and the big corporates. For the last 10-plus years, these clients have been asking us: when are we coming to London? Fifty per cent of our clients that we transact with in New York all have headquarter offices based in central London. So, it was a natural progression for us to move into London, just because we could see and feel the sheer demand coming from our clients, that we transact with in New York but which are also based in London. 
 
David Taylor  
And how's it going, so far? You've been open, not long, I don't think?
 
Elliott Sparsis  
Yeah, we're in month three. It has been one of our most successful launches in the last 13 years. It is going incredibly well. We've built an incredibly progressive product in 22 Bishopsgate which is an incredibly progressive building. We occupied the first two office buildings in the asset; we were fundamentally part of the leasing campaign. And we're intrinsically a true amenity within that building,
 

David Taylor  
And what do you mean by ‘progressive’? Could you break that down a bit for me?
 
Elliott Sparsis  
Yeah. The world ,for us, is shifting in two directions. What we're seeing is large corporates looking to outsource certain elements of their business that they don't specialize in. Large meetings and events, their virtual platform, flex workspace, as an example. And we're also seeing a real shift to experience over cost. So, we built 50,000 square feet at 22 Bishopsgate, over two floors. We've got five large auditoriums within our space, the largest is 450 in theatre style, smallest 150 in theatre style. And no tenants within 22 Bishopsgate, now and there are 22 tenants over 1.2 million square feet, none of those tenants have built large auditoriums within their own footprint upstairs. So, they're coming to 22 Bishopsgate, they've taken slightly less, more efficient office space and they're now outsourcing their large meetings and events down into our footprint. So, all of a sudden, people concentrate on their core business; they don't need to employ AV production managers, service techs or run auditoriums in their own footprint, that they infrequently use, their technology goes out of date very quickly. They can actually build, as I said, slightly less space and outsource that large meetings inventory into our footprint. So that's the progressive nature of it.
 
David Taylor  
Presumably then you are aiming at external companies too, not just ones inside the building?
 
Elliott Sparsis  
Very much so. About 15% of our business comes internal; the remainder of our business comes external. So, 22 Bishopsgate is in the City of London; there are 6000 corporate clients within a three-minute walk of where we are; the large majority of those clients should be clients of ours. We're a Monday to Friday business, we know exactly who our clients are; we don't host weddings or social environments. We specifically host Monday to Friday corporate off site - those sorts of businesses
 
David Taylor  
But you're open at the weekends aren't you, as well?
 
Elliott Sparsis  
We open the space at the weekends, but 99% of all of our business comes Monday to Friday.
 
David Taylor  
Yeah. And you say on your website rather boldly: 'London, this is the future of work'. Is that what you mean by that? Is that the trend that you're noticing: that companies are taking slightly less space and farming it out? Is that what you mean by that?
 
Elliott Sparsis  
The shift post-COVID for us has been really exciting in terms of where business comes from. What I mean by that is, there's now a fragmented workforce. People are working from home way more than they were pre COVID, so there's a real pressure on large corporates to retain a company personality, a company ethos, if they've got this fragmented workforce. So what we're seeing, post-COVID, is a real change in how regular clients use our space. A few examples, clients pre-COVID would use us once or twice per year to host a large off-site. Now, post-COVID, those same clients are using us 6-12 times per year, because they want to bring their three, four, five hundred employees under one roof, physically to spend time together on a way more regular cadence post-COVID than they did pre-COVID. So that sort of shift in how corporates are using our space is really exciting for us.
 
David Taylor  
Have you got any plans for any further sites in London? Or the UK, or indeed Europe?
 
Elliott Sparsis  
Yeah, very much so. We are undersupplied of meeting space already in London. We pretty much sold our large room for the next three months. So, we know we need more inventory. The business plan is for another four locations in central London over the next two years. Flagship, best building, best part of town. We went to try to elevate the brand of the building in the same way that the building wants to elevate our brand. In 22 Bishopsgate, we're aligned with the customer experience coming into the building. They are the types of buildings that we're working hard to try and unlock.
 
David Taylor  
Great, well, good luck with it all. It all sounds great. And I trust on this hottest day of the year that you've got full air-conditioning units and cooled spaces throughout all your premises. Is that right?
 
Elliott Sparsis  
Absolutely! Very much so. Fresh air is something we take pretty seriously. We actually put a large investment in 22 Bishopsgate in a smart fresh air system where if we have a client that's got 400 people in our auditorium, when those 400 people move outside to the gallery space for their breakfast or their lunch or breakout sessions, the fresh air follows where those 400 people are. So, we're not cooling or heating rooms where there's nobody in at that specific time. Over the lifespan that we're in 22 Bishopsgate it should show huge cost savings for us, but also improve the physical experience our clients have in our space.
 
David Taylor  
Brilliant. Well, good luck with it all and good luck with your expansion plans. 
 
Elliott Sparsis  
Thank you, David. It's appreciated.
 
David Taylor  
Thanks very much. Bye. 



David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

Elliott Sparsis

Head of UK
Convene


Images: Woods Bagot

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