Owning a business has never been more expensive.
And with seemingly ever-rising gas costs, even driving to an office in Atlanta from Forsyth County can cost hundreds of dollars each month.
But there are business owners in Forsyth who have decided on a different way of doing things, sharing resources to lower costs.
“We like to think of it as a new world of work,” said Lynne Andrews, president and CEO of Marketing Expectations Inc.
Andrews is one of several small business owners who in recent years have decided to make their office home at Vickery Executive Suites.
The office complex uses a communal approach in the live-work-play area known as Vickery Village.
Rather than paying all the overhead costs associated with owning their own office building, Vickery Suite tenants pay one flat rate each month that covers all utilities and other business costs.
Tenants share a receptionist, although each business has its own phone line and voice mail system.
The firms also share a break area and conference room.
Vickery Suites tenant Ben Ortlip is owner of Kaleo Ranch, which writes training manuals and other materials for clients such as churches and restaurants. He’s been waiting on a “new world of work” since the early 1990s.
“It kills me to think of all the wasted time and energy that goes on through the traditional world of work,” said Ortlip, who lives just a few miles from his current office space.
“We spend an hour in the car driving to an office in downtown Atlanta, where we then send e-mails to people across the hall. We then spend another hour in the car driving home. It just doesn’t make sense and it’s so wasteful.”
While the communal office complex may represent a new work world in Vickery, across town in downtown Cumming, Jannie Barrett had the idea nearly 30 years ago. In 1984, she founded EBS Business Services Inc.
Barrett was a widow with three children in college. She wanted to start a business as a bookkeeper, but couldn’t afford to pay the overhead costs by herself.
“I found a building that had four spaces available and I had a friend that also wanted to start a business,” she said. “I thought if I could sublease the other two spaces, we could make it work.”
Over the years, EBS has grown into a three-story building that houses more than 30 offices.
“We were the first executive suites anywhere north of Roswell at that time,” Barrett said.
Today, EBS has a number of tenants ranging from financial advisers and attorneys to counselors and insurance salesmen, she said.
In addition to small businesses growing from home offices, the communal office approach can also be helpful for businesses relocating to the area, said Jason Mock with the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce.
“They can find a space that suits their needs without having to jump head first into the water,” he said. “These types of settings give them an opportunity to ease into it.”
Mock, the chamber’s director of small business services, said Vickery Executive Suites has assisted the organization on a few occasions.
“They’ve been very good stewards in helping us when we have clients,” he said.
Pat Paxton, a financial adviser, has been one of Barrett’s tenants for about three years.
Paxton said his company has outgrown its former home office, but isn’t quite ready for a full office building.
“We can’t afford a full office condo and it would be too big for us anyway,” he said, noting that the communal approach has helped grow the business in a manageable manner.
“It keeps expenses reasonable, but still allows us to have all the professional amenities like the conference room,” he said. “We have our company meetings here every week in the conference room. You can’t do that at a home office.”
The communal business approach isn’t just for traditional professionals. Those in retail are also getting in on the act.
Heather Settle wanted to expand the boutique she was running on Bethelview Road.
“As we outgrew that location, I looked into retail space, but everything was outrageous,” she said. “But I thought if I could divide that up and bring other people in with me, it could work.”
Settle then began Gifted Shops and Markets in the historic Bell-Kemp House, which previously housed C.T. Grinder’s, on Kelly Mill Road.
Six retail businesses, including gift and candy shops, a bakery, interior designer and custom framer, share space in the house.
Gina Marshall, owner of Interior Styles Inc., is the newest tenant, having moved in about a month ago. Most of the others settled in in January.
Marshall relocated from Florida and was running her business out of a home office until discovering Gifted Shops and Markets.
She said the concept made a lot of sense for her, largely because she had no contacts in the local area.
Now she has a team of five other business owners helping with marketing and other needs, one of which is very basic.
“I don’t have a cash register,” she said. “But I have a few items around that I want to sell. So if people come in and want to buy something from me, they have to go to one of the shops with a cash register.”
Like the office suites, Gifted Shops tenants pay a flat fee each month that covers all utilities and rent.
While they haven’t shared the house long, all the tenants say the communal concept is working well so far.
“Without this [concept], I’d still be working out of my home,” said Terry Henner, owner of Cool Bees Artwork and Gifts, which sells honey Henner produces at her home, as well as gifts and collectibles.
“This was a great opportunity at the right time.”