Recent IWG franchise partner Gaurav Sharma is set to open eight Regus centres across the Indian state of Rajasthan from next year, and credits the deal to the group’s patience through the uncertainty of the pandemic.
Gaurav Sharma is a patient man. Having found success running Indian real estate firm Jaipurbulls for the last six years, he decided to branch into flexspace franchising, opening discussions with IWG in 2020. When Covid-19 came along, of course, his venture was put on hold. Now, after more than a year of waiting, his plans are coming to fruition.
Sharma finally signed an agreement in May to open eight Regus centres over eight years across the state of Rajasthan. The first centre is scheduled to open in Jaipur by 2022 and will occupy 12,000sq ft on one floor of an existing commercial mixed-use building. He believes its location in the heart of the city and excellent transport links means it will be particularly attractive to customers from big corporations, as well as disruptors in the delivery industry such as Amazon.
The hybrid shift
Sharma explains that the idea to get into the flexspace industry was with him long before the pandemic hit. Like many of today’s workers, he too had felt frustrated at not being able to work closer to home.
“At one point I was living in Jaipur but working in Uttar Pradesh,” he explains. He adds that there were other people working with them, commuting a long way to get to their office.
“We always felt that people should actually be able to work in their own spaces, in their own cities,” he says. “I then came across IWG and Regus, so we started thinking about this. We were [considering this type of investment] for two to three years before Covid.”
Now, he says, a lot of companies in India are shutting down their offices, turning to flexible workspaces as a way to meet employees’ needs and cut real estate costs. Yes, the pandemic has been a catalyst for this change – but Sharma believes it is also being driven by demand from younger workers.
In India, as in many other countries, the pandemic has turbo-charged the evolution towards hybrid working: a model that allows workers to base themselves at or near home for much of the time, occasionally visiting corporate HQs for face-to-face meetings.
Sharma’s view is that, when they choose to work remotely, coworking or flexspaces can offer people an experience that’s superior to being based within their own home. Even when they’re not at the company office, Sharma argues, people are looking for more than just a place to knuckle down and do their jobs. They want to work in a space that can foster creativity and collaboration.
Experience, adaptability and support
Sharma is clear that the popularity of the hybrid model is steadily growing in India, and he is therefore confident in the success of the franchise. He expects partnering with a global brand such as IWG will also help attract clients who can put their trust in a company that has more than 30 years’ experience in the industry.
“We are targeting people who want to go to work, but not at the traditional office,” he adds. “We are planning our centres so that the major hubs of the city are covered. So, if somebody has to go to the office, they don’t have to travel more than two to three kilometres.”
He describes the franchise as his “baby”, explaining that he will be personally involved with the project at every level – from looking for sites for new centres and negotiating with landlords to marketing, day-to-day operations and talking to clients. It will be a full-time job, he admits.
“I enjoy doing that, though. I am a very hands-on person,” Sharma says. “It’s the excitement of starting something new, something fresh, which has not been completed, which has not been there since the beginning.”
Sharma is impressed with IWG’s willingness to take his ideas on board, and says this was particularly important during initial negotiations. He says the group’s ability to adapt to change is “phenomenal”.
“IWG was very supportive and understanding about the impact of Covid on our plans,” he says. “For most companies, if we were discussing something and it goes cold for a couple of months, they will start looking for new partners. This didn’t happen with IWG. They stuck with us, they held out, they waited for us to come out of this pandemic, then they started the discussions again. That was very helpful.”
Looking to the future
So where next for the franchise? Sharma doesn’t want to stop at Rajasthan. Within the next eight years he hopes to expand into other states and has plans to pitch the concept of converting currently dormant or underused business centres in hotels into IWG spaces. But just opening centres is not enough, he says – you need to fill them up. So he’s aiming for an occupancy level of 80-85% across all centres.
His key piece of advice to someone considering becoming an IWG franchise partner is to have a strong commitment to do what it takes to make it a success.
“First of all, don’t try to get into franchising just because everybody’s doing it right now,” he says. “Just running the centre and filling it up is very difficult. So only being involved by delegating will not work. You have to be actively involved.”