As IWG opens its first Spaces centre in the region, Franchise Partner Faysal Altharwa shares his insights on the flexspace market and his predictions for the future
Despite the last 12 months of uncertainty due to the effects of Covid-19, the Managing Director of the IWG franchise in Saudi Arabia, Faysal Altharwa is feeling optimistic about the future.
Looking at how the sector has weathered the storm in the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia in particular, perhaps this optimism is not surprising. Government support, plus efficient handling of the pandemic, have enabled the market to survive and even thrive in these challenging times. And it even looks set to grow further.
Flexspace was already popular throughout the Middle East before Covid-19 – an opportunity IWG’s Saudi Arabia’s Franchise Partner spotted back in 2011 when the company signed its initial franchise deal with IWG – opening the first Regus centre in the Middle East. The partnership has grown since, with the company signing a franchise deal to develop the whole country in 2015 – making it responsible for all of IWG’s brands, including Regus, Spaces, HQ, and Signature.
The company now operates 14 Regus centres in the territory and recently opened an HQ brand in Jeddah – again, IWG’s first in the region. Altharwa explains that the strategic location of the city, being a bridge to the country’s two holiest mosques, makes it the ideal place to launch.
Clients using the HQ centre so far are typically entrepreneurs or smaller ventures, ranging from lawyers and real estate developers to traders and freelancers. That’s in contrast to Regus’s customers, which are mainly corporations, government entities and well-established SMEs. At the Saudi Regus centres, there are also usually more than 30% international clients, which is higher compared with the HQ location, with around 10% international clients thus far.
Altharwa predicts a slow yet steady growth of the flexplace market in the Middle East over the next couple of years – putting the boom in demand down to Saudi’s high proportion of young citizens under 30, who are more open to embracing new, modern working environments.
“We help our clients and their employees work in environments that inspire them, grow their businesses, and enable them to enjoy going to work,” he says. “In a way, it increases their productivity, which contributes to the economy and the community as well.”
A vision for the future
The second quarter of this year will also see Altharwa open the first Spaces centre in the Middle East – Spaces The Front in Riyadh, just a 15-minute drive from Riyadh Airport. His goal is to follow this with four more Spaces locations across the kingdom.
“It’s young, creative, fun and inspiring,” he says. “It also represents the young Saudi demographic and is in line with The Saudi Vision 2030 [a blueprint to reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy, and develop a vibrant society].”
He adds that both Spaces and HQ are brands particularly suited to the Middle Eastern market. “There’s an old Arab saying: ‘For everything that is dropped, there is someone to pick it up,’” he explains. “Each one of IWG’s brands targets a different segment in the market and we believe all these segments exist in the Saudi market; from a client who wants a luxurious office to one that needs a practical serviced office on a tighter budget.”
What are the advantages of a multi-brand strategy when operating in one territory? “It’s always good to have options,” Altharwa explains. “Whether it’s in terms of location, design, feel, or price point, having a multi-brand offering gives our customers choice. If brand A doesn’t suit them, brand B, C or D most certainly will. In short, it makes it easier to satisfy customer needs.”
What advice would he give to someone considering becoming an IWG franchise partner? “I say go for it without any hesitation. If you live in a territory with a growing demand for flexible offices, IWG is the perfect partner for you to provide that service in a fun and rewarding way.”
Are you an investor looking to capitalise on the growing trend for flexspace? Find out more about IWG’s franchising partnerships