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Steelcase location serves dual purpose: Rental space, furniture showcase

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Objective: While investigating workspace trends for office furniture manufacturer Steelcase Inc. a decade ago, Mark Greiner realized that much of his research could not be packaged in a chair, desk or wastebasket.

“I began to see that there is so much value Steelcase brings to the customer that can’t be put into the product,” said Greiner, senior VP-workspace futures at Steelcase. Additionally, Greiner realized the manufacturer could monetize this value if it transformed its products into experiences.

As he tells the story, clients visiting Steelcase’s Grand Rapids, Mich., headquarters were as impressed by the layout of Steelcase’s own corporate offices as by the furniture in its showrooms.

“Customers were saying, ‘Don’t just give me the recipe, bake the cake for me,’ ” Greiner said.

He decided to do just that.

Strategy: On Nov. 17, 2008, Greiner’s concept became reality with the opening of WorkSpring, a comprehensive meeting space option on the border of Chicago’s River North and Loop neighborhoods. Occupying one 5,000 square-foot floor, WorkSpring contains five studios of varying sizes and shapes—each fully equipped with the latest Steelcase furniture and technologies.

The facility, which bills itself as the alternative to hotel business centers and office conference rooms, costs companies $140 per person for a four hour rental. Other packages, including “The Overnighter” and “The Long Day,” are available at special rates.

The key, of course, is getting people into the space.

To do that, Steelcase hosts numerous events at WorkSpring, including book signings, industry conferences and media tours. It offers free sessions to nonprofit organizations with influential businesspeople as board members in the hope they will bring their day-job companies back as paying customers.

The marketing team is also developing a series of white papers targeting specific industries with information about the particular benefit WorkSpring offers each. Topics include using space as a differentiator with clients and why space matters to collaborative work. The team plans to distribute the print version in a highly personalized fashion, with handwritten notes inviting new customers to visit. The white papers will also be available online at www.workspring.com.

WorkSpring clearly serves a dual function. While it is a source of revenue for Steelcase, it is also a marketing tool, a place to display the latest Steelcase furniture designs and show potential buyers how Steelcase products might be incorporated in an office setting.

Results: WorkSpring had paying customers in the first few days; it currently averages one or two customers per week. With a bit more time and exposure, Greiner believes, business will pick up. He hopes to open other WorkSpring facilities in cities across the country.

And those clients brought in free by the sales team to showcase Steelcase products? Many decided “they could never do this on their own” and chose instead to pay to use the meeting space, Greiner said.

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