Co-working isn’t an easy sell, but Gather is trying to make it easier to buy into.
Richmond’s newest co-working space is many things, but what it isn’t is the Staples Mill office building a pair of Gather founders previously worked in.
“You’re in this old, stinky office building,” said Jeff Bunch, Gather co-founder and part-owner of Urban-Core Development, about the office building he and his business partner, Andy Beach, once worked out of. “It’s like you’ve got a bunch of cave dwellers. Everybody goes behind their door…we didn’t interact with anybody else in the building. That’s not what we wanted. We want to know all these people and have a relationship with them.”
If once they were once among cave dwellers, the two now stand in a bustling town square for Richmond startups and entrepreneurs. In its first six months, Gather has already helped new Richmond businesses grow while preaching the co-working gospel.
The Urban-Core duo partnered with friend and property manager Duke Dodson and others1 to create Gather.
“We were all looking for our own office space because we bounced around, signed different leases,” said Andy Beach about Urban-Core. “And Duke’s business kept growing. He’d sign a lease and grow out of the space, and so kept having to move.”
They eventually found a three level property at 409 E. Main Street across from Cafe Rustica. “We laid out everything the way we wanted it, as far as gym, our space [both on the ground floor], how much space Duke needed,” Beach said. “We were at a point: OK, so what do we do with the first floor?”
They considered renting out the floor to businesses, but talk eventually turned to co-working, especially a space that would bring together Richmond’s startups. “There are so many talented people and talented entrepreneurs that need access to a space like this,” Beach said.
Gather’s 10,000-square-foot space comprises both personal and co-working spaces. The personal space has eight private offices and 12 desks. For $550 a month, a private office comes with free conference room rentals, use of printer/copier/scanner/fax machine, Wi-Fi, coffee and tea, kegerator, ground-floor gym, shower, second floor game room,2 and other amenities. The private desk ($350 monthly) includes those amenities as well. However, offices and desks are currently booked.
But Gather’s spirit takes shape most on the opposite side in the Huddle Spot where, for $250 each month, members receive the above amenities as well as co-working space.
“You’re all together like they’re your coworkers, but you’re not relying on each other to be successful,” said James Crenshaw, Gather’s Director of Collaboration. “So you can have more unbiased perspectives, and really more random encounters of who you’re going to meet.”
Fit with desks, chairs, couches, and phone booths it’s where most Gather workers–about 40 regularly attending members–work together, yet independently.
“There are a lot of different, smart people and people who have been through the challenges of starting a business,” Beach said. “And you bump into them in the kitchen having coffee. They tell you something that saves you thousands of dollars or weeks of your time because they’ve been there, done that before.”
But even with local co-working trailblazer 804RVA, which opened in 2011, the idea of co-working still puts off some people. “It’s not the traditional way people think about working,” Crenshaw said.
Jeff Bunch agrees. “People think that they need to have their own little office. That’s how they feel when they come in here,” he said. “What we’re doing is selling them on the fact that you don’t need an office. You’re going to be just as productive and do as much, or even more, because you’re going to get better networking through using the co-working space.”
Crenshaw says co-workers feed off the “energy” of the co-working space. At one point in during our interview in the glassed-in conference room, he pointed over to the co-working space. “You can see right here, Justin and Evan are talking to each other,” he said. “They didn’t know each other two weeks ago. Who knows what they’re talking about and what that’s going to lead to?” Part of Crenshaw’s job is to introduce members to one another. Sometimes a friendly acqaintenance develops. Sometimes it’s a business partnership.
While Gather’s owners say business has exceeded their expectations, they’re still working to show Richmond the benefits of co-working. Part of that outreach involves public events, like an Etsy pop-up shop. Next month, it’ll launch Gather Academy, a series of monthly talks that begins with Zuula Consulting presenting on verbal branding, and will later feature a presentation on organization from Minima founder Kristen Ziegler, as well as a talk in December on taxes and finances. All events will be open to the public.
“[We’re] just trying to get foot traffic coming through the space,” Crenshaw said. Once people come in and see Gather’s space, they often sign up for a free day of co-working. “We really have very few people who sign up and don’t continue coming,” Crenshaw said.
While Gather may be the melting pot for local startups, Andy Beach says it’s the business owners and workers that made Gather prosper to the point where its owners are already scouting a second location–and hope to one day have up to six around the region.
“Spaces like this are successful because of the talented people in Richmond that are starting businesses and are helping to make Richmond a cooler, better city to live in,” he said. “Gather is just a reflection of Richmond in general, and the success and the talent of the people here. That’s why we’re successful.”
Gather is located at 409 E. Main Street.
Photos courtesy of Gather