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17 July, 2008 - 07:40 By Staff Reporter

Peter Boam of Capital Enterprise Centres

Peter Boam of Capital Enterprise Centres

“Good retailers share the distinct characteristics of having an insatiable appetite for work, an eagle eye for detail and the ability to place power and responsibility in the right hands.”

BACKGROUNDER: Capital Enterprise Centres Ltd specialises in developing and managing business centres for small and medium-sized enterprises. The Centres provide managed office, studio and workshop units ranging from 500 sq ft to 1500 sq ft.

CEC’s on-site management aims to allow tenants to enjoy hassle-free occupancy, offering a package with easy in / easy out terms together with business services that include administrative support, state-of-the-art telecommunications, postal services and meeting rooms.

The group currently has over 600 high quality office suites, studios, light industrial, workshop, storage, warehouse and distribution space suitable for a wide range of uses including small and growing businesses, project teams, business continuity and disaster recovery office space.

It currently operates centres in Chelmsford, Colchester, Croydon, Milton Keynes, Sittingbourne, Southend, Harlow, and at Kings Hill in Kent.  1. What does your business bring to the market that is not already present? We offer our customers the opportunity to operate their business from premises that are clearly identifiable as the home of the business.

Each is one of a number of similar premises that together we manage as a single property to alleviate any requirement for the entrepreneur to waste valuable time and energy on learning about and dealing with complicated leases, legal fees, building maintenance insurance, security, telecoms, internet access, etc.

Studios and workshops are available as well as offices all in a range of sizes and on terms that simplify changing spaces as business needs change. 2. How is the economic slowdown affecting your business? Our customers tell us that they remain busy. As yet there has been no noticeable change in the number of moves at established business centres and there has been a recent increase in the number of inquiries for small offices.

This might suggest that an increased number of people are seriously considering their futures. Although typically we expect a new centre to take up to three years before it becomes established, demand for space at Milton Keynes is ahead of our expectations.

To date forty businesses have moved in putting us just shy of filling half the number of units. 3. I understand that you have a background in retail. Are you applying any principles or strategies from that sector to this enterprise? Our business strategy has been to take the retail approach and apply it in the business space market.  For seventeen years I was employed by Sainsbury’s where I was responsible for locating sites, winning planning consents and building new stores for Sainsbury’s, Homebase and SavaCentre.

New stores were created under the direct guidance of the company as by and large the property industry was not sufficiently close to the shopping public to understand the specific requirements for a convenient shopping experience.

We found that retail works best where employees local to the customer are able to focus on the day to day immediate task of responding to changing needs while specialist functions are centralised with systems designed to take care of routine chores in the most effective way.

All of these things I learned at Sainsbury’s and have been used to create Capital Enterprise Centres. 4. What made you decide to make the move from retail to managed business space? My move out of salaried employment was into a position where I became a provider of supermarkets and non food retail stores to the supermarket operators to fill the gap I perceived.

This did work very well and provided the initial capital to enable me to experiment with the idea that has now become Capital Enterprise Centres. 5. The new centre represents a considerable investment. Why did you choose MK in addition to your Essex locations? Milton Keynes promises to be one of the best of a large number of potential locations where the population numbers are sufficiently high to create demand for our services and so when a well located site became available all that remained was for the price to be agreed and for a planning consent to be obtained. 6. What do you see as the key drivers for growth going forward? A strong and resourceful team which thankfully we have, the availability of finance on reasonable terms and a supply of sites at affordable prices.

7. Are there any challenges that are peculiar to the segment in which CEC operates? The main challenge is to acquire feasible projects that successfully deliver the product we know our customers want.  For example, parking.

Although we encourage everyone to use alternative means of transport by devising travel plans, car share schemes, bicycle racks and showers, etc, there are still a large number of reasons why people need vehicles to carry on their business. Town planners seek to restrict the number of spaces we are allowed to provide on site and this causes management issues and frustration. 8. Is there any big news in the pipeline at CEC. Can you drop any hints? Life is a constant change and who knows what the next few months will bring. We remain optimistic and we continue to review options for the further development of new centres. 9. You have a unique insight into the state of health of the UK SME. What is your prognosis? Customers we talk to seem to be busy and trying hard and succeeding to maintain their businesses. Vacancies increased at the turn of the year but have since steadily and gradually decreased.

The modest number of debtors has also stayed even. It is a characteristic of small businesses that they are resilient.   10. You have three (business-related) wishes. What are they? • That the inequitable and anti business imposition of full rates on vacant property is reversed. This single measure imposes a severe cost overhead on businesses like ours and in the wider market will slow down or stop the development of new industrial and warehouse space typically built speculatively. • That the growth in bureaucracy generally is reversed. The link between those who make our laws and those who are supposed to obey them is getting ever more tenuous. For example the health and safety laws appear in some cases to be well beyond what most people regard as sensible. • That a means is devised to curtail excessive risk taking by management at the expense of the shareholders.

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