Tags:Any city looking to become a top-tier place to do business needs certain amenities. And in Asheville, where commercial office space can be pricey and where thousands make a living as freelancers, telecommuters or home- or small-business owners, one key amenity is the availability of so-called "virtual offices."
Enter Asheville Executive Suites, which just opened for business at 37 Haywood St. downtown. The new enterprise, created by investment adviser Doug English and run by Director of Operations Diana Spitzer, is the first of its kind in Asheville.
The newly refurbished space, which totals 2,600 square feet, contains nine enclosed offices plus some alcove areas for tenants who don't require four walls and privacy. The layout is anchored in the rear by an expansive executive office; it also includes a kitchen, conference room and small reception area.
Most of the offices can be rented for a set number of hours per month (starting at $299 for eight hours) or on an as-needed basis, depending on availability, for $35 an hour. And even when the tenants aren't there, the fee includes an array of professional office services, such as phone answering and routing and mail receipt. For $199 a month, clients can get a downtown mailing address for their business plus those support services -- but no office time.
English got the idea for AES after using a similar virtual office in Charleston, S.C., for his financial business, Scientific Investors. "It was fabulous," he says. "It allowed you to focus on your business. You didn't think about the IT or all the other things that can distract you from your revenue-creating activities. When I moved here there wasn't one, and it just seemed it would be extremely Asheville-y, sort of like a business commune. Asheville had to have one, and I needed a headquarters for my investment business, and the two just fit together."
More than just four walls and a desk
AES intends to focus on the specialized needs of small businesses, independent professionals and contractors, says English. By providing fully furnished, professional office spaces and related services, it offers an economical alternative to establishing a traditional office. Tenants get the benefit of state-of-the-art communications technology, high-level administrative support services, and access to a range of office equipment, including a printer, copier, fax machine, scanner and postage machine.
Virtual-office services include personalized phone reception, a professional mailing address, guest reception, a conference room, secretarial help -- even concierge services. "You want tickets to the ballgame? We'll get them," says Spitzer. These may be attractive both to home-based businesses and to someone who wants to establish a presence in Asheville while maintaining another office elsewhere, notes Spitzer.
"Asheville Executive Suites will offer everything an individual might need to professionally operate their business without the hassle, expense and downtime spent locating and renovating space, hiring staff and implementing technology," says English. "This allows our clients to concentrate on what is most important to them -- growing their business and serving their customers."
Despite limited advertising so far, AES is already receiving a steady stream of inquiries from prospective tenants. If the enterprise does well, a second location -- most likely in booming south Asheville -- is a distinct possibility, says English.
Of all the amenities AES offers, Spitzer is exceptionally proud of the phone system, which she calls "so totally cool -- it's so flexible." If someone is working and doesn't want to be interrupted, for example, the system's voice mail will send an e-mail to the worker's laptop with an attached WAV file of the recorded message. "They don't ever have to pick up the phone," she notes. For cell-phone users who still want reception service, adds Spitzer, the system allows for "twinning," in which calls ring on both the cell phone and the receptionist's phone. If the user doesn't answer a call after three rings, it goes to the receptionist to be answered.
Want your temporary space to feel more like a permanent one? No problem, says Spitzer. Tenants can keep items such as diplomas and professional licenses, family photos and the like on-site, and AES staff will display them as directed. That gives AES customers a way to meet with their clients in a space that feels personal instead of sterile. When the meeting's over, the items can be put back into storage.
Although AES caters to the business person, the company hasn't forgotten about the area's artists. Asheville Executive Suites' unique space features high ceilings and glass-walled offices, creating a gallerylike feel that's an ideal venue for exhibiting local art, notes Spitzer. The company is currently accepting submissions from local artists looking to show their work. For each piece contributed for display, an acknowledgement will be provided outlining the name of the piece and the artist. In exchange for the free art, AES will act as a liaison between the artist and potential buyers.
"Knowing that there is such a wealth of talent in the Asheville area, we thought it would be interesting to get very different styles of artwork that artists would maybe want to donate or put on consignment," says Spitzer. "So if somebody came by and said, 'Wow, I love that painting," we could say, 'Well, we happen to know the artist, and here's their name and phone number.' We want to help promote artists who are having problems either getting into a gallery or just not knowing how to get exposure for their work."
For more information about AES office space and other services, or about guidelines for artwork, contact Spitzer at 398-2800 or visit www.ashevilleexecutivesuites.com.