Is it Possible for a Vacant Retail Property be Converted to an Office Space?
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – A corporate headquarters carved out of a former department store may not be for everybody, but it's working for Danone North America.
"We wanted office spaces that are unconventional," said a Danone spokesman, Michael Neuwirth, showing off the spacious entrance hall of the company's new headquarters.
Nearby, a see-through refrigerator showcased the company's products, including a variety of Dannon yogurts, plant-based Silk beverages and Evian water.
Danone North America, the U.S. arm of the French food giant Danone, recently moved its headquarters to a newly-built 80,000-square-foot office space on the top floors of a former jewelry and home furnishings store here.
The building's other tenants include Whole Foods, the Cheesecake Factory and Dick's Sporting Goods.
The move offered a bit of synergy for Danone as Whole Foods is a major customer for its products, Neuwirth said.
But more importantly, the property's high-ceiling open-plan space with lots of natural light met the company's goal to establish a creative, engaging office environment, Neuwirth said.
The successful conversion of the retail space into offices sounds like a great news for retail real estate owners as major retailers, from Toys R Us to Sears, have been forced to close their stores in the era of online shopping.
But Danone's case is a "unique situation" driven by a lack of good quality, urban, transit-oriented office properties in downtown White Plains, said Drew Saunders with JLL, a commercial real estate firm that assisted Danone's relocation.
"Danone’s vision and desire for a new collaborative workplace" drove JLL agents to find a "unique solution," leading to the former department store Fortunoff space, which is not a typical retail space by any measure, Saunders said.
Danone North America has been taking steps to be different. In April, the company became a Certified B Corp., a credential given by the nonprofit B Lab for meeting strict standards of social and environmental performance.
The uniqueness of Danone's office is culminated in the cafeteria called "Grand Central," overlooking a main intersection downtown. The extra-high-ceiling space with a wall of windows doubles as a large meeting room where people can use the wooden staircase for seating.
Pursuit of flexibility
Open-plan offices aren't new, but Danone brought the concept to the next level in the new headquarters by mostly eliminating assigned desks for its 400 employees, aiming to maximize flexibility as to how people work, Neuwirth said.
Equipped with laptop computers and smartphones, employees can work anywhere they want depending on their needs, he said. Lockers are available for workers to store belongings, he said.
The expansive open floor is divided into different neighborhoods to give people some directions, with each section named after the cities that have ties to the company and its history.
For example, employees who handle finance gather in the section called "Barcelona," named after the city in Spain where the company was founded by Isaac Carasso in 1919.
People who work on the supply chain and packaging are based in the neighborhood called "Paris," as in the city where the French headquarters is located.
Each "neighborhood" has meeting rooms and many nooks where people can sit quietly or have impromptu meetings.
"Some people want to be in a quiet place where they want to do writing," Neuwirth said. "And some people may want to sit down and have a meeting and talk to people. We wanted to have a variety of spaces."
People who aren't feeling 100 percent can use one of the "wellness rooms," in which they can sit on a zero-gravity chair.
Working hours are also flexible, and he's taking advantage of the policy, Neuwirth said.
"I’m a morning person. I like to be here 7:30 or 8 in the morning when it’s really quiet," he said. "I need that hour and a half or so to do my own reading because I need to read all kinds of news sources. I need that focus time before my day starts."
Others may want to work later in the evening, and that's fine, too, "as long as you are fulfilling your goal and working respectfully with the people you need to collaborate," he said. "That’s the type of culture we foster."
Article Resource: The Daily American