Have you ever accidentally stumbled into providing a product or service, realizing there’s a market need for it even though it wasn’t in your original plan? And what if the offering you stumbled into becomes a key differentiator — your competitive advantage?
That’s what happened with Sunshine Suites, an office space company in New York City.
Joseph Raby and Cheni Yerushalmiare, the Managing Partners of Sunshine Suites, are childhood friends. When they ran a startup Internet business, they were frustrated with the experience of getting suitable offices and support services.
So in 2001 they took over a below-market lease in New York City and got into the office management business, opening Sunshine Suites.
Sunshine Suites has a niche market: office space for small businesses and startups. Their company tagline is “Where startups grow up.”
According to the partners, they like nothing better than to see their tenants become so successful that they grow up and move out. They can cite several examples of businesses that started with one entrepreneur in the space, growing from zero revenues all the way to millions in annual sales, and then moving out to their own bigger office space.
Sunshine Suites is not your grandfather’s office leasing company, though.
First of all, they offer flexible solutions for today’s entrepreneurs. They call it “on demand” office space:
- If you just need a business address to receive mail and packages, use of a conference room (such as the one pictured above) to meet with the occasional client, and desk space now and then — you could rent a virtual office.
- If you prefer a more social and collaborative setting, then you might opt instead for use of the coworking space. Coworking means an open environment where you work side by side with other entrepreneurs.
- As your business grows, there’s dedicated office space.
However, you might wonder, “What’s so unique about this?” After all, today it’s possible to find virtual offices and coworking spaces in cities and towns all over.
What’s unique — and what got my attention — is the way Sunshine Suites provides the “whole package” to startups — office space, furniture, staff to answer phones, utilities and high speed internet, and other amenities. Most of all, Sunshine Suites is known for the way they bring together tenants and make networking possible. In effect, they help their tenants find customers so that they can grow organically and become more successful.
It all started by accident. According to the two business partners, when one of your tenants is struggling, you have two options. You can (1) evict them, or (2) help them make their business successful so that they can pay for the rent and services.
The two partners were faced with just that situation, with a Web designer who was behind in his monthly payments because he needed more clients. They knew of another tenant (called a “Shiner” in company parlance) who needed a website. They connected the two up. The gentleman who was behind in his monthly rent got the sale and was in turn able to pay Sunshine Suites.
Suddenly, the light bulb went off.
The two realized that it would be a competitive advantage to provide an environment and services that made it easier for tenants to prospect for customers and get more successful.
Today Sunshine Suites offers a variety of services to help their tenants connect with each other and become more successful. They hold regular networking events and panel discussions. They created a database application so Shiners could search for other tenants by industry. There’s even a ski vacation home in Vermont (image below) for Shiners to use for offsite meetings.
But the most effective way of helping tenants grow their businesses is by having staff walk around, talk with and learn about the tenants, and informally make introductions and pair people up. Sunshine Suites hires staff with outgoing personalities. They train them to draw tenants out in conversation and informally make one-on-one introductions that may lead to partnerships or customer relationships.
Sunshine Suites itself has grown from one location with six tenants in 2001, to multiple locations with over 500 startup businesses and 1,000 entrepreneurs currently.
According to Cheni, “The worst thing entrepreneurs can do is stay in their homes. These are great times. Getting out of the house and meeting others and networking is how to find opportunities.”