NORWOOD, Ohio - It’s hard to tell from its front door at Rookwood Exchange just what kind of business operates at Fueled Collective. The facade seems to indicate retail. The interior suggests an upscale restaurant or private club. There’s a stately bar to right, a boutique fitness center to the left. In between, the walls are lined with old books that evoke a private library. And the people inside are pecking away at laptops or talking in small groups.
So, is this a retail establishment or a health club? An office space or a night club? The answer is yes to all that and more.
Fueled Collective is Cincinnati’s newest co-working space. It’s a franchise concept that aims to capitalize on the gig economy, that fast-growing employment sector comprised of freelancers, independent contractors and work-at-home professionals.
“Nothing like this exists in the Midwest,” said Jeff Herr, CEO of St. Gregory Development Group and co-inventor of the concept. “For the members, it’s like their home after 5 p.m. You’re never tired. You never want to leave. You want to engage. You want to feed off the energy of the space.”
St. Gregory Group is a brand-development company whose previous franchise ideas include Cyclebar, a boutique fitness center that has about 130 locations nationwide. It partnered with co-working companies in New York and Minnesota to develop Fueled Collective Franchising LLC.
The name comes from Rameet Chawla, a Manhattan entrepreneur who opened his web development company’s office space to other startups in 2013 under the Fueled Collective banner. The venture gained some operating experience by partnering with CoCo, a St. Paul, Minn.-based company with five co-working sites in the Twin Cities and Chicago. CoCo is rebranding its locations as Fueled Collective sites and providing the software that lets members use their phones to connect with each other and schedule appointments at each location.
When the group decided to build its first franchise model in Cincinnati, Herr sought out an award-winning designer -- Vicky Charles of Soho House in London and New York -- to give the new space a timeless elegance. He calls it the James Bond feel, with Italian chandeliers, dark-toned walls, custom furniture and millwork imported from Brazil and Spain.
Herr wouldn’t say how much it cost to build the space, but claims the venture will be profitable if it sells 1,000 memberships – a feat it hopes to accomplish within six months. Prices start at $95 for twice per month access to Fueled Collective workspace. The most expensive membership offers unlimited access for $650 per month. Beyond membership revenue, the business also makes money from the sale of drinks, food and exercise classes in the attached LB Fitness boutique.
All members have access to coffee and beer at the bar until 4 p.m. and the right to entertain guests at the facility after 5 p.m. In addition to the fitness classes, members can use Rookwood Exchange's workout room with locker and shower space on the second floor.
“It’s really kind of a showpiece,” said Stephen St. Pierre, a Nashville-based regional director of sales for Pandora. The music-streaming company bought memberships for four of its sales reps at Fueled Collective. They’re already making daily use of fitness, entertainment and meeting space.
“It really kind of helps to legitimize, helps us plant our flag here in the market place,” St. Pierre said. “I mean, if you look around, who wouldn’t want to do business here or come spend an hour meeting here? It’s a really great vibe and it’s got all the amenities we need.”
Herr became interested in the co-working trend because millions of U.S. workers are no longer tethered to office space. Intuit, the owner of TurboTax, predicted in 2015 that 7.6 million Americans will be on-demand workers by 2020, rising to 43 percent of the U.S. workforce.
Those workers are increasingly meeting clients and sending emails at coffee shops, hotel meeting rooms and in office space designed for shared usage. Lots of companies are active in the segment.
The largest by far is WeWork, a New York startup that began in 2010 and now claims more than 100,000 members in 18 countries with a reported net worth about $20 billion.
Herr believes Fueled Collective can grow to 250 locations in the U.S. within five years through the franchise model. His landlord at Rookwood Exchange wouldn’t doubt it. In fact, Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate Inc. is looking for other ways to incorporate the concept in other developments, including The Restoration, a boutique hotel concept Anderson launched in Charleston, South Carolina two years ago.
“When you go into the space, it almost feels like the lobby of a hotel,” said J.R. Anderson, vice president of development for the Norwood-based real estate company. “Do I buy a franchise and incorporate that into the lobby of the hotel?”
Anderson sees Fueled Collective as part of a larger trend toward flexible space that can draw crowds in different day parts – creating a buzz that helps surrounding tenants.
“That’s where the world’s kind of going,” he said. “In all of our restaurant design, we’re trying to incorporate space that can serve customers from lunch to dinner to late night to group sales.”
Anderson leased 25,000 square feet to Fueled Collective on two floors and made the Rookwood Exchange fitness center available as an added benefit in Herr’s membership offer. The first-floor space is planning a Jan. 26 grand opening, while a second-floor space is under construction, targeting a May opening date.
In the meantime, a handful of customers are already testing the limits of the flexible space. Walnut Hills High School is planning an alumni fundraiser for 250 people that will require transformation of meeting rooms into buffet lines and an exercise room into a dance floor and circular bar. Herr said retractable walls and adaptable furniture make every room functional for fundraising events, birthday parties, banquets, receptions and Happy Hours, in addition to its main purpose: Office work.
“We had our Christmas party down there in the back library space,” Anderson said. “It felt like you were in someone’s house.”