She Sold Her Co-Working Business and Joined a Giant Competitor. Here's Why. Shelley Bade has had a complex journey with the co-working franchise Office Evolution. It began as a competitor, then turned into a support system when she needed it the most.

By Frances Dodds

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Courtesy of Office Evolution

Shelley Bade was an early adopter of coworking spaces. In 2009, she and her business partner, Jill Pogrant, launched a coworking company in Phoenix and grew to three locations with 200 members. But when the national franchise Office Evolution expanded into the Phoenix area, Bade and Pogrant worried they couldn't compete. So they decided to join forces and become Office Evaluation franchisees. In November 2018, just as they were converting their businesses, tragedy struck: Pogrant passed away after a battle with breast cancer. Bade was grief-stricken and terrified of embarking on the franchisee journey alone but was relieved to find support at Office Evolution. Throughout that process — and now, during the tragedy of COVID-19 — she says the company has made sure she is taken care of.

Your first months as an Office Evolution franchisee must have been really difficult. How did they support you?

Mark Hemmeter, the owner and CEO, was the first person I reached out to when Jill died, and he was really there. It was so amazing. He even kept calling and checking up on me, saying, "We feel your pain. What can we do? How can we help you?"

Related: 4 Benefits That Explain Why Large Companies Are Increasingly Turning to Coworking

Your business model was successful before you joined Office Evolution. What made you want to become a franchisee?

I had always wanted to franchise my model. But Mark was so far ahead of me. He'd been franchising since 2012, so I thought, Why should I have to do the heavy lifting? It's not that our systems weren't good. It's just that theirs were better, and they had more platforms for growth. And I knew that if I didn't jump on board with Office Evolution, I'd still be faced with upgrading my internet, upgrading my phone systems, upgrading my door systems. It seemed like a win-win opportunity for both of us.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Office Evolution

What were some of the challenges of converting to the franchisee model?

One lesson I've learned is that you shouldn't go in undercapitalized. I lost 20 percent of my business in the process of moving over to new products and services. We had to learn the Office Evolution systems, back-office processes, marketing tactics. We had to put in a whole new internet platform and then convert all our 200-plus members to Office Evolution contracts.

Related: Businesses Can't Run from Kitchen Tables Forever. Here's Why Coworking Will Make a Comeback.

What have you gained by joining Office Evolution?

I get wonderful guidance. We have a marketing guru who came from one of our largest competitors, and a national director of real estate who helps us navigate new locations. Whereas in my previous company, I did all the 10,000-foot strategy stuff, now I have a business coach who works closely with me and my staff on the sales side. There are about 25 people at the corporate office who are helping me out in my little company.

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, that support must be especially comforting.

A couple of days ago, we had one of our owner calls, which we do typically once a month, but now we're doing it once a week. And it made me feel like, Oh my gosh, it's not me just going it alone. I'm in the same boat with all these other executives and professionals. It's amazing the amount of talent among the franchisees. We've got bankers, accountants, CPAs, investment advisers, educators, marketing specialists, IT specialists. And we have a forum in which we can collaborate and work through issues. So being a franchisee has made me feel that much more empowered.

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Frances Dodds

Deputy Editor of Entrepreneur

Frances Dodds is Entrepreneur magazine's deputy editor. Before that she was features director for, and a senior editor at DuJour magazine. She's written for Longreads, New York Magazine, Architectural Digest, Us Weekly, Coveteur and more.

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