Ann Orem at Brickyard
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FOUNDER’S CORNER: Ann Orem talks about Brickyard

Brickyard is a coworking space in Ashbourne, VA which is one of the suburbs in Washington DC. Ann Orem, founder of Brickyard, began working on it eighteen months ago, and her prior experience in commercial real estate development helped her develop the space.

She began her research on the marketplace to determine whether a traditional coworking space would survive in the suburbs and soon realized there was a ‘gaping hole’ in the market for local entrepreneurs, tech startups, and small business.  The research on the demographic revealed that it was much more than coworking, it was building a community of thinkers, innovators, and creators, all of whom lived in the suburbs. “I began a journey of building a community for people who were looking for a workstyle that reflected their lifestyle,” said Ann.

There were two critical factors at play on their decision related to the location of Brickyard, with the rise of tech startup world there, they predicted an increase in entrepreneurship, and wanted to be in the center of it. They aimed to encourage the natural growth of that community. Second, the firm that Ann worked with was the developer in that area, add that to the fact that she has a real estate background, it was easy for her to spot the growth and the massive residential boom occurring at that moment. She also noted an increase in mixed-use developers in that area and explained them as, “An urban population on a smaller scale.”  Mixed-use developments work with play communities, these are communities with a substantial amount of retail space, office space; and there is a significant residential component – amenities such as golf, WiFi, movie theatres. The most attractive feature of the community was their work- live- play mentality.

Ann believes the key to opening and operating a successful coworking space depends on having some form of real estate experience and proper knowledge of the market. She explained that their role was to provide the ‘actual sticks and bricks’ for the intangible community and that one must recognize the importance of each square foot of the space.

Regarding designing the space, Brickyard aimed to create an open space, which provided several natural collisions facilitating interaction and collaboration among their members. They considered their most significant competitor to be ‘people’s home,’ with that in mind they set forth to create a productive, creative space that made their members feel at home.

They brought in a lot of residential pieces and custom pieces here, including custom woodwork, steelwork. People often ask Ann how the name ‘Brickyard’ happened, to which she replies,“It was our way of tipping our hats to the past trades.” Both her grandfathers were Masons, and her real estate background made her think of bricks and sticks. When you think of a brickyard you think of people working, people building things with tools; she felt that the members could relate to that concept, after all, they use different devices like laptop or tablets to get their work done.

The first site off Brickyard was 3000 square feet. They tried to make it as large and open as possible while trying to maintain the balance between functional and aesthetic pieces. They realized that the demand for private functional spaces was high, so six months later they decided to expand an additional 3000 square feet; and added more private offices which were of different sizes to accommodate different size teams.

Ann shared two challenges she faced while designing Brickyard, first being the fact that they approached the market blindly and were not sure of the expected demands. Luckily, they saw success in the first year, and they began to understand what the demand would look like for the next phase. The second challenge she dealt with, was the ‘unsexy aspects of design – involving mechanical and engineering aspects.’ Once they realized the problems, they were able to map out how to address them for the expansion.

Since they had built tons of interior spaces and had addressed several issues on a large scale before, it comes as no surprise that they approached designing Brickyard with well thought out ideas. For example, to overcome the annoying sound tunnels you often notice in spaces, they brought in acoustic clouds, laid carpets in specific places, insulated the walls and finally opted for some smart placement of glass windows.

Brickyard team consists of three people, not including the independent contractors. The way it works is that they each focus on one activity at a given time, such as marketing, social media, operations, and facilities. Ann stressed the importance of having someone who knows how the space works. Their most prominent marketing tool is their members and word of mouth; they have a strong social media presence and are currently working on their next digital marketing campaign. Brickyard also tapped into a unique marketing channel,  the local government organizations, local chambers; since they were capable of reaching out to the population of the county.

The Brickyard community is made up of diverse members. Ann states, “We are very cross-industry, it’s not tech-centric, its tech-enabled workers, not necessarily your traditional companies.” They do have a large population of tech companies; their members range from designers to developers, freelancers, remote workers for fortune 500s, government contractors, general contractors, commercial real estate developers, software platforms, and health startups. Ann’s parting words were to advise future coworking operators, “Be sure that the demand is there, and that the community is about to bud, so you can just continue to foster it.”

If you want to view the interview with Sajid and Ann, check out the video below;

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