Some Dane County businesses are using empty square footage to their — or the community’s — advantage.
From the pages of In Business magazine.
More and more, companies are offering their employees flexibility not only in how they work, but where they work, and discovering it can be a win-win for both parties, whether originally intended or not.
What this trend creates, however, is space. Some research suggests that a typical office desk is used only 45% of the time. And why pay for office space that’s not being used when a business might be able to collect $300 or $400 per person, according to an article at morebusiness.com (“7 Ways You Can Make Money With Your Extra Business Space”)?
In this article on meeting spaces, we expand on that concept, exploring some local companies that may be adding extra revenue or building community goodwill by using extra space in non-traditional ways.
Concert halls with hospitality
Corporate events are getting more popular at FPC Live, the venue division of Frank Productions Concerts. Within the past two years, Frank Productions acquired the High Noon Saloon, sold a majority stake to Live Nation Entertainment, and merged with the owners of Majestic Live, which also operates two venues in Missouri.
FPC Live’s venues also include two historic theaters: the Orpheum (top) and the Majestic.
“A year ago, they didn’t have an event venue,” notes Abby Polnow, senior special events manager for FPC Live, a division of Frank Productions. “Now they have six!” Polnow worked with Live Nation/The Orpheum Theater before the merger, and started with FPC Live in January.
Now it’s her job to let businesses know that the four Madison venues, the Orpheum, the High Noon Saloon, the Majestic Theatre, and the long-anticipated Sylvee, opening later this month, are also welcoming corporate meetings and events. “There’s a huge education piece to letting the community know that we can handle these,” Polnow, explains, but with 11 years in hospitality, including working for both the Drake Hotel and Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, she’s got the experience behind her to tackle the task.
Because this is a brand new events department, it’s too soon to predict a budget, she says. “Special events are a fairly new concept to this company. We all see the potential, but I don’t think they know yet to what extent. It’s a revenue stream Frank Productions hasn’t thought of before.” Now it’s a dedicated revenue stream.
She’s been educating large employers about possible event space and the benefits of working with FPC Live, explaining that holding business meetings in “cool, less stuffy atmospheres,” can also help with employee engagement.
The Sylvee will be the largest available venue when it opens later this month, although there are ways to section off smaller areas, Polnow notes. It will be able to accommodate 500 for a sit-down meal, while the Orpheum can seat 300. The High Noon Saloon and the Majestic Theatre, like all FPC Live venues, pack a wallop when it comes to AV possibilities and sound quality.
The company’s preferred vendor list includes Blue Plate Catering, Festival Foods, and Food Fight Restaurant Group, but guests can choose other caterers for an additional charge.
“Right now, we’re doing 100 events across the portfolio,” Polnow explains. “A year from now? It’s hard to say. Eventually I see no problem doubling that number. It will be challenging but doable.”
Polnow is up for that challenge because this Madison native loves her job. “I look at this as 10 years of experience coming down to a dream come true.”
Motorcycles and menus
When Virgil W. Schulenburg, aka “Wolf,” acquired the Harley-Davidson of Madison motorcycle dealership in 2015, the business inherited a second revenue generator as well: a second floor event space that provides an additional boost to the bottom line.
General Manager Crystal Mundt says The Banquet Room at Harley-Davidson of Madison works great for staff meetings, riding academy training, and monthly H.O.G (Harley Owners Group) get-togethers, but it’s also rentable to the public for everything from business meetings to weddings.
Harley-Davidson of Madison’s banquet room is set for a recent Ho-Chunk VIP event.
Under a unique arrangement signed by a previous owner, Blue Plate Catering manages all aspects of the Harley venue.
Tim DiMenna, general manager at Blue Plate, says his company handles the bookings and event calendar, works with clients on event planning, food and beverage preferences, and room setup. For business clients, the room can be arranged in any manner — for networking, a corporate meeting with or without lunch, or conference-style with small breakout tables.
Audio-visual equipment and microphones are included, and guests can ogle over the Harley showroom down below — during breaks, of course. Other than some strategically placed logos around the room, the Harley-Davidson Corp. is not at all involved.
The unusually shaped room accommodates 120 to 300 guests depending on the type of event. It has stair and elevator access and operates separately of the dealership’s retail hours. It also has a bar, a fireplace, and a pool table that can double as a dessert table or be used for corporate handouts as necessary. Madison Gas & Electric, AT&T, Ho-Chunk, and the Monona East Side Business Association (MESBA) have used the space in the past, DiMenna says. Summers tend to be slower, but weddings, of course, keep Saturday schedules busy year-round. Last April, the venue hosted 14 events.
The Harley-Davidson agreement is the only one of its kind for Blue Plate Catering, although DiMenna doesn’t rule out another similar deal in the future “if it made sense.”
“We like it because we get to do everything, and we know the venue really well,” he adds. “It generates revenue for both parties because we book the room and collect the money, and Harley gets the room rental fee and a portion of food and beverage sales.”
Mundt says Blue Plate sends the dealership a check each month for its portion of the event revenue, although she would not reveal how much that is. It’s very much a business deal between two local businesses, she says.
Sounds like it’s a win-win, too.
“We’re not a not-for-profit,” Mundt says. “This is a revenue stream for us, but Blue Plate manages it all, and all requests need to go through them.”
Ovation’s lucrative rooftop
Hovde Properties didn’t originally plan to generate revenue from its 13th floor Sky Club space at Ovation 309, notes CJ Wessel, vice president, marketing and residential. It was designed to be a resident amenity for the tenants of the building’s 248 apartment units. At one point, in fact, the company considered adding a swimming pool instead, but with the stunning views of the state Capitol and Madison’s downtown, plus an outdoor deck with fire pits and furniture, it soon became clear that the space could become a unique revenue generator for the company.
The 13-story view from Ovation 309’s rooftop Sky Club showcases the state Capitol and Madison’s downtown.
“We still maintain a delicate balance for all of our spaces,” Wessel clarifies, noting that first and foremost, these are amenities for residents, meaning public or corporate bookings cannot exceed 50% of the available dates each month.
The exclusive Rooftop Sky Club has two gathering spaces — the Sky Club and the Sky Lounge. The entire floor can accommodate about 100 guests for a sit-down reception or about 150 for a networking event, and guests are free to roam outside on the deck as well.
Anyone using the space must work with one of three Hovde-preferred caterers who are very familiar with the building, its elevators, and kitchen. One important note is that the building does not carry a class B liquor license, so if alcohol is served, it must be complementary. Wessel says some companies have provided alcoholic beverages and provided guests with drink tickets because a cash bar is not allowed.
Ovation 309 has two other rentable areas as well, she offers. There’s a seventh floor Veranda complete with barbecue grills, and a spa that’s open to the public, complete with a massage therapist, personal trainers, and nutrition programs.
Meanwhile, interest in the top-floor space continues to grow as word gets around, Wessel adds, and costs depend on the day of the week and the time of year (most of December is already booked). If a business rented the entire Sky Club on a Friday or Saturday evening, including the outdoor deck space, the cost would be $3,900 plus vendor costs. Rates are more affordable Sunday through Thursdays, when cocktail or networking events are charged on a per-hour basis.
As for parking, Ovation has enough parking on site to accommodate Sky Club guests, Wessel says. The controlled-access, heated public parking lot is available for an hourly rate.
“The rooftop Sky Club now has its own revenue goals and we are exceeding them,” Wessel says. “We’ve already beat our budget for 2018, so it’s definitely growing in popularity. It’s a hidden gem, really.”
Insuring community giveback
With all the goodwill that American Family Insurance spreads regularly throughout the region — and the list is long — it’s not surprising that the company also takes a different approach when it comes to sharing some of it’s available and unused meeting space.
When not being used for American Family Insurance purposes, the Herman Wittwer Auditorium can be booked for qualified nonprofits at no charge.
For the right cause and mission, a qualified nonprofit can use available AmFam rooms at no cost, but first it must submit a questionnaire to ensure that its mission is in alignment with American Family’s.
“American Family supports improving the community for families and children. That’s a big part of our focus,” states Linda Wagener, media relations consultant. Every request must be approved.
Jeff Voelkel, community investment at AmFam, is involved in the approval process. “There was never an intent that I’m aware of to make money on this idea [of sharing unused space],” he notes. “It was meant for nonprofits to use in a philanthropic way.”
The questionnaire is a tool that helps staff determine if the organization’s request is a good fit. It also provides AmFam staff with pertinent contact information so they can work with the nonprofit, discuss their needs, and help them determine the best use of space and equipment.
“We have a variety of nonprofits that use this space,” Voelkel says, “and we want to be a good host, so the intent is to give them a place to use our space in a positive way.”
AmFam has about a dozen possible meeting spaces to offer, accommodating as few as 15 people or as many as 300 in the Herman Wittwer Auditorium, named for the founder of American Family Insurance. Standard meeting rooms include audio-visual capability, screens, tables, chairs, and white boards, and ample parking also is available.
“Madison has a lot of nonprofits operating on shoestring budgets or in tiny offices,” Voelkel explains, “and sometimes they just need a place to meet with volunteers. Where do they go for that? This is a way to give back and allow these organizations the opportunity to meet in a very nice facility and get their work done. For me, it’s one of the neat things I get to be involved with.”
Outside groups were able to use American Family’s office spaces about 70 times in 2017. More impressive, those events attracted more than 8,900 attendees.
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