How the sharing economy changed my business - a Host's perspective
Matt Huxtable, space owner and SpacetoCo Host at iThrive recently spoke at our partnership event with the City of Canning. He’s not only a qualified Chiro, but an engaging story-teller and presenter.
This is Matt's Story
Hi all and thank you for having me and allowing me to share my first-hand experience as a landlord, or, as we’re more appropriately called in the Sharing Economy, a ‘Host’. The guys from SpacetoCo invited me to speak today and enticed me to do it with free food and drinks. They must know me well because having just started a small business, it may be the only time I eat this week, so how could I say no. But in all honesty, I wouldn’t have taken the time to come here today and share my story had my experience as a Host in the Space Sharing economy not been as successful as it has.
So, I’ll give you a quick bit of background about our main business. In late 2016 my wife Hayley and I took the plunge into opening our own private healthcare practice called ‘iThrive’, with myself as the Chiropractor and Hayley as the Paediatric Occupational Therapist. We brought in other services such as Remedial Massage, Yoga & Pilates to compliment the Chiropractic and Speech Pathology to compliment the OT. We went in big and secured 185sqm of prime inner city rental premises in West Leederville. ‘Too easy’ we thought. We developed a great brand, we had a small following of patients who found us from our previous places of employment and were the best Chiropractor and OT in the Southern Hemisphere, well according to our mums anyway. Most importantly we love what we do. We believe in our service and love helping people. And whilst we’re proud of how far our business has come in its first year, having all these strengths doesn’t make your first year in business a breeze.
This is what brought us to the sharing economy. Whilst the business was growing, it wasn’t growing fast enough. We needed spare funds, so we could get back the two things we sacrificed when we started this business, and the only two things that make life worth living:
- Smashed avocado on toast,
- Annual trips to Bali.
I remember turning up to work one Saturday morning and noticed that the Café next door to us had a Popup Shop out the back. With visions of Pina coladas by the pool in Seminyak I asked the Café owner how much he charged for his space, to which he replied ‘$75 per hour’. The math quickly dawned on me. For an 8-hour booking they pocketed $600. That’s return flights for 2 people on Airasia, on the redeye, with no checked in luggage. I was sold, and we had the space to match; an attractive yoga studio backing on to a popular café that was only used on weeknights for an hour.
So, like any desperate new business owners, we undercut our neighbours pricing by half and had two Popup bookings lined up for the month!
That was how we got involved in the Sharing Economy and we don’t see ourselves stopping. Since starting we’ve shared the space with multiple Popup stores, photography exhibitions, painting workshops, arts and crafts workshops, movement workshops and the list goes on. We had the space listed on sites such as Gumtree and similar pages and the enquiries were coming in fast. Almost twice weekly, someone would call to enquire about the space. Were experiencing probably what the guys at SpacetoCo saw before anyone else, that there was a huge demand for short term or “spot leasing” and within the short space of a month or so, we found ourselves at the forefront of it. Furthermore, it wasn’t just local demand. We’ve had a photographer from Melbourne hold an exhibition and this month we have a 3-day pop-up shop for a retail business based out of Melbourne.
As you could imagine this new adventure of space sharing created a handy new cash flow stream that we hadn’t forecast. But what it also did was open our minds to something more special than extra cash flow.
It sounds corny, but we quickly realised we had opened a space for the businesses even smaller than a small business. Businesses that can’t financially justify a long-term lease but need space other than the living room at home to showcase their product and give it legitimacy.
Shortly after opening the space to others, we had two young artists host an exhibition. They mentioned that there weren’t any spaces in Perth like ours that budding artists could hire for a reasonable price. Furthermore, there was no application process with us as there is in Perth’s more established art galleries. Artists typically have their work assessed and often turned away for an exhibition. Without knowing it we had created a new type of art gallery.
But like any new division in a business, the highlights come with grey areas and some pain points. These are certainly by no means show-stoppers because I wouldn’t be talking here tonight if they were. I believe these factors have largely revolved around lack of automation in this emerging field of spot leasing. One thing most startups will tell you about their first year is not only will you have to make some financial sacrifices, but you will also have to sacrifice a lot of your time. I’m not just referring to the time in terms of years growing a business but also that time at the end of the day when you’re supposed to be exercising, spending time with friends and family or just watching Married at First Sight. Therefore, automation of spot leasing is key so you’re not spending those important hours creating invoices or chasing payment from the guest. Let’s not forget this is a side hustle for a small business like ours so we can’t afford to be increasing our workload.
This is where platforms like SpacetoCo fill the gap. Jumping on board with them has almost entirely eliminated that additional time required to be involved in this branch of the Sharing Economy. Yes, they collect a small fee for facilitating the process, but if you try to keep that fee for yourself then you must not value your time. Time is the currency that a lot of us work so hard to get back. It didn’t take us long to learn this.
Automation of the sharing economy is also important as it provides booking filters. Like the Carsales app, no one wants to buy a hatchback when they needed an SUV. I’d be lying if I said every use of our studio has been a roaring success. When you advertise through platforms such as Gumtree you get all types of enquiries and unfortunately some of them don’t work. It’s difficult to turn down $1,000 for a weekend popup, so you allow it. But watching your tenant twiddling their thumbs for the weekend to only make $200 worth of sales is a killjoy for a host especially if you feel they may have been more successful in another space. Automated platforms such as SpacetoCo allow your space to attract more appropriate tenants or ‘Guests’ ensuring a successful use of the studio and a potential repeat booking. It’s generally just a more positive experience for all involved. This alone is worth a lot in my opinion because no one likes an angry house guest.
So where to now for us? Obviously, we’ll carry on the long journey of growing our primary business in allied health, but we’ll continue enjoying the fruits of being a Space-host also. Due to it’s early success, we’ve actually renamed our studio ‘The Studio Collab.’ It has its own Instagram page and a link to book through SpacetoCo, of course. We run our Yoga & Pilates classes in there, but little do our clients know, it doubles as an art gallery, a vintage handbag pop up shop from Melbourne or a flower crown workshop studio for a hen’s party. The Studio Collab. isn’t just a space that makes us some extra income, but it’s a snapshot of just how quickly the sharing economy is growing.
I’ll finish with something that might sound corny, but I think it’s been the most important factor to the success of our studio. It pays to be friendly and helpful. It doesn’t cost you anything and it puts the ‘Guest’ at ease. Even though their commitment is for a day or two, they are often just as nervous as what we were when we signed our lives away for 3 years on a long term commercial lease! So, make them feel comfortable and not alone. Remember that it’s called the Sharing Economy and Sharing is Caring.