By their own admission, neither Giles nor Niki Fuchs - founders of serviced office firm Office Space in Town - excelled at school. Niki recalls standing out for "being naughty" while Giles remembers his father saying to him over dinner after he had received his A Level results "I hope you are good with your hands".

"We both failed in education," admits Giles. "Our father was hugely intelligent and successful, and our mother was a homemaker who my father mentored and coached to become an entrepreneur. We lived in a family environment which was all about striving, and we had failed educationally although not necessarily intellectually."

Niki went off to secretarial college and, after winning an internship in New York for a year, took a job as a recruitment consultant. "I learned how to sell, and I was very successful at 19 at doing that," she says. She then joined the family business; one of the country's first serviced office companies, City Executive Centres, working alongside her mother.

After leaving the firm to travel with her future husband, Niki returned to the business and eventually took over its running. "I was 25 or 26 at the time and we needed to reinvent the business, so we closed all the businesses that had leases and we grew as a management company," she says. "We got to 15 centres across the UK, including two in London. We took on an investor and worked with them from 2001 to 2005." The arrangement didn't work out, and the business was later sold to MWB Business Exchange. Niki would go on to set up Offices Now Please, an online brokerage focusing on helping smaller businesses find the commercial space they needed.

Giles, meanwhile, recalls being embarrassed by his educational achievements, and took himself off the day after his A Levels to knock on the door of a Northampton estate agency. "I said I'd like a job and he said I could start on the Monday," he recalls. "I worked from 18 to 21 doing that, and then at 21 I set up my own estate agency in Northampton which I ran very happily until 2000. We had a good 15 years or so but unfortunately it eventually failed. I sold it for not very much money and came out of work for a year."

After a time, he too joined City Executive Centres and helped the company grow, before setting up Disaster Recovery Solutions, which combined data backup with emergency office provision for anyone affected by an incident that would render their workplace unusable.

Finding space

After a few years out of the serviced office business, Niki and Giles came together again to set up Office Space in Town in 2009, based on the idea of managing serviced offices in buildings bought by investors and effectively bypassing landlords. "When we were City Executive Centres we were doing it brilliantly but it was never our choice of where we went or what building we took because we were providing a solution to landlords," says Niki. "They had a problem, they would call us and we provided the solution but this meant we were able to take all of the things we've learned over the years to deliver what we knew would be amazing for our clients."

One distinguishing feature is the unique interior design, with offices kitted out in striking décor, including the Alice-in-Wonderland-themed Waterloo office. "If you look at all of the other operators, all of their centres are very beautiful but they look the same," says Niki. "Our buildings are different and they reflect the local business environment and the history of the area. And then we allow our staff to put their own stamp on it."

The business stood out in other ways, too. "Rather than having 85 to 90 per cent offices and a couple of meeting rooms, we changed that around so we only had 65 per cent offices and a third of it was breakout areas, which are vital right now," says Giles. "It changed the longevity of stay too; the average stay was 48 months prior to the pandemic." The business also invested in internet capability to deliver high-speed and reliable infrastructure, and uses multiple providers to ensure it could withstand any outage.

Office Space in Town also owns its own buildings, working on a profit-share arrangement with investors, which has provided an incentive to invest in premises, even in the turbulent last few years. "The difference is we own our building whereas everyone else rents theirs so they're depreciating assets," says Giles. "In the last five years there haven't been many benefits to spending money but our buildings are for ever. We have extra facilities such as bedrooms, gyms, roof cafes, nail bars and hairdressers. We're pushing the boundaries all the time to make a difference."

Today, the company has five offices in London, two in Cardiff and Edinburgh, and another two in Northampton, which Niki admits don't really "fit the mould" of the others. "Our target market is London and we look at opportunities in and around the suburbs," she says. "We do look outside of  central London for opportunities, but we're very careful. We're not in it to grow for the sake of growth. When you have leases or management deals, size is the most important thing about your growth, whereas we own our buildings so we take our time and choose the right buildings." In London, the rule is to be within a four-minute walk of a bus stop or tube station, adds Giles.

Niki handles the day-to-day running of Office Space in Town, while Giles takes on more of an overseeing role. "We have very different talents," says Giles. "Niki is very good with detailed operations, and she loves looking after the staff. I'm much more about a deal; I've been in property all my life so I like the brand, the product, buying buildings and creating value." 

Giles, though, also has other businesses to keep him busy, including overseeing the Burgh Island Hotel, situated on a private island in Devon, which he purchased in 2019. "Someone came to me and said they had a really nice island to sell in Devon, and surely you have to buy an island in Devon," he says. The hotel has just put in a planning application for an extra 15 bedrooms on top of the existing 25, as well as two new restaurants, a new bar and staff accommodation.

He's also the man behind Gunners Cocktails. The cocktail itself is a non-alcoholic drink consisting of ginger beer, ginger ale, bitters and a twist of lime, which Giles discovered while playing golf. In 2016, he set about manufacturing it as a ready-mixed drink, with the aim of selling it to golf clubs, bars, and other hospitality venues and events. "It was just something that someone needed to do," he says. "We have taken investment and recently had our best week in sales. We're not at breakeven yet but we expect to be there soon. We're not talking to supermarkets yet; we're going to wait for them to come to us."

Pandemic pressure

Office Space in Town was inevitably hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, but Giles and Niki worked hard to ensure it held on to business where possible. "We knew it was coming," says Giles. "We had a Teams meeting the day after lockdown was announced and said we were going to make sure that we kept as many of our clients as we could through lockdown so when we finally opened up we would be as full as possible.

"We went into lockdown 93% occupied and came out at 66%. But we are back up to 87% already so because those who have left immediately came back to us. So we're really pleased, we never went into loss and we didn't breach any of our loans with the banks. We also made very good financial decisions. We didn't take any dividends out of the business at all during that period." The hotel has also picked up, and is once again full, he adds, although staffing is a major challenge.

The business also offered a service during the pandemic where companies could rent a whole office for just two days a week to give them somewhere to meet up when rules allowed, but with occupancy rates again increasing this is something that is no longer possible. "The vast majority of the clients that did leave took what's called a virtual office and kept their mailing address and their telephone number because they didn't know what was going to happen," adds Niki. "The majority of those have now returned. Most of them took smaller offices initially and have now expanded back into pre-Covid sized offices."

It's early days but there are signs that serviced offices will form a larger part of the way in which we work post-pandemic, says Niki. "We are seeing a steady trickle of people coming to us who were previously in leases, which tend to be for five or 10 years, and we think that will continue for the next few years," she says.

Giles also believes the company is now well positioned for future ways of working. "Obviously there are some people who can work from home, but our position has been from day one that you are not as productive on the whole at home as you are in the office," he says. "The water-cooler moments, the teambuilding, the training and mentoring; being at home means you can't do that. It seems fairly obvious to me. I'm a fairly gregarious person and I like people sharing ideas and it's much easier to do that face to face."

Voices of experience

With several businesses and different experiences behind them, both Giles and Niki are keen to pass on advice to other would-be entrepreneurs. "Firstly, assume whatever business plan you write is going to be between 30 and 50% wrong, and that goes for the cash you need too," says Niki. "And speak to people who have been through several cycles of the economy and understand what their breakeven points are versus their growth forecasts, because most of the catastrophes that have happened to our competitors in this industry have been when they were caught in the middle of growth when a disaster hit."

Giles's message to make sure any idea is sound before committing to it, and to seek honest opinions from people who will be impartial. "So many people have an idea and think it's amazing, and their mother says it's a great idea," he explains. "But check that it is because so many people put a huge amount of energy into something that is a bad idea. Secondly, understand that to be successful, it's 99% hard work and 1% glamour. Without working weekends, working holidays and working too late at night, your business is never likely to be successful."

Niki's also keen to stress the need to look after staff, particularly in today's fiercely competitive recruitment market. "There are so many temptations for your staff to move," she says. "Money is always a motivator, as is this new concept of not having to come into the office every day. For our staff that's not an option so you have to have other things that make you attractive, such as strong friendships, culture and personal development. For me, the biggest thing is that they are absolutely empowered. We give our staff a place on the stage so they are recognised as individuals within their industry, not just part of the office." In all, the various businesses employ in the region of 200 people, she adds.

Outside of work, the duo has plenty to keep them busy. Giles is a keen golfer and sailor, and watches a lot of rugby, while Niki is currently learning to sail and recently started to play bridge. But there are no plans to ease back on their business commitments just yet. "We're not going to exit Office Space in Town because it creates a robust income for us to live our lives," says Giles. "In terms of the island, it's a long way away and it's not our core business so at some point I imagine we will exit that. At some point we'll exit Gunners too. But we will always keep Office Space in Town. Even if we step back and become chairman and chairwoman, we will still be involved on a weekly basis."

Hot property: How Giles and Niki Fuchs thrived in the serviced office sector

1983: Giles leaves school and starts working for a local estate agency

1987: Giles sets up his own estate agency, which he would run until 2000

1991: After a stint abroad and a spell travelling, Niki joins the family firm City Executive Centres, an early serviced office management company, running buildings on behalf of landlords and tenants

2005: City Executive Centres is sold to MWB Business Exchange

2006: Niki set up and ran Offices Now Please, an online brokerage which provided property advice to small businesses

2007: Giles set up Disaster Recovery Solutions

2009: Giles and Niki both launched Office Space in Town, based on the idea of owning premises and operating a serviced office management company

2016: Giles launched Gunners Cocktails, selling the traditional Gunner drink in a pre-mixed form

2019: Giles bought Burgh Island Hotel, based on an island in Devon