Photography by Will Crooks
The vacated CertusBank space has once again led to new business opportunities, freeing up 20,000 square feet downtown for what will be the largest co-working space in Greenville, Endeavor. Three months after ending his 29-year career at Erwin Penland, Joe Erwin plans to cut through the already-crowded co-working market by focusing on the creative services industry.
“When you look around not only in Greenville, but around the region and the country, you see the models changing,” said Doug Erwin, Joe Erwin’s son and a partner in his platform company Erwin Creates. “A lot of times a 300- or 400-person agency isn’t the most nimble. That’s why in the past few years I think you’ve seen the rise of smaller agencies or freelancers, because they can be dedicated and quick reacting to one client.”
Endeavor aims to help agencies adapt and grow, both with physical co-working space that facilitates collaboration and business development support. Erwin Creates is renovating the fourth floor of the ONE building, which will accept its first members in mid-April. The space includes six lockable offices, around 12 private desks and open space for up to 50 people. Membership rates are undetermined, but will range from 24/7 access to five-days-per-month drop-in passes. Members will have access to presentation equipment, conference rooms, the gym, community spaces and Joe Erwin himself, including his network of business contacts and industry resources.
Joe Erwin is financing the whole project, which relieves the pressure of filling the space immediately to make the numbers work, he said.
“We expect to eventually have hundreds of members coming and going in a single day, but that will not be the case right at the beginning,” said Shannon Wilbanks, managing partner for Erwin Creates. “We genuinely believe that this is going to build business for all of these individual entrepreneurs.”
Endeavor will also build the creative service industry’s workforce pipeline through another Erwin Creates entity, the Erwin Center for Brand Communications at Clemson University. Founded by Joe Erwin and his wife, Gretchen, in 2012, students will find internship, experience and work opportunities through the Endeavor community, according to Lori M. Pindar, who works with students in the center.
We have a plethora of thriving creative agencies already, and there are many co-working spaces in Greenville. Why do we need another one?
Erwin: One of the things we know is that all these younger companies, many of which are achieving success … are doing it in places where they could have more visible success. … It’s [Endeavor] where education and opportunity come together, and that’s what Endeavor is going to be about. We have one job. We’re a lean startup in a great space, but our role is simply to help create more success for the members of our community.
The hardest thing about co-works is getting the numbers to work, breaking even. What’s your plan?
The business plan is changing and evolving every day, and I think the business plan will change and evolve over the year. For us to take the leap of faith in leasing 20,000 feet, it’s expensive, it will take a toll. This is the joyous next phase of my professional life. I have the ability and the resources to fund a good run, but I’m not Bill Gates. We’ve got to look at our business plan and make sure it’s sustainable, and we believe we can achieve sustainability in a relatively short period of time.
What happens if this works?
We do want to grow responsibly, but we’re open to the idea of expansion, because this is such a growth-oriented community that we live in. I think we would be doing our membership a disservice if we see after a year or two years, “Oh, this place is kind of full up, do we just put the ‘closed’ sign out?” No. I think we look at another campus in the community. We may look at other cites in the region. That’s not currently in our plan, to be really clear about it, but I’ve been asked about it. This is a new ride for me, and we’re going to let it go.
How has the creative services space changed since you bought Penland Advertising 29 years ago?
When I entered the industry and moved to New York … the business was not collaborative. Every agency clung to its special sauce. It’s always been a competitive business. But because of what clients want, what brands want, if you ask chief creative officers at creative brands, they will tell you they don’t care about the old term “Agency of Record.” They get put out, frankly, with agencies that are still totally consumed with “We have to be the AOR.” What brands want is the best of everything. They need people to help solve their problems. They want collaboration among different areas.
But competition for talent is still fierce – are you worried about brain drain?
There’s nothing worrisome in my opinion with brain drain from Greenville. I know there are a couple of companies that have left and all, but I just see so much opportunity. People will leave for whatever … but listen, people come here for a cup of coffee and they stay. It’s collaboration that changed it. We’re not worried about people leaving. We’re worried about people coming, and do we create the right opportunity for them to get there.