In the early 90’s, the concept of serviced office space was relatively unknown. In fact, it was a concept that Sallie Maskrey, Director, Portal Business Centres, had never even heard of, let alone thought about getting involved in.
Sallie, and her husband Steve, owned a small property in Priestley Street, Warrington, which was lying empty after the sale and relocation of another business. Following a trip to Edinburgh where Steve visited a business centre that had just opened, he believed that this was a business idea that Sallie could make work – and Portal Business Centres was born right there in Priestley Street.
Today, if someone wants to find serviced office space they head for straight for Google, and online brokers will lead them to what they are looking for. 25 years ago there were no online agents and no Google, so Portal had to rely on growing the business through more traditional methods of advertising, forging relationships with local commercial agents and word of mouth.
“It was an exciting time and it was a challenging time,” commented Sallie Maskrey, Director, Portal Business Centres. “The idea of renting a small office and having use of communal facilities was new at the time, so you have the double challenge of finding potential clients, and also getting them on board with the idea of taking space with you.”
However, the business continued to grow, and soon outgrew the Priestley Street premises. Bob McLaughlin from RAM Properties, whom Sallie had worked with in the past, had recently acquired Tannery Court, and Portal moved in there. A mere 18 months later, and the business outgrew its new premises, so moved into its current home at Dallam Court in 1996.
Portal Business Centres now has over 40 clients at its Dallam Court centre. In 2011 the company opened a second centre in Bromborough on the Wirral, and in March of this year added a third centre, Bridgewater House in Ellesmere Port.
“The business has changed dramatically since we started out all those years ago,” said Sallie. “There is so much more competition, that you have to look beyond the bricks and mortar to determine what your clients want from your centre. We offer more complementary facilities such as a variety of meeting rooms and concierge services. All clients are treated as the individual businesses that they are and we tailor a bespoke package for each client. We have tried to produce a “menu” of amenities allowing clients to be selective with what they need, and to reassess their requirements as the business grows and develops within the centre. We continually review what we offer to ensure clients are receiving the most up to date services available, all at affordable prices.
There are other elements that set your business aside from others, and one of those key elements is staff. I am incredibly lucky that one of our receptionists, Maz Steele, has been with the business since day one. Other members of staff have been here for ten years plus, and I am very grateful and proud to have such a loyal staff – they are the face of Portal Business Centres,” continued Sallie. “Supporting your own local business community is paramount, and we are committed to and passionate about working with local companies and suppliers. We even run our own free monthly networking event, Fruit Cake Friday, to try and encourage other local businesses within the area to interact with each other.”
From coming into the business knowing nothing about it, Sallie has evolved into one of the most renowned independent operators in the country. She has been a member of the Business Centre Association for over 20 years and has not only served on the board twice, but has also served as Ambassador for the Regions, and sits on a focus group for Independents and Small Groups.
So having come this far in 25 years, what are Portal Business Centres’ plans for the future? “To grow the business and the brand,” states Sallie. “ I’ve learned an incredible amount over the last 25 years, and I know that if we carry on listening to what our clients want and offer the best possible quality customer service for them, then this is achievable,” continued Sallie.
“The market is changing and we have to change with it. The internet has altered the way that people do business, and many more people are working from home than ever before. We offer a range of virtual services to support these small businesses, from mailing addresses and telephone answering services to holiday cover. Flexible working also means that companies are listening more to the needs of their employees, and we’ve seen a rise in the demand for shared office space, hot desking and co-working facilities. You can’t stand still – you must embrace change, and always be aware that no matter how good you think you are, you can always improve on what you do,” finished Sallie.