Thinking (and Meeting) Outside of the Box
This is one of those ideas that leave the rest of us wondering why we didn’t think of it first. How many meetings have we sat through in dull conference or board rooms that had 4 bland walls, a white board and a simple conference phone in the center of a long table? If you’re lucky, you might have a water fountain nearby. Shaun Kessler and Patrick Everett envisioned something a bit more exciting and innovative when they created OFFSITE, a private 4,200 square foot meeting and event space in the heart of midtown Manhattan. I had the chance to talk with Shaun about their idea and how OFFSITE is taking the boring meeting space to another level.
How did you come up with the idea for OFFSITE?
I came from a marketing background and many of my meetings were in boring hotel conference rooms. The chairs were uncomfortable, the lighting was horrible and it looked just like all the other meeting rooms; it didn’t exactly inspire. Patrick Everett and I saw an opportunity to break the mold of the typical event-based meeting locale where you get one bare room for the day, are overcharged for every beverage and have minimal support. We wanted to make it easier for companies to conduct their meetings and give them a creative, vibrant and functional space that fosters collaboration.
A year ago, we found a great building with three floors in the center of one of the busiest cities in the world, had designers think of every detail and hired the most experienced event and technical staff we could find – all in an effort to provide clients with literally everything they need to conduct a great meeting and impress their own clients/employees. At OFFSITE, clients have access to the entire space so they can move around depending on what atmosphere they want at any given time. They can have attendees meet and greet in the lounge-like Main Floor, proceed upstairs to the formal board room in the Mezzanine, then go to the Underground for breakout meetings. It’s up to them how they want to use the space but it’s all theirs. We have room for 60 seated guests or up to 250 standing guests – and all of the spaces are completely customizable.
Besides the décor, what makes OFFSITE different from other event centers?
Our space isn’t just about providing cool rooms. We provide everything a client could need and are there to support them any way we can. We offer a turnkey solution, including giant LED screens, AV and projection set up, custom scheduling, knowledgeable onsite staff should any technical issues arise, and a dedicated host to work with the meeting facilitator to ensure every aspect is addressed.
Who are you targeting with this type of meeting space?
We work mainly with large companies who want a more sophisticated, inspiring and innovative environment. We host ad agencies who come to brain storm, marketing directors who want to add something exciting to their meetings, companies who want to connect people from around the world for shareholder meetings, and organizations who want to provide a great experience for employees or clients flying in for a meeting.
What has changed in how people conduct meetings?
Technology has made it possible to meet virtually, but there will always be a need for face to face meetings. When our clients have customers in town, we give them a central meeting point outside of their office in an environment that’s fresh for everyone. We are fully wired and high tech so we are prepared for anything. We seamlessly connect all three of our floors and have five large screens spread throughout. A client simply plugs in a laptop/mobile device (or uses one of ours) and the image is displayed on all five screens at once or different images on each. We have smartboards, and are fully wired for focus groups and video conferencing with live feeds. External members feel like they are in the room with the rest of the attendees. We stay up to date with technology innovations so we can provide the latest capabilities to our clients.
Has anything changed about what your customers expect?
Customers are getting more knowledgeable about what kind of technology they want on site but they still rely on us to show them how they can maximize the technology and are often surprised when they see what can be done. Most offices don’t have the same capabilities we do so we bring a new aspect to the table.
Have you overcome any difficulties keeping pace with today’s agile world?
Technology is our greatest asset but it can also be our biggest downfall because things can go wrong: the internet can go down, a connection to a TV screen can overload, power can go out. We have backups in place everywhere possible and know ways to work around certain situations.
As far as obtaining the technology, we not only listen to what our customers need but we work with our AV company who custom-designed our system. They keep us updated on upgrades, enhancements and predicted trends so we stay a few steps ahead of demand.
How does your company leverage social media?
OFFSITE was launched in a social world so we have used social media since the start. We work with an agency for our social media branding and we encourage clients to include links and stay connected with us. While social media is great for maintaining existing relationships, we still cultivate new relationships by inviting prospects to come see our space in person. A photograph can only convey so much. Once they’re here, they grasp how we’re not just a typical meeting space.
Tell me about the role of collaboration in your business.
When it comes to what we want to offer, my partner and I collaborate on the best route. We collaborate with our team during events and it’s all hands on deck. We help each other and do whatever needs to happen to ensure our clients have everything they need. One of our main rules is “no one goes up or down the stairs without carrying something.” No one is above doing anything here. It’s all about just getting it done.
What else should people know about your company?
We’re trying to make customers think differently and be more creative in their meetings. Standard board rooms with small TVs are boring and we want people to be innovative in how they think about their meetings. OFFSITE is designed to give clients the option to use the entire space and build their agenda around how they can best utilize it. Whether the meeting is during business hours or they want a private after-hours locale to host a reception, we can take care of everything so they can focus on their agenda.
So far, our idea of OFFSITE has exceeded our expectations. The response has been incredible. We are consistently booked most non-holidays and look towards expansion opportunities into other cities as well as internal growth. It’s amazing what can happen when you modernize traditional ways of thinking.