What You’ll Learn

Home Telecom invested in a co-working space and retail space to meet subscribers where they are.

Guest Speaker

Gina Shuler

Show Notes

Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

 

Intro: A production of WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources. StoryConnect: The Podcast, helping communicators discover ideas to shape their stories and connect with their customers.

Andy Johns: What are some retail strategies that broadband providers can roll out in their communities? That’s what we’ll be talking about on this episode of StoryConnect: The Podcast. My name is Andy Johns, your host with Pioneer and WordSouth. And I’m joined on this episode by Gina Shuler, who is VP of Marketing at Home Telecom in South Carolina. Gina, I know you’re busy this week. Thanks for joining me.

Gina Shuler: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

Andy Johns: And this is another one of the episodes that we are recording here at the NTCA Sales and Marketing Conference. It’s got, what about 300 really smart broadband marketing minds here. And Gina is, of course, one of those. She’ll be on a session that she’s doing called “Creating a Retail and Co-working Community” space here at the conference. So tell us a little bit about what you’ll be sharing with folks at the session.

Gina Shuler: Well, what I was talking about today is we have a community that we’re the only provider in. We were lucky enough to get the partnership. It’s called Nexton, and we needed a retail space in that community. But we found out that there was also a co-working need. So we built a 20,000 square foot building right in the center of Nexton. Our facility, our retail space, is about 5,000 square feet and we lease out 5,000 square feet to help pay for the building. And then the second floor is a co-working space that we lease out. We have a property management company that helps us out with that, and it’s flexible leases. You can do it 90 days, or you can do it for three years. But we found that in Nexton, there were a lot of people working from home, even pre-pandemic, definitely during the pandemic.

Andy Johns: Definitely.

Gina Shuler: But they wanted a space where they could get out of the house, or they needed to have a conference to have people in. So it’s worked out really well. We’re at 80% occupancy right now.

Andy Johns: Very cool. So a couple of things I want to unpack as we’re talking about there. So let’s – before we get into the Nexton story, because that’s kind of an interesting thing that folks may not have heard of. Let’s kind of define co-working. So this is where folks, can they rent a desk or a conference room or how far do you all break it down in terms of providing that space for folks – kind of on demand or on a subscription kind of?

Gina Shuler: Right. It’s almost like a gym membership is how we kind of present it. But they can, if you rent an office space, whether it’s one office, two offices or even a flexible desk, you get use of the conference rooms. There’s two actual small collaborative spaces that you have access to, as well as two break rooms and a cafeteria area.

Andy Johns: And this is something I mean, you’ve seen it in some of the bigger cities, but I don’t imagine there was a whole lot of of opportunities like that there in your area?

Gina Shuler: No, because we are outside of Charleston, South Carolina, which is very busy and a part of Nexton and wants to have people be able to work and live in Nexton, which is in Summerville, South Carolina. Traffic is horrendous going to Charleston. So we were…

Andy Johns: That’s true. I can vouch for that. Yeah, I’ve been there.

Gina Shuler: It’s awful. So we were trying to get more working facilities in the Nexton community. And so that’s the whole purpose of this. So people could just walk to work, or ride their bikes to work.

Andy Johns: So let’s get into Nexton then. Because it’s kind of a planned development. I mean, it has the advantage of not, I mean, kind of starting from scratch, kind of greenfield for everything, right?

Gina Shuler: Right, right. Yeah, it was in 2013. And actually the developers were meeting with Charter, Comcast. They really felt like that was the only type of company that could help them. Even though we were located 20 miles down the road from where they were developing. Because what they wanted to do was be a fiber to the home community, but to be a technology partner so where their community would stand out. So they finally realized that we were the only company that was flexible enough to give them what they wanted. Because they would fly to Chicago or whatnot, and they still couldn’t get the answers they wanted. Where our CEO would take them to breakfast and answer their questions. So we were lucky enough to get that partnership.

Andy Johns: Yeah. And a big advantage is to being flexible, like you said, agile and..

Gina Shuler: And local.

Andy Johns: And have a lot of attention. Yeah. Excellent. So tell us a little bit about more. I mean, it’s pretty sizable. You were talking about the acreage. I mean, in terms of this development, how many people are we talking about, and what has it meant for for you all so far?

Gina Shuler: Actually, by the time it’s fully developed, we have the potential of 10,000 new customers. Because they’re planning for 10,000 housing units, either through MDUs or single family homes. And there are about 1,000 developed right now. But they also have a hospital. They have two schools and a retail space. So we’re gaining business customers as well. So it’s just been a huge opportunity for us. But not just that. Nexton has been so well known, it’s really helped build our brand.

Andy Johns: Sure. And the idea, Nexton – next town – like kind of the future, looking forward on that. So that’s the last point that you made is interesting there. So sure, it helps to have those additional subscribers, but you just said, it’s also helped the brand. Unpack that a little bit.

Gina Shuler: Yeah, because we’re in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, which not many people know where that is. But we’re even though we’re 118 years old, we’re still, if you go into Charleston and ask someone, have you heard of Home Telecom? They’d be like, Who? I don’t know a Home Telecom. But now, even with our space, it’s two stories. And when you come, there’s a new interchange off the main interstate, and people are starting to use that to bypass some of the traffic. And all you see is our huge logo on the top of that building. And just Nexton has done a good job just promoting us in the partnership, too. So they have great connections. So now people recognize our name more.

Andy Johns: Excellent. Let’s talk a little bit more about the co-working space. So what kind of – and you may not know the full roster of who’s renting that space by heart – but what kinds of folks are renting those spaces or sharing the space? Are we talking entrepreneurs and startups, or are we talking professionals who need a space to meet with clients? What kind of a mix of folks do you have using that space right now?

Gina Shuler: It was intended for the hopes of being a startup for more technology type companies because we do provide one VoIP line in each office, and we offer gigabit Wi-Fi throughout. And if they need a dedicated connection, we can do that at discounted prices up to ten gig. So we were hoping for more of those high tech. We do have one, Meade Agency. They are a video production company, and they needed the bandwidth.

Andy Johns: Definitely.

Gina Shuler: Yeah. So they’ve been a great, great client. But we also have like lenders and real estate companies or even just those teleworkers that come in and need the conference room space.

Andy Johns: Sure. I know we’ve, you know, WordSouth, Pioneer, we have a lot of remote workers and especially when those kids are home all summer long. There have been a lot of – we’ve talked about using co-workspace over the time too so. So take us back to when the conversation starts about that because that’s not necessarily something that every telco out there has this co-working space. So how, and I don’t know who is leading the charge to do that or how it comes up, but what did it take to kind of get everybody on board and get everybody feeling like, yes, this is different, but it’s what we need to do?

Gina Shuler: Yeah, our CEO is very innovative. He’s very forward thinking, and he’s on so many economic development boards, chamber boards. And he knew there was a need for this, especially in the Summerville area. So he kind of took the charge of that and then presented it to our board of directors, and they were on board. And I mean, we’re not in it to make money. It’s more of like a community service because the lease is so affordable, but it also helps pay for the building, too. So it’s been a win-win.

Andy Johns: Excellent. And then as you’re doing that, do you have folks on staff dedicated kind of to help with that and help recruit folks? Or is it just different hat that some folks like you wear to also help with that? Or is it staffed at all from from folks at the telco?

Gina Shuler: Not from the telco. We are partnered with Bridge Commercial, and they manage the property for us, and they have a full time receptionist. So that’s another feature that comes with it is a full time receptionist.

Andy Johns: You seem like a bigger deal if you’re a company has a receptionist to take calls for you.

Gina Shuler: Right.

Andy Johns: Well, last thing here then. What advice would you have, whether it is specifically a co-working space or if it’s just a big idea, you know, we’ve heard a lot of good ideas from folks here at this conference. What advice do you have for somebody that has an idea or they think they might be able to work something out like that and they’re just on the fence about whether or not to take the plunge? And that’s whether it is co-working space or something else.

Gina Shuler: I think it’s just the importance of finding good partners because we could have never made this happen without the good partnership of the developers for Nexton, which was at the time MeadWestvaco, which has been purchased by Newland. But without those great partners and the community involvement, get involved with the community, understand what the needs are, and then don’t be afraid to present your big idea.

Andy Johns: Understanding the needs, I think that’s an important part of this whole story, is the fact that the CEO is on all those boards and that other folks like you are so plugged in the community, you’re able to recognize that need. So I think that’s very important.

Gina Shuler: Yes, I think so, too.

Andy Johns: Excellent. She is Gina Shuler with Home Telecom in South Carolina. I know you’re busy this week. Thanks for joining me.

Gina Shuler: Thank you for having me.

Andy Johns: I’m your host, Andy Johns with WordSouth and Pioneer. And until we talk again, keep telling your story.

Intro: StoryConnect is produced by WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources. Both companies are built to share your story. Our associate producer is Sarah Wootten. StoryConnect is engineered by Lucas Smith of Lucky Sound Studio.