Want to Save Time? Let Your Office Do Laundry, Buy Dinner

Masonic Temple Rendering
Rendering of renovated 1920s Masonic Temple. Source: Gensler and Caruso via Bloomberg

Developer Rick Caruso has a new plan for your workday: let your office building do your laundry, shop for groceries, pick up dinner and deliver it all to you by 5 p.m.

“After a long day at the office, you want us to pack a couple of steaks and a bottle of wine in your car? It’s done,” Caruso said in an interview at his offices at The Grove, the luxury Los Angeles shopping center that’s part of a Southern California real estate empire spanning retail, apartments, lodging and now offices. “How could that not make your quality of life better?”

It’s a first among landlords, according to Caruso -- five-star concierge service for employees of companies that take space in his debut office development, a renovated 1920s Masonic Temple about 7 miles (11 kilometers) north of downtown L.A. The perks, from car washing to party planning, will let workers skip errands and spend more time with their families, he said.

While workers will pay for their groceries and dry cleaning, they won’t pay concierge fees. Caruso’s expenses are baked into the rent he charges tenants, and the chores are easy to do because he’ll be able to poach services from The Americana at Brand, a luxury retail and residential complex he has across the street in the L.A. suburb of Glendale. The concept will be hard to duplicate for office landlords who don’t happen to own high-end shopping centers near their properties.

“My incremental cost is very, very small,” Caruso said. “In addition, what I am getting out of it is 200 more new customers right across the street, walking over, using my restaurants, using my services.”

Manicures, Drinks

Other amenities that closely held Caruso Affiliated plans to offer at the office building, which will be home to about 100 CBRE Group Inc. employees by the end of this year, include translation services, access to The Americana’s movie theater for meetings, and in-office manicures and pedicures. He’s also considering a complimentary happy hour at celebrity chef Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak every three months.

While companies including Google Inc. offer perks at work - - fancy cafeterias and yoga classes, for example -- providing things that keep a household going is another matter, Caruso said. Shrinking the so-called second shift -- when working parents, often mothers, go home to such duties as washing clothes and preparing lunches -- will change the conversation about work-life balance.

Longer Hours

“Since the ’90s, working hours, especially in the middle class and for managers, have gone up,” said Arlie Hochschild, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. “I think it’s resulted in people feeling more entitled to quality and help. For example, many more people today hire house cleaners than ever before. So this sort of office concept plays right into this.”

While a plethora of workplace services may be a nice perk for employees, the intention isn’t always altruistic, she said.

“We do see more of the Google model these days, meaning companies that offer a lot services, like free meals, a gym, laundry services,” Hochschild said. “They are meant to liberate people, but this kind of thing is also more common at places that expect long hours from their employees.”

For a chief executive officer who has gold letters spelling “Urgency” and “Relentless Follow-Up” affixed to his boardroom wall, the 56-year-old Caruso considers himself family-friendly. His employees have skipped business trips for their kids’ soccer games and school events.

Masonic Purchase

Caruso Affiliated agreed in April to buy the Masonic Temple, two adjacent buildings and an adjoining vacant lot for an undisclosed amount. The majority of the nine-story Art Deco tower is spoken for months ahead of the planned completion of its transformation into office space -- something atypical for Los Angeles County.

Except for the westside, L.A. has lagged behind other large cities in office-space demand. L.A. County office vacancies stood at 16.1 percent in the first quarter, compared with 9.9 percent in San Francisco and 10 percent in New York, according to Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.

“L.A. has seen a lot of the traditional clients cut down on space,” said Josh Wrobel, local managing director at the Chicago-based brokerage. “Therefore, it’s really important to create differentiators, whether that means redoing lobbies and workspaces or coming up with the idea of concierge services.”

‘Best Employees’

CBRE was looking at several options in nearby areas, including Burbank and Studio City, but ultimately was attracted by Caruso’s extensive services, and agreed to take about 70 percent of the Masonic Temple building’s space, said Lewis Horne, president of the greater Los Angeles-Orange County region for the brokerage. The company will keep its headquarters in downtown L.A.

“People are working seven days a week with the iPhone,” Horne said. “If this type of concierge service makes me feel like I’m in a five-star hotel, that means I can keep and recruit the best employees.”

Caruso said he plans to buy more real estate near his shopping malls to convert into luxury office space, and also is considering ground-up development adjacent to some of his retail properties.

“We’re changing the way people are going to use the office space,” he said.

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