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The evolution of the 21st century tenant.

In my last column I discussed how the nature of being a landlord has and continues to change as we approach the new millennium. This week, I would like to address how tenants differ from tenants of the past. Just as ownership has evolved, so to have our customers.

Tenants. We often look at them as the bane of our existence and the creatures that pay our bills. Sometimes when I speak about them, I feel as if I am in the midst of doing a routine at a stand-up comedy club. All joking aside, the nature and make-up of our customer today has and will continue to change from that of the past.

Twenty years ago, the majority of my tenants were manufacturers of some product. Most were in the jewelry trade or garment manufacturers. Printers and leather goods factories could also be found in the buildings. Machinists and parts makers had wheels and pulleys and heavy machinery on their floors. It was when our economy was based on the production of the physical something, as opposed to a metaphysical idea.

The needs of a manufacturing tenant were simple. It mostly consisted of good freight elevator service, ample heat in the winter and a supply of water for the manufacturing processes. In some buildings, we supplied high-pressure steam to make the tenants' machinery run. Other places we needed to make sure they had adequate DC electric for their motors.

Tenants' employees were nowhere near as educated as today's worker. From the errand boys to the sewing machine operators, speed was essential to work in the garment trade. The machinists needed an oil can and a screwdriver to make the thing work. They were creators, with their hands, of a product that our society needed.

Office tenants consisted of places where typewriters whizzed. "CC" actually meant a copy produced by the use of carbon paper. "White Out" was something that was consumer in large portions. Ledgers were books to record debits and credits that were totaled and subtracted using adding machines. I once worked for someone who insisted that we use both sides of adding machine tapes when possible?

Ashtrays adorned every desk and were filled with smoldering butts. By late afternoon, the air was thick with smoke from a day's accumulation of exhaled carbon dioxide. The mahogany coloring of nicotine stained equipment and metal desks, walls and filing cabinets. No non-smoker ever complained about the stench. That poor person was pleased just to be able to open a window occasionally.

Just as the manufacturer is gone from manufacturing lofts, so too is the office tenant of yesterday. In those same lofts work today's architects, engineers and photographers. Where once a hundred machines sewed blouses together employing many, now a handful create a proposed building or a work of art. The racks of garments pushed by men from building to building have been replaced by the movement of intellectual property and ideas via "e-mail" and the Internet.

Secretaries taking dictation from their bosses and typing draft after draft are as foreign to most of today's offices as a Dickensian clerk sitting on a stool copying figures into a book all day. The use of computers has finally reached the stage where we actually need fewer people to accomplish the same tasks. Where once clerks toiled to produce a report or a statement, now a person at a P.C. can do the same thing instantaneously.

More and more, the one with the idea is the person producing the final product. Secretaries, assistants and clerks are less and less in evidence, as the office evolves from a white-collar sweatshop. People who do not directly contribute to increasing the bottom line are considered expendable. Consequently, office space needs become less and less.

There are still large companies with legions of staff. They will continue to require office space in Class A buildings. However, as business evolves, in the next century, more and more will be done by individuals and companies needing small offices in other than the best rated buildings.

The future of most of our commercial buildings belongs to these small, highly computer literate, competitive occupants.

(Thomas F. Campenni is a real estate consultant advising owners, condominiums and co-ops. He welcomes responses in writing at P.O. Box 724, Old Greenwich, CT 06870, or by calling 203-637-5621).
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:R.E. Views
Author:Campenni, Thomas F.
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 18, 1998
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