The rise of boutique work in the Brisbane commercial fitout market


Secondary leasing and boutique fitouts is a competitive space at the moment. While the big end of town is not enjoying the lack of large fitout projects the smaller end of the market that are willing to work in this area are experiencing busy times.

Economic circumstances have meant that many industries that had ambitiously taken a lot of space for future growth are now relinquishing that vision and parting with the space and the result all over Brisbane is refurbishments, make goods and investment in existing fitouts to avoid the expense of a move.

Tenants are also moving out and downsizing leaving a whole portion of the Brisbane market available to those who can and will grab a bargain. With many spaces rebounding off broken leases and subleases building owners continue to invest to hook the next tenant, and tenants continue to take advantage of the many options this provides for them.

With a steady stream of new supply in the next two years and the amount of downsizing the fitout business in Brisbane has largely changed in scale.  For the fit-out contractors out there who are set up to cater to this scale of work they have found a stream of work that does not look like ending anytime soon.


What does this mean for the Fitout Contractors?

Not only do they have the fitouts to do, but also building common areas, foyers, base building upgrades and the like need constant upgrading to keep up with the market to allow the best chance at being tenanted. The B & C grades will always suffer the age old comparison to the other buildings that a tenant is considering, and the upgraded building with the best of lighting and base building features will always win. Add to that the social and environmental pressure on business owners of selecting and running an energy efficient workplace and you understand why building owners are upgrading their buildings.

This niche of work is however full of competition on the delivery side with very competitive tenders with very small margins.

However, given that this scale of fitouts are very short in program and often require the client to remain functional throughout the fitout, finding a contractor that can manage the program and the entire staff of where the work is taking place is not everyone's specialty.

Reputation should be more important than the contract price, as any over runs and variations cost the new fitout time, and double rent to maintain the existing fitout. Comparing apples with apples in tenders is also very important.  With many trades tied into the Building management their prices don't vary, so if there is a large variation owners and tenants really need to look at why this is occurring.  What are they not getting if they choose the cheapest of the tenders?


How has Interior Design changed in this space? 

We have found that our role is now very upfront. We are often invited by fitout contractors, agents and project managers to assist them in the following areas before the tenant has even become reality;

- Preparing speculative fitouts for a variety of scenarios and budgets to assist the team in securing tenants. - To establish the brief and work through the design and compliance issues with the client on behalf of the fitout contractor. - Prepare a conceptual design and put together a team of consultants based on a basic brief to assist Project managers in securing their role.

Early designs are often prepared in 3D over a tight deadline with floor plans and images to assist the potential client in visualising their new space.  The timeframe and thought to delivering on budget is key.

Being able to deliver on a brief remains top of the list and paramount to this is budget. Designing and completing fitout works in this space also requires patience and understanding. All parties need to understand the tenant and building owners' needs and drivers, and require the flexibility to enable compromises that deliver on the fundamentals for all stakeholders.

Design as such hasn’t changed, but the scale of projects that are available  in Brisbane city and fringe has. To work in this area is equally if not more rewarding. Opulence has more often given way to rational decisions, and tenants are concerned with the appearance that their fitout portrays to their staff and clients. Decisions are made thoughtfully and while budgets are more highly criticised the end result is an environment that is not considered flippantly but viewed with value on many levels.


This article was written by Tanya Zealey, Associate Interior Designer at Ellivo Architects. Ellivo Architects are experienced commercial, mixed use and residential architects based in Brisbane, Australia.

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