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As A Brutal Year Ends, 4 Flexible Office Companies Hit The Rocks

The Argyll Club

Until now, flexible office companies on both sides of the Atlantic have held up better than many people might have expected against the coronavirus crisis. But as 2020 comes to a close, some operators are starting to hit the wall. 

In the UK, IWG is moving to take control of a major rival in the London market, Argyll Club, which sold for £475M just two years ago but has now gone into administration, a UK version of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It follows the collapse of smaller UK operator MSO last week.

In the U.S., Serendipity Labs is attempting to restructure itself through the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process after failing to refinance its debt. And last week, Breather laid off a big chunk of its staff and said it would close all of its 400 locations in the U.S., Canada and UK. 

IWG has bought into the £278M of debt taken out by Argyll Club and is moving to take control of the company, React News reported. Argyll has 38 locations in London, 11 of which it owns. 

Partners at restructuring firm AlixPartners have been appointed administrators to Argyll’s holding company. Chief Executive Jean-Michel Orieux left last week, and restructuring expert Nicholas Pike has been appointed to the company’s board, according to records at Companies House. 

Citi provided £238M of debt to the company, and CPPIB provided £40M of junior debt, and the lenders had been looking to sell their positions. Earlier this year Argyll Club appointed Cushman & Wakefield to try and help it restructure, including selling some of its freehold assets. 

IWG raised £320M of equity earlier this year in order to snap up distressed rivals and also took out a £300M convertible bond for the same purpose. 

Last week, MSO Workspace, which has locations in cities outside of London, including Birmingman, Manchester and Northampton, also went into administration, React said. 

In the U.S., Serendipity Labs, which has more than 30 locations and was planning to launch in the UK this year, is looking to raise new investment to pay down debt and try and emerge from bankruptcy proceedings. 

And Breather is looking to change its business model so that people can use its online platform to find space in the facilities of other flexible office operators.

“The decision I’ve made is that Breather in its current form as an operator, doesn’t make sense, and, to be frank, I’m not sure it ever made sense,” CEO Bryan Murphy told The Globe and Mail. “I want to be like Airbnb.”

The Montreal-based company has appointed a third party to negotiate office closure and lease terminations with landlords.