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Warehouses On Display: How Showrooms Are Becoming A Prime Feature In Bay Area Industrial

Bay Area industrial buildings are undergoing a transformation. Gone are the days of basic, plain-box buildings that provide a singular warehouse or distribution function. Distribution centers and warehouses are now incorporating showrooms and collaborative work environments.

One Workplace's interior

“The urban spaces are constantly evolving, and we’re seeing that as a key component in industrial,” Prologis Managing Director of Value-Add Investments Mark Hansen said.

The most iconic example of this shift occurred several years ago when a furniture designer, One Workplace, saw something in a dilapidated old paper mill in Santa Clara. The idea was to turn this eyesore into a showroom, high-end office and warehouse. One Workplace came to Prologis for help. Architect Dennis Kobza & Associates and OPI Builders also worked on the new build-to-suit building. Design Blitz worked on the showroom exterior and interior.

Interior office of One Workplace

“This was one of the first projects where we got to combine higher and better use of distribution space in a really effective and meaningful way,” Hansen said.

While the warehouse underwent quite a few renovations, including adding more than 24 new truck docks and a more efficient racking system, the office and showroom area underwent significant changes. Windows were installed throughout the exterior, significant energy upgrades were installed to meet Title 24 standards, and a visitor’s hub and a café were added, according to the Urban Land Institute.

The boomerang inside One Workplace

Ceiling heights span 30 feet in the office/showroom area where employees work in a flexible environment. The employees use One Workplace's own furniture to provide an addition to the showroom where buyers can view the furniture in a real-world flexible workplace setting. The office/showroom includes a sculpted mezzanine, dubbed boomerang, which was built using prefabrication to cut down on a build-out that would have been expensive.

“The interior design elements in these showrooms are creating a people space on top of a product space,” Dennis Kobza & Associates Vice President and principal Dennis Kobza Jr. said. “This very comfortable, very modern look and feel helps show off whatever product [a company] is selling or distributing.”

Prologis Managing Director of Value-Add Investments Mark Hansen

The interior also is easily adaptable.

“One of my favorite parts is the built-in flexibility to evolve whatever the needs of One Workplace encounters,” Hansen said. “They can move pieces around and they can re-create themselves in any number of ways.”

One Workplace is not the only industrial transformation. Porcelanosa turned its San Jose distribution warehouse into a high-end showroom. Audiovisual companies are creating home theaters to re-create the feeling of a residence. Even beverage companies are setting up distilleries with high-end tasting rooms open to the public.

Exterior of Porcelanosa in San Jose

This shift has a lot to do with the changing sales industry. About 15 to 20 years ago, an individual sales rep would come to a company and talk about products, but now it is all hands-on, according to Kobza. Companies can host seminars and educate people on the industry as well as sell products. One Workplace, for example, hosts seminars to engage with design professionals.

“Now we’ve got all these guys selling products engaged in a sort of social atmosphere, which makes everybody more comfortable and more amiable to doing business,” Kobza said.

Normally selling building products has been very sterile. Now there is a very nice waiting room with upscale coffees and snacks and computers where customers can look at other products along the same line.

Interior showroom of Pocelanosa in San Jose

“Part of this is interest of the public to actually go to someplace that’s not just a store,” Kobza said. “Having the ability to see a little beyond the stuff hanging on the wall holds some interest for people. … To me, it just makes [the experience] a little bit more interesting.”

At Pocelanosa, Dennis Kobza & Associates took a traditional warehouse and added glass lines, cladded the building with tile and added energy conservation systems. Porcelanosa has since added smaller retail showrooms in San Francisco and Walnut Creek, partnering again with Dennis Kobza & Associates.