Week of May 22, 2000
  Editor's Choice Web Pick
   of the Week

E-Tenants.com: Brandywine Realty Gives
Tenants in Its Bricks Amenities to Click

Employee amenities, those people-pleasing goodies that grow exponentially more important with every decimal-point drop in unemployment, are hitting cyberspace in a big way. And that has legions of folks feverishly formulating their strategies -- building owners, tenants and gazillions of providers of products and services.

Exhibit A du jour: Brandywine Realty Trust (www.brandywinerealty.com) and VIPdesk.com (www.vipdesk.com) have just announced what the two describe as "a strategic partnership" to launch e-Tenants.com (www.etenants.com). The site will provide both Brandywine tenants and employees with "an Internet-based, full-service tenant amenity program."

And, according to the release, those amenities - "personal, real-time assistance," was the descriptive phrase used - will be provided by "live, local concierge agents." (Our ancient ancestors tell us these concierge people were once part of a larger human species that actually answered their own phones and even spoke in their own unrecorded voices - and without callers pressing an option! Such strange, strange times those must've been.)

Brandywine Realty Trust tenants and employees can make "special requests for service and information" by accessing e-tenants via e-mail, the release notes.


Is This the Online Equivalent
Of a Solar-Powered Tanning Bed?

What services and information, you ask?

The ones mentioned in the partnership announcement include "help[ing] users remember special dates and [providing] the latest information on news, weather, traffic and the stock market." The striking thing here, at least at first glance, is that most of that information that the live concierges will provide is readily available on the Net. So are free reminder services.

This was enough to evoke a pretzel-logic phenomenon we noticed in LA: solar-powered tanning beds. Similarly, this seemed like a bit of an extra step, a sort of anti-process reengineering. But perhaps we're missing something here. And what do we know? Not a lot, working as we do in a joint where we actually have to go fetch our own coffee - and we have to walk down the hall to go get it! The horror! The horror!

So perhaps in our monk-line existence we'd missed the boat for the Good Life that Old Blue Eyes so persuasively limned. Heck, maybe WE were a VIP. (And in a world where the entertainment biz turns John Bobbit and Joey Butafuco into profit-making media entities, all things, dear readers, are truly possible -- however scary the prospect.)

What's more, this alliance has a substantial real estate impact. Newtown Square, Pa.-headquartered Brandywine Realty Trust is a major player in the Mid-Atlantic region. Brandywine has 305 commercial and industrial properties with more than 21.3 million sq. ft. (1.91 million sq. m.), and regional offices in Ft. Washington, Pa., Mt. Laurel, N.J., Long Island, N.Y., and Richmond, Va.


Commercial Real Estate's
'Next Evolutionary Step'?

So we were off to e-tenants, stopping first to check out VIPdesk.com. They opened the portal door and let us pass. We took this as a good sign for our VIP aspirations.

More significantly, our visits gave far more weight to these sites' VIP aspirations. Quite simply, the VIP-Brandywine press release didn't do the two firms justice. There's considerably more here than the very little that was foggily suggested in the release. What's going on here is better described by Gerard Sweeney, president and CEO of Brandywine Realty Trust.

"E-tenants represents the next step in the evolution of the commercial real estate industry . . . effectively expand[ing] the scope of traditional customer service programs, dramatically improving the value chain for all office tenants, particularly small to medium-sized businesses," Sweeney says.

And what Sweeney says, however self-serving, is much more to the point of what's going on with e-tenants.


VIPdesk No Greenhorn

The bricks-clicks interface is already a billion-dollar business. The problem has been that so many fish-out-of-water have become Cyberspace-Come-Latelys.

E-tenants is new, all right, but it has a solid lineage in VIPdesk.com, which clearly isn't among the ranks of the amateurish interlopers.

VIPdesk was the first Internet concierge service, founded in 1997. And the site has strong roots in real-time, real-life customer service. VIPdesk grew out of 13-year-old Capitol Concierge, which puts human concierges in office buildings. (These are the strange non-button-activated beings with those peculiar unrecorded voices that we spoke of earlier.)

VIPdesk offers a broad-ranging online menu of good and services - and with a little something extra. While a host of new b2b sites are sprouting up to capitalize on the huge cyberspace market that the workplace constitutes, discounts will likely be the difference-maker for the winners. And VIPdesk scores well here; some of the online services are discounted as much as 50 percent.

What are the online services? VIPdesk's offerings breaks down into major categories that include Business Travel, Communications (answering services, pagers, etc.), Financial, Internet, Legal Needs, Marketing & PR, Office Supplies, Personnel, Resources, Shipping, and Technology. Some of the site's more familiar names include Avis, Airborne Express, National Pager Supply, Tutorials.com and Soundview Executive Book Summaries.


E-Tenants: Acorn Falls Close to Cyber-Tree

Then we were off to e-tenants.com. VIPdesk, it turns out, serves as something of an online prototype for e-tenants' modus operandi. And that's a good thing.

At the same time, though, there are a few significant differences between the two sites. For example, any user, regardless of workplace location, can sign up for VIPdesk. E-tenants, on the other hand, is an exclusive service for Brandywine Realty tenants and employees.

E-tenants' sharper focus could give it more user value and more marketing punch.

For example, e-tenants will provide users with the opportunity to create online communities among individuals who work near one another. (To some managers that may sound like supremely frivolous, scoff-inducing stuff. But such cyberspace-enabled "soft benefits" may prove, over time, to be far more employee-pleasing than we can imagine this early in the game.)


E-Tenants' Marketing More Targeted

Then there's the marketing side of the equation. E-tenants' better-defined universe also seems to have produced a sharper focus in the products and services offered onsite. Current major categories on e-tenants include:

  • Bill Paying,
  • Books,
  • Cellular Communications,
  • Concierge Assistance,
  • Drugstore/Pharmacy,
  • Energy Supplier,
  • Flowers,
  • Gifts,
  • Long-Distance,
  • Movie Rentals,
  • Movie Tickets,
  • Moving Services,
  • Music,
  • Premium Tickets,
  • Prints and Posters,
  • Reminders,
  • Restaurants and
  • Travel
E-tenants' list of companies offering products and service online is also a bit different. Some of the same major national players on VIPdesk are there. With Brandywine's Mid-Atlantic roots, though, you find more regional firms. The mix at e-tenants includes Allegheny Energy, Day-Timer, Herman Miller/Spectrum, Kastle Systems, Office Max and Prime Pay.


Major Perk is Quality of Life

Which of those products and services Brandywine tenants find useful will depend on individual needs and preferences. But e-tenants' online range is sufficiently broad that it's hard to imagine anyone who won't find something of value - particularly with the deep discounts (discount seem to depend on the service or product).

As with VIPdesk, e-tenants' users can personalize their home pages to hone in on information that matches their needs and preferences. And e-tenants, like VIPdesk, zips right along with smooth, user-pleasing speed.

E-tenants also offers a direct real estate service: Users can make onsite service requests. (Brandywine also continues to accept service requests by phone or standard e-mail.) So, no, the initial impression that the press release created was dead wrong. This is most definitely not the online equivalent of a solar-powered tanning bed.

Instead, sites like e-tenants are all about time -- that thing none of us have anymore. Making the purchasing of products and services fast and easy - and cheaper to boot - is where online services aimed at the workplace can add real quality-of-life value.

As VIPdesk.com CEO Mary Naylor notes, "E-tenants.com provides a valuable service by delivering the speed and efficiency of the Internet to give tenants personalized information and recommendations to make their lives easier."

Well, yes. All in all, e-tenants is one of those rare cases in which the press-release hype is actually far less substantial than what's really there. Frankly, the release tanked. E-tenants won't.


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