Week 29 – London. Today we are presenting Century Club, a private members club listed as Soho’s best-kept secret. Its four floors are delicately hidden behind a modest door in the heart of London’s Theatreland. On the beautiful rooftop terrace, we met with Managing Director, Ronald Holmberg, who told us the story of this quiet retreat in Central London.
Ronald, can you give us a short history of Century Club?
Century Club has been here since 2001 when it was originally built as a creative hub for people in creative industries. From 2007, the company was restructured and we now have a new system in place where we are also capturing the business side of our members’ lives. Nowadays, a lot of people are starting their own businesses and need a space to work from. Therefore, we have our daytime clientele between 8 am to 5 pm, which is very entrepreneurial, and in the evenings the environment becomes much more social, which is driven by a strong programme of members events.
Do you own the building?
Personally, I am the Managing Director here. The gentleman who owns the building, both owns the freehold and the leasehold, which makes it very easy for us to grow as a business.
So, the operating company is separated to the freehold?
Yes, the operating company and the company who owns the freehold are separate, but it is the same gentleman who owns both. The fact that it is the same ownership, enables us to make decisions a lot faster because the owner can deal directly with it.
At the same time, this has allowed us to keep expanding the club within the building. In fact, we will be spending the next 12 months on refurbishments to upgrade the whole Century Club, and we are planning to grow from 17 000 sq ft to 22 000 sq ft within 2017.
Are you building new space or taking on more space?
We are taking on space within the building that was previously rented out to independent companies. We are trying to maximise this site before looking at further growth, but in the future, we would be interested in expanding within the country or in West London. Still, our main goal is making sure that the business is running as smoothly as possible and not oversubscribe the club because we don’t want to lose the “members-club-feeling”.
How many members do you have?
We have about 2,500 members. As we are growing to a certain level, we can see that the demand for a bigger space is growing as well.
Are your members from a particular sector?
We currently attract members from five specific sectors. These are Media, Film and TV, Arts, Entrepreneurship, and Music. throughout the day, it is mostly work based with the media types having meetings and entrepreneurs clacking away on their laptops, but as evening draws in the atmosphere changes and it becomes so much more social and creative.
Is there an application process to become a member?
Yes, people apply through our committee. It is a very structured system to make sure that everyone actually blends in our community and the environment here.
In terms of the physical space, can you describe the various components of the building and of the whole club?
We make sure that we don’t have one style throughout the building. Instead, we are creating a feel room by room with different styles and areas, allowing our members to enjoy the space in different ways.
Usually, people start downstairs in The Tap Room, which is a classic brasserie styled space with clean colours and a modern finish. As you move along in the building, it gets quirkier and more contemporary. On the next floor, we have The Club Lounge which is is a lounge space where members can have meetings, work, and eat lunch, or enjoy a few cocktails in the evening. On the same floor, we also have the Cocktail Lounge, which is a very social space used for our members’ events and as a space that can be hired privately.
One floor above, you enter our screen room called The Green Room. This is a beautiful event space for screenings, comedy, theatre, live music, and private member events. It’s an extremely popular space which holds about 150 people and includes a kitchen. In addition, you have spectacular views of Shaftesbury Avenue, Piccadilly, and the City on one side, and on the other side, you have the park, Soho, and Theatreland.
Finally, on the fourth floor, we have the amazing Roof Terrace that can hold 180 people. This space is created for social purposes only and not a workspace, which is why we don’t allow laptops here at all. This is a place where members can enjoy a good lunch and then go back downstairs to carry on working. Here we arrange all types of events, such as cigar tastings, wine clubs, live music, DJ’s and comedy nights, and in the summer we open the terrace for breakfast until late, giving members the opportunity of enjoying their days with some sunshine and a nice view of London.
So, your members can really enjoy the space throughout the whole day?
Yes, our portfolio allows you to balance and switch between work and social life. We have a lot of entrepreneurs during the day-time, but we make sure that we don’t lose the social side of the club as well. It is all about play and work: you have the day-time where you work really hard, and then you have the night-time from 6 pm where the whole setting changes.
Ronald, in terms of usage of the club and member requirements, are there any specific trends that you have picked up over the last 5 years?
As a members’ club, you will always have trends going up and down. Many clubs tend to forget that the whole idea is to build a community where like-minded people meet, connect and form relationships. We create a hub where people work together, and that is what we are trying to stick with even when the trends are changing.
What we have seen in the last five years, is that the day-time business has changed a lot. It used to be more social with champagne and nice lunches, whereas now, we see more entrepreneurs in need of a space to work. In Century Club we cater for these needs as have spaces available for members to work and to clear themselves away from the office. We make sure that we hold on to the members’ club concept and stick to this, without continuously taking on the new trends. This is because we want our members to have this consistency and stability.
And how will you describe the importance of the team?
For us, it is all about the people behind the food and drinks menus! Having the right staff as a part of the brand and the product that we are creating is more important than having a phenomenal bar menu.
In our club, the team continuously works to make our members feel welcome and seen. We keep our staff turnover as low as possible and we have weekly training to make sure every single detail of the service is covered. Members are expecting a certain level of service, a certain level of standard, and a certain level of quality, and we continuously work to provide this.
Ronald, do you believe that the London market is ready to absorb new concepts?
The London market will always change and there will always be openings and closings for new players. People often panic when new clubs come along because they think that they will lose members, but I believe that, once you have loyal customers and look after them, they will stay.
It is important to understand your members and their needs instead of copying other players in the market. Many become distracted by what others are doing and forget to focus on what is most important: doing things right in their own club. If you stick to your own club and stick to what you are good at, your members will feel like they belong to a community and stay.