BigWheel's Office Undergoes a Modern Transformation
Since the beginning of February, BigWheel’s offices on Volunteer Landing have been undergoing major renovations. With a massive kitchen, a fireplace, and beer on tap (come on … are you really that surprised?), the new digs offer a cool, collaborative space for employees and clients alike. Ready to tour the brand-new BigWheel HQ? CEO Parker Frost gives us a rundown on the transformation.
Q: What is BigWheel’s history with the Volunteer Landing space?
A: Well, we bought DMGx in December 2010 and moved to Volunteer Landing in February 2011. When we looked at [the space], it was three different offices. Only the middle office was being used, but we knew we’d eventually need all three spaces. Our biggest consideration was probably the free parking at the time, and being downtown with easy access for people who need to get on and off the interstate. But then it just turned out to be a really great space. Our clients loved it and we had room to grow into it. The ease of customers being able to visit, plus being downtown, is really valuable.
Q: When you initially moved in, did you see yourself being in the space for the long haul?
A: Probably not. We didn’t know the direction the company would go in. I thought more Cedar Bluff-ish, because that is technically, according to the Census, the center of Knoxville. And when you have clients coming from both directions, that’s great. The problem is, the further you get away from downtown, there are no cool buildings. It’s all typical office space. Initially, ours was typical office space, but it had a big upside with the hidden high ceilings. Plus, all four sides of the building are glass so everyone can have a window. Being downtown during its resurgence made it a lot more palatable to be there long-term. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have re-upped and stayed. With the things that are going on, we want to be right there.
Q: When would you say the switch flipped, and you decided that you wanted to purchase the building?
A: When the landlord offered us a good deal (laughs). It wasn’t necessarily a dream. It was fiscally sound and economically right for us. I thought we were getting a good deal on the building, plus with South Knoxville redevelopment and Regal taking over Baptist, I think all that’s going to help property values. You have to look at everything as an investment, not just picking out a cool space. Because there were some other cool spaces that we looked at, but our realtor and our contractor said, “Well yeah, it’s cool, but it’s an onion. When you pull back the layers, you never know what you're going to get because the building is 100 years old. It might be $300,000 to renovate it, but it might be $700,000.” And we couldn’t be in that unpredictable situation.
Q: Once you decided to buy the space and move forward with renovations, how did you decide on the architect and overall design?
A: The architect came along with the contractor, and the design team, Workspace Interiors, was recommended by the architect. I was the sole source of input for the architect when changing the layout.
There were some things we had to tweak due to code and budget concerns, but overall it came together. I had already gone up into the ceiling tiles, so I knew that we had 25-foot ceilings and I knew that we had the exposed beams and really cool trusses. And with my partner Mark being in the lighting industry, I knew he could trick it out with really cool lighting. It’s really a space that no one has done in Knoxville. Have they done it in 100-year-old buildings? Of course. But have they done it in a typical space like ours that we’re converting into an open, 25-foot ceiling concept? No.
Q: Were you inspired by anything in terms of your creative direction?
A: Just things that people want and that I want. I wanted a nice kitchen because people congregate in the kitchen in homes and businesses. We also host a bunch of functions, so it works well to spend time with our clients. All of the other features: cool hangout areas, a good conference room, a fireplace—those are areas that people want to be in. The designer and I really worked together with that goal in mind. Ultimately, we ended up with a space that no one has ever seen.
Q: Do you see the renovations bringing in new talent? Or inspiring folks to move back to Knoxville?
A: We’re really competing against our local competitors. I mean, I think we’re obviously the best place to work, but we all pay fair market price. When talent comes back to Knoxville from various parts of the country, we want to have the culture and the perks to attract that person. Having a really cool place to work, being on the river, putting in paddleboards—all of that stuff plays a role. I want to do everything I can think of to take care of our employees.
Q: Our annual Cinco de Mayo party (or in this case Cinco de Late-o) party is coming up. Tell me about what folks can expect.
A: Cinco started in 2011 and Cinco de Mayo happened to fall on a Thursday that year. I think that all work parties should be on a Thursday if it’s going to be an actual party. We don’t throw Cinco as a meet-and-greet. It’s an all-out party. With the patio, the waterfall, and all that, it’s the perfect atmosphere for a blowout. We were going to throw it May 4 this year, but obviously we couldn’t have it during renovations. Instead, we’re going to have Cinco de Late-o on August 31, the Thursday before Labor Day. We picked that day because lots of folks will take that Friday off for the long weekend. This is our seventh year—and we haven’t missed a year yet.