Joe Stokes

Building technology and tenant engagement outfit Equiem, brainchild of owner Lorenz Grollo and chief executive Gabrielle McMillan, is on a roll.

According to chief operating officer Joe Stokes, who jumped aboard in April after a three-year stint at DEXUS, the company just hired its 200th staff member, its second major capital raising is complete and a trip to UK and the US to scope out potential for offshore expansion has turned up some very positive signals.

In the meantime, Stokes says, the company is advertising for a head of business development in the Asia Pacific region and it’s interviewing for a head of people and culture.

The company, chaired by Tanya Cox, who is also chair of the Green Building Council of Australia, was started in 2012.

As Stokes puts it, it was “birthed out of a conversation between Lorenz Grollo and Gabrielle McMillan the CEO who wanted to connect the people [at Grollo’s Rialto Towers] with retailers and come up with a strategy to make tenants stickier”.

The result was a “whole raft” of services that can extend to not just one building but a whole cluster of buildings engaging with tenants all the way.

This can include concierge services to anything from meet up groups, cycling and touch football teams.

Recently one of the buildings created its own sandwich after taking polls of different offerings and the end result for the retailer was that “sales went through the roof”, Stokes says.

This engagement business, he says, has different elements, but underneath is a technical platform.

Sustainability is part of the offering with some clients dedicating a section of the platform to promote sustainability ratings or energy and waste performance. How far that is taken really depends on the clients, he says, but clearly there is scope for more.

Clients include AMP, Charter Hall, QIC Brookfield and DEXUS.

After the recent global trip, including the Ibcon conference in San Jose, Stokes reckons Australia stacks up well and that there’s quite a market for his company’s product offshore.

“Our product is focused on engagement and becomes a platform for engagement.”

The UK, he says, felt like it was 18 months to two years behind Australia and the US three to five years behind. The reasons are not quite so egotistical as it might seem, he says. It’s simply that Australia’s market is so small so that innovation can whip around the industry very quickly.

“What happens here is you can control so much. Ten [real estate investment trusts] pretty much run all the real estate so you can launch trials and be nimble and agile and everyone is looking at what the other is doing. And what you find is not so much that they copy each other but they adopt elements of each other’s strategies and it leads to a lot of trial and error, and innovation.”

In the US, he says, you’re not dealing with the top 10 REITS you’re dealing with 100 big family companies and in the UK with a huge number of players.

And Australia, he says, is also pretty much “real estate obsessed”.