July 5, 2013
The inside story of Spanx's new HQ
Atlanta Business Chronicle
By Douglas Sams, Commercial Real Estate Editor Spanx CEO Laurie Ann Goldman calls the chance to redesign the fast-growing undergarment company�s world headquarters �a once in a lifetime opportunity.� But the options of where to put it seemed limited, at first. Another glass office tower wouldn�t work. Then Goldman met Dene Oliver, CEO of OliverMcMillan, a developer in the midst of its own redesign of Buckhead Atlanta, the 8-acre mixed-use project at Peachtree and East Paces Ferry roads. The redevelopment of a once seedy Buckhead bar district had stalled amid the downturn. OliverMcMillan reshaped it on paper, then restarted it last year. Last week, the new 86,000-square-foot Spanx Inc. headquarters (with an option to expand to 112,000 square feet)became Buckhead Atlanta�s first true anchor tenant. The project will also house a Spanx flagship retail store. �OliverMcMillan was so open-minded about our ideas,� Goldman said. �We knew we wanted a headquarters that would be prestigious and unique. Whatever challenge we put in front of them, they had an answer. When we told them we needed them to haul in dirt and offer irrigation to make a rooftop garden � and they didn�t laugh at us � we knew we had a great partner.� That partnership remained quiet for months, as Oliver, Goldman, Spanx Chief Financial Officer Brad Bell and broker Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. worked out the concepts, even as rumblings about the company�s Atlanta expansion emerged. The new headquarters would symbolize the progression of a company that founder Sara Blakely started in 2000. Blakely�s first product � a footless panty hose � offered something seamless to wear under her white pants. Blakely wrote the patent herself. It wasn�t long before the company gained national attention. It was featured on �The Oprah Winfrey Show,� and home-shopping channels. It�s now a $1 billion company that manufactures more than 200 products, such as slimming bodywear, bras and swimwear. It opened three new retail stores last year. But Spanx, despite its size and media coverage, isn�t yet a household name like Coca-Cola or United Parcel Service. �There was a time people used to say, �What is a �Spanx?� � Goldman recalled. �It took hiring a lot of people to change that.� Spanx made what seemed like a high-profile move in 2008, when it was among the first companies to lease space in the 50-story 3344 Peachtree tower, the tallest building in Buckhead. But, as the headquarters has expanded to about 200 people, the company required more space. It also wanted to make a statement. �We have learned so much in the past four years,� Goldman said. �We love the space we are in. It�s cool and fabulous. But as things changed with the business we felt that instead of duct-taping new concepts to what we already had, it would be easier to start from scratch.� The new headquarters will be eye-catching, even by Buckhead�s standards. It will feature the rooftop gardens, balconies that open onto terraces, and a more than 50-foot sign featuring a shapely blonde woman. The image is familiar to Spanx customers. In the early days of the company, Blakely designed it as part of the original Spanx logo. �We are very proud of our brand,� Goldman said. �And now we are going to have a giant Spanx sign for everybody to know it.� The move to Buckhead Atlanta could boost public confidence in the 1.5 million-square-foot project. Much of the doubts had stemmed from when Atlanta developer Ben Carter launched the project as Streets of Buckhead. It was supposed to become a slice of Rodeo Drive. Instead, it became another symbol of the poor economy. Construction stalled and the project languished. OliverMcMillan bought it out of foreclosure roughly two years ago. �It was a war zone, emotionally and spiritually for everyone involved in it, and for Buckhead, too, because the project had come through such a rough past,� Oliver said. �In my 35-year history in this business it has been the toughest project I�ve ever worked on. So many competing interests. We started in �09 and didn�t get control until �11.� OliverMcMillan kept its leasing momentum quiet, as the opportunity to land Spanx emerged. When the lease negotiations wrapped up recently, Oliver couldn�t help but take stock of all that has happened. �We are catching our breath after a very long haul,� he said. �Spanx reaffirms everything we have always believed this project could be.� Buckhead Atlanta is now more than 75 percent leased across all of its property types, including office and retail, he said. The retail component alone is more than 50 percent leased. Construction has ramped up, now that $167 million in financing from lenders is finally in place. �You�re probably going to start seeing tenant construction ramp up in November and December,� said OliverMcMillan�s Hunter Richardson, who manages the project. �Now that we have the construction loan we are significantly increasing the pace.� The first shops could open by this time next year. Spanx would relocate in November 2014.