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Rhea Penafiel worked in real estate for seven years before joining IWG in 2019, starting as a community associate in one of Adelaide’s Regus centres. She loved the job – especially the clients – but when the opportunity arose to help run Australia’s first franchise centre, it was too good to miss.
Relocating to Townsville in Queensland was a “big move,” she explains. “I had to do it within a month. I didn’t know anyone and had never been there before. But I packed up my bags and left.”
With no previous marketing experience, Penafiel admits it was very much a trial by fire. “I wanted to be that person that everyone looking for flexible office and coworking space goes to. So I was cold calling, attending networking events every week, sometimes twice a week. I just wanted to be seen everywhere. Within the first month, I had locals recognising me on the street. People were saying, ‘Rhea, we see your face everywhere!’,” she laughs. “But after a few months of really hard work, it’s definitely paid off.”
The 700sqm centre, which opened in the city’s Northtown district in June 2021, is now a focal point for business in Townsville – thanks to Penafiel’s proactive approach to engaging with the local community.
One of her first collaborations was with a social enterprise that creates gift packages for the homeless called The Good Box. After meeting one of the owners of the group at a networking breakfast, she invited them to the centre to host a volunteering event on their roof terrace.
There has also been a collaboration with Mentally Healthy City Townsville (MHCT) – an organisation which Penafiel has volunteered for in her own time, whose mission is to create Australia’s first ‘mentally healthy city’. Twice-weekly events were hosted on the terrace at Regus Townsville, along with Mentally Healthy HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and yoga classes. Finally, Penafiel has also been involved in Townsville’s Young Chamber Committee’s Ladies in Business networking sessions, for which she hosted the kickstarter event.
This year, there is no sign that Penafiel is slowing down, with plans to host free workshops to help small business owners and entrepreneurs hone vital skills such as marketing and social media.
Many people in Townsville – home to a vibrant community of local, home-grown businesses and small startups – had never heard of the Regus brand, and the concept of hybrid working was relatively new, too. That’s why Rhea’s efforts to engage with the local community have been so important.
“It really does work in attracting new customers to the centre,” she says. “After attending these events, people who knew nothing about Regus before are suddenly interested in finding out more. I’ve really been able to immerse myself in the community and foster a lot of connections.
“It’s really important for a company like us to be involved with local businesses and charities, especially in a small town, where people talk and word spreads. If they can see that we’re doing good for the community, they’re going to want to support us.”
In her day-to-day role, Penafiel is focused on building a strong customer base at the centre, and a typical day is therefore spent prospecting for customers. There’s also a lot of face-to-face contact with current clients to really get to know them and ensure they’ve got everything they need to work effectively at the centre.
She says Townsville was fortunate to not suffer as much as Australia’s bigger cities during the pandemic. Nevertheless, there were quieter months as a result of the virus and Penafiel made every effort to ensure members who did make it into the centre were warmly welcomed.
Her main goal now as community sales manager is to continue to increase occupancy, but her long-term career ambition is to progress even further within the company.
“I want to be in a big city running many centres, and so this position is like a stepping stone for me,” she says. “I really do see myself growing within the company. There are a lot of people who have been working for IWG for well over a decade, and I want to be one of those people.”
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