9 July 2020

What is an industrial flex building?

An industrial flex building is a kind of industrial building that can adapt to the needs of a wide range of companies. This kind of unit is the perfect home for SMEs that need more than one kind of workspace. You can house desk-based staff and employees that spend most of their time at the work bench or research lab in one building, cutting costs on rent and keeping everyone together.

Industrial flex buildings are easy to fit out for most tenants, as they tend to be a generic blank canvas. As a result, they’re not usually well-suited to businesses with specialist needs. However, for most start-ups, small businesses and even large enterprises looking for an all-in-one site, a flex building can make a great base.

What does ‘flex’ mean in commercial properties?

You’ve probably seen the terms flex or flexi on your hunt for the right commercial property. In the UK, it’s most common for them to refer to co-working space or serviced offices. The ‘flex’ refers to the flexible tenancies available in these kinds of properties, which can be as short as one month. These properties won’t necessarily be flexible in terms of usage, as they’re usually already fitted out for desk-based tenants.

When it comes to industrial properties, the term ‘industrial flex’ isn’t so commonly used in the UK. It’s a widely-used term in US real estate, but generally refers to the usage, rather than the length of the tenancy. Even though they don’t have such a slick title, you will find industrial buildings with flexible usage potential across the UK. It’s more common to see this kind of property referred to as a ‘workshop’ or just as an industrial unit.

Most landlords/developers will make a point of showcasing their property’s flexible potential, as it means they’ll appeal to a wider range of business, so these kinds of properties shouldn’t be hard to spot.

Industrial flex vs other industrial buildings

Many industrial units are specially adapted to make processes like distribution, manufacturing and construction simpler. Common features include:

  • A loading dock with a raised floor for easy HGV/truck loading
  • Concrete yards to accommodate frequent HGV traffic
  • Higher ceilings to accommodate tall machinery or storage racks
  • Shutter/roller doors so that large goods can be moved in and out easily

These kinds of buildings can be used as distribution and storage centres (if they’re in class B8), and for noisier, dirtier, messier or more specialised processes that need to take place outside of residential areas. You will usually find them in industrial estates away from town centres, or as standalone units close to key transport routes. Some industrial units will be partially fitted out during their construction, limiting their use to a certain type of business.

Industrial flex buildings often have a lower ceiling height (though still much higher than traditional office spaces) and less electrical capacity for running large numbers of specialist machines. They’re often nestled among other offices or light industrial units and can be close to residential areas, as the processes their intended residents carry out don’t result in anti-social noise, fumes or waste.

Some flex units may also have more parking spaces to accommodate staff and might also have a less ‘industrial looking’ façade. One of the key differences is that the initial fit-out is minimal, making it easy to adapt to each new tenant and leaving the unit’s rental potential wide open.

What kind of business can use an industrial flex building?

As long as your work doesn’t fall into one of the ‘special industrial groups’, most businesses can rent an industrial flex building. They can be considerably more affordable than offices and retail premises, making them a great base for small or new businesses on a tight budget. You cannot operate from one if you’re running a:

  • Retail business that serves customers face-to-face
  • Professional or financial services business (like a bank or solicitors)
  • Any kind of restaurant/café/bar/takeaway
  • Medical or health services business

The unit’s potential could expand even further if it also has permission to be used by leisure businesses, like gyms, bowling alleys and galleries. Most commonly, though, industrial flex buildings are occupied by companies that need both desk space and non-desk workstations. A great example would be a small manufacturing business. A flexible-use space would allow the company to house its engineers/labourers and its admin/desk-based team under one affordable roof.

What are the common features of an industrial flex building?

The beauty of industrial flex buildings is that they have plenty of potential. That means they won’t usually have specialist features, such as dock-height flooring, built-in cold storage space or the additional power capabilities to keep massive machines running all day. However, you’ll still find handy touches like roller doors and lofty ceilings that could prove very useful for your business.

If you have specific features that you’re looking for, but aren’t sure an industrial flex building can offer them, speak to the letting agency or landlord. You may find they’re willing to commit to an extensive fit out for the right tenant, particularly if you’re happy to agree to a long lease term.

Which property class is an industrial flex building?

Buildings advertised as industrial flex will be those in property class B1. This classification allows them to house offices, light industry and research and development under one roof. While you will find class B2 – B8 buildings that have small office areas, they aren’t designed to be used as a dual office and practical research/manufacturing/storage space. If a property claims to be or has the potential to be used as an industrial flex space, but doesn’t fall into the right class, you could be evicted, either by your landlord or the council.