Story by Amy Geiszler-Jones - Photography by Madison Ham
Celebrating the legacy of Wichita entrepreneurs and supporting small businesses and the community is fairly evident to a visitor stepping into the atrium-style lobby of the Omni Business Center near Towne East Square.
Portraits of Wichita’s legendary entrepreneurs – W.C. Coleman, Lloyd Stearman, Clyde Cessna, Walter and Olive Ann Beech, Fred Koch and others – that were done by Wichita-based illustrator Scott Dawson, line the walls of the lobby. Framed Wichita River Festival posters line the walls leading to a new entertainment space that opened last year within the facility. And then there’s the receptionist who skillfully answers phone calls as if she was the personal receptionist for each of the business center’s tenants and clients of Omni’s virtual office and business membership services.
Started in 1986 by Roger Farrow, a CPA who paid close attention to the business services needs of his clients, the Omni Business Center provides more than just traditional office space.
“We are offering business services at a country club level” is how co-owner and president Buff Farrow describes it.
“We’re in the personal service business,” added Jeff Farrow, co-owner and chief operating officer.
Buff and Jeff Farrow are the second-generation owners of the business, following Roger’s death three years ago. Their mother, Nancy – the proprietor since 1972 of Green Elephant by Nancy – helps out with interior décor and the gardens.
Tenants have access to a number of shared services, such as the receptionist, conference rooms and technology infrastructure, and the Farrows stay atop of business trends and concepts so they can continue their father’s legacy. Roger’s portrait is among the gallery of entrepreneurs in the lobby.
Besides having full-time tenants, the Omni Business Center, 111 S. Whittier, also offers virtual offices for the business that wants a professional business address or a receptionist to answer phones. Recently it started offering business memberships. With the latter, a business owner can have access to a number of the center’s services – including a hot desk and conference rooms – on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly membership.
The Farrows have updated their 25,000-square-foot facility to include hot desks (cubicles that aren’t assigned permanently), co-working spaces, a small marketplace for meal-time options, a hospitality venue and other amenities like outdoor decks and a small lounge where the only furniture is bean bags. Soon, it will add a bike rack outside the building to encourage tenants to use the nearby bike path that the Farrows supported.
“We’ve always tried to offer conveniences to people so that they can focus on their business,” Buff Farrow said. “We’ve probably incubated hundreds of businesses over the years,” with tenants and clients ranging from ages 25 to older than 90.
The Farrows also like to provide social and networking opportunities for the center’s tenants – like having a weekly Tuesday morning mixer featuring goodies from local coffeehouses and bakeries, hosting a monthly morning mixer featuring mimosas (one per person, the Farrows noted) and coordinating local food trucks to provide lunches on Thursdays.
“We want to be a fun place to work,” said Buff Farrow.
“The key, and it can be one of the challenges, is that we can’t defer on anything,” he added.
Last year the Farrows repurposed space occupied by five offices into The Lounge, a venue that can be rented by tenants and the public for both business and social events such as meetings, presentations, catered dinners, game-watch parties and more. A local artist has used the space to hold a VIP art sale, for example, and more than a handful of weddings and related functions are booked into the venue that can accommodate up to 50 guests. The Tuesday morning mixers for Omni tenants take place in The Lounge.
The Farrows said they remember their mom hosting many business dinners and parties for their dad’s clients, but nowadays that kind of in-home entertaining doesn’t happen as much. Their tenants and others can instead utilize The Lounge for business entertaining.
Another thing they remember from their youth is playing near the business center they now own.
Jeff Farrow recalled that as youngsters the pair had a tree fort and rode their bicycles in what was then-undeveloped land south of their current building, which was built in 1997.
“We literally grew up two blocks from here,” in one of the first homes in the Rockwood area, said Buff Farrow.