Location Can Help Define a Corporate Image

Address in hand, the businessman heads out for a meeting with an important client. Simple enough -- just find the street, count the numbers, step inside.

Two hours, three alleys, a construction site and six flights of stairs later, he arrives.

Office location is important in any major business capital, but in Moscow it can take on added significance. Accessibility, parking and good neighbors are all at a premium in a land just awakening to capitalism and realizing the concept of "corporate image" that a location can denote.

Failure to acknowledge this can mean embarrassment and lost clients, as one firm learned.

"You had to send out a map of how to get there ahead of time or explain in detail over the telephone where to turn and so forth," said Anton Niskin, development director of public relations agency Mikhailov & Partners.

"This was simply inconvenient. And inconvenience means that something's not right."

To save clients from having to navigate the maze of streets all named Parkovaya, the agency moved to a new location.

But now there's another problem. The street name -- Ulitsa Krzhizhanovskogo -- does not tumble freely from most Western lips.

"The name is difficult to pronounce for our foreign clients," Niskin said. "Thank goodness I haven't heard of anyone voicing complaints about this so far. But they probably whine a little to themselves."

Although Moscow's center has nothing on the financial districts of London or New York, many companies maintain that their offices must be located inside the Garden Ring, arguing that in addition to making businesses easier to find, the area carries a certain degree of prestige.

One believer is Wimm-Bill-Dann dairy products and beverages, which is constructing an office building not far from Lubyanka, said marketing manager Oleg Kuzmin.

Although its production facilities are situated in the Lianozovo region in northern Moscow, Wimm-Bill-Dann plans to move many of its activities to the new location.

"All our services that don't have to be at the production facility will move there," he said. "The first reason is image: A large, serious company should have an office in the center because that gives it respectability. The second is convenience."

Despite the traffic congestion at the center, Kuzmin said business has settled faster in the city's hub. "Most offices are located in the center, so naturally, our partners find it more convenient to visit us in the center," he said.

Inkombank is in the process of relocating its staff from offices in southwest Moscow to a more prestigious address, two large buildings on Slavyanskaya Ploshchad. One bank spokesman described the new offices as bearing the hallmark of class -- a 747 telephone prefix, indicating fiber-optic quality, rather than the bank's old 332 prefix.

"Of course, the bank's location doesn't play a decisive role -- the most important thing is that the bank is reliable," he said. "But there is no doubt that its location adds to its image. And the only thing more central than our office is the Kremlin."

Even in the center, different addresses carry varying degrees of prestige, with Tverskaya Ulitsa as well as Leninsky Prospekt, Kutuzovsky Prospekt and the beginning of Leningradsky Prospekt among the most popular locations, said Irina Gliva, a senior agent at the Miel realty agency.

Office space on Tverskaya runs 10 percent to 20 percent higher than on any of the lesser-known lanes within the Garden Ring, she said.

But even if a business does manage to set itself up in a prestigious location, its address can have a discordant or awkward ring to it.

There are few companies, for example, who want to tell their clients they are located at Communistichesky Tupik, or Communist's Dead End. Likewise, sending the hapless victim into a labyrinth of korpuses and stroyeniyes -- multiple buildings that carry the same street number -- is not apt to win his favor.

In most cases, companies will not refuse an otherwise well-suited location simply because an address might fall heavily upon sensitive ears, Gliva said.

Located next to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Ost-Vest travel agency has what many would consider to be an excellent location, but for the street name -- Ulitsa Marx-Engels. Wary of offending any political sensibilities associated with the fathers of socialism, the company notes in its advertising, "Our only shortcoming is our address."

Wimm-Bill-Dann's Kuzmin, however, said such a location would be unacceptable for his company.

"We probably wouldn't have taken the space if the address hadn't sounded right," he said. "It wouldn't be a very good idea to be located on something like Godless Lane."

The hoity-toity of Moscow's center-driven businesses aside, there are some prestigious locations in the city's outskirts, usually in contemporary business centers like Park Place. Neighbors often figure in more significantly for those who choose to locate their offices in outlying areas.

"In our case, it's all about proximity to foreign representative offices," said Andrei Safronov, deputy director of the United Corporate Agency advertising firm.

Oleg Myshkin, who handles marketing for real estate developer HIB, agreed that having good neighbors is a more significant issue than many would believe.

"When it comes to location and office quality, the important things for people are who their neighbors will be, what kind of activities [their neighbors] are involved in and who their visitors will be," Myshkin said.

"Western companies consider it a negative factor when they learn that certain Russian companies are going to rent space in a particular building," he said. "If you're a large Western legal firm, you don't want some company selling shoes made in Turkey across the hall."