How do you know when its time to make a move? Here are some tips
Everyone knows the old adage — location, location, location.
But how do you know which location is right for an ice cream business as opposed to a day care? A restaurant compared to a pet-supply company?
What many business owners discover is that finding the perfect location can be tricky, tricky, tricky, depending on what type of business you own, what your budget is, and where your competitors are located.
Destination versus impulse
Your first action item should be to figure out whether your business is a “destination” business or not, said Dan Robbins, a SCORE counselor and former business owner.
A destination business is one that people will go out of their way for, one that people specifically go to with intention, not on impulse. This type of business does not necessarily have to be located in a convenient central location because customers are going to go there no matter what, Robbins said. Pet-supply stores, doctors’ and attorneys’ offices and movie theaters are all examples of destination businesses. Because the business does not need to be centrally located in a business district, the opportunities to find lower-rent spaces are available.
Businesses that rely on consumer impulses, or walk-by traffic, however, like an ice cream store or a coffee shop, need to have high visibility, Robbins said. It’s easier for consumers to patronize a street-front storefront business than it is to find one that is hidden behind a corner or up a flight of stairs. But all businesses need to consider the overall neighborhood and street access of any potential location. It helps if doctors’ offices are near the hospital, for instance, Robbins said. Car washes and daycares may not need to be centrally located, but it helps if they are on the way to their customers’ place of work.
The next thing to consider is price. Robbins emphasized the importance of creating a business plan that includes your rental budget. He suggested finding out what your competitors are paying and making sure you pay rent within that range.
One problem that new business owners encounter is finding a real estate agent who will search out the best deal for their business, he said. An agent may only show them what he or she has to offer and might not necessarily look for what is in the business’s best interest, he said. Robbins urged business owners to spend a great deal of time scoping out locations. Pay attention to which other businesses are located in the area, he said. You don’t want to move in near a direct competitor, but you may want to locate around other businesses that complement yours. Also, find out whether the location’s zoning restricts signage, and ask if any annual maintenance costs come with the lease. When you have found a good location, don’t be afraid to negotiate with the landlord in terms of tenant improvements and other aspects of the lease, he said. Landlords are accustomed to negotiating, but many first-time business owners are not aware of how much leeway they have before signing a lease.
If you are an established business, it may be time to move if your sales are slumping and customers are complaining about your location. You may be able to make more money even while paying higher rent if the tradeoff is a better location.
Here’s some shrewd location advice — earned the hard way from three local business owners.
Tracie Barrick, owner of The Bunch
A street-front location was just what Tracie Barrick needed for her lavender soap and product business to bloom.
Where she was located: Barrick opened The Bunch in Fairhaven’s Harris Square in May 2006. Customers had to go down some stairs from Harris Avenue and turn a corner into an interior courtyard in order to get to the store.
Where she moved: Barrick moved The Bunch up Harris Avenue to a street-front location — between Fools Onion restaurant and Rebecca’s Flower Shoppe — in March.
Why she moved: While Barrick said she thinks she would have been able to survive in her old location, especially with the completion of the nearby McKenzie Square mixed-use project, she had the opportunity to lease the street-front space and took it.
“I didn’t want to pass up being right on the main street,” she said.
The new space is a bit smaller but also a bit less expensive, so the move was an economic decision as well, she said.
Barrick felt the new space would offer her store more exposure.
“You can’t drive through Fairhaven without seeing my sign,” she said.
Effect on business: Barrick’s volume of business has significantly increased since she moved, she said. She has even been able to hire some employees so she can spend more time marketing her business through sponsoring events and networking.
Business has also been more consistent with the Harris Avenue foot traffic. Her old location seemed to do better on weekend days, but now her sales are spread out throughout the week, although Saturdays still trump other days.
Tips/advice: Barrick recommended talking to other businesses in the area where you are thinking of locating in order to get a feel for what it’s like.
She also suggests calling all available spaces and shopping around to find out what the typical market rents are.
Paul Hemminger, owner of Bellingham Frameworks
Sometimes, the perfect location is staring you right in the face. In Hemminger’s case, a quick jaunt across the street proved a smart move for his picture-framing business.
Where he was located: Hemminger bought the business located on Cornwall Avenue, next to Allied Arts and the Pickford Cinema, 18 months ago after managing it for eight years.
Where he moved: Hemminger moved directly across the street from 1422 to 1421 Cornwall Ave. in May.
Why he moved: The former space was too large for his business, and his effort to utilize it by adding a gallery component didn’t pay off. He was also using part of the space for some manufacturing activities, which didn’t make sense for the retail focus of the business.
The new location is smaller and has lower rent, and offers a separate location for his manufacturing activities. Overall, it offers more efficient use of space and a warmer, brighter look, he said.
“I just decided to try and streamline things a little bit,” he said.
Effect on business: “Business hasn’t really skipped a beat,” he said.
By moving across the street, Hemminger mitigated the effect of losing customers after a move. The customers also seem to like the new space better.
“The reception is that there is a better feeling here, and it’s a more welcoming environment,” he said.
Tips/advice: Hemminger suggested thinking about who your neighbors are and what kind of customers are drawn to the area. Consider which micro-district would complement your business. There are several of these in town, such as a computer or clothing district. Hemminger’s store is surrounded by Dakota Arts, Bijoux and Allied Arts, all of which complement his picture frame store.
Hemminger also recommended making the move as fast as possible, even if it means a few extra dollars.
“Do it as fast as possible — downtime is a killer,” he said.
Todd McCleve, director of Chispa
For McCleve and his investors, Fairhaven’s mix of tourism and eco-friendly residents seemed the perfect place to rev up their scooter retail and rental business, and unlike Barrick, he has found Harris Square to be the perfect starting line.
Why he chose this location: When McCleve and his business partners were considering where to locate Chispa, there were two schools of thought. One was to keep overhead low, find an inexpensive location in the hopes that the business would take off, and then move to a better spot.
The other idea was to invest in a good location from the beginning by buying a commercial condo — that way if the business tanked, the owners would still have something to show for it. This idea won out, and McCleve and his partners decided to locate in Fairhaven because of the area’s penchant for tourism, which would attract customers who wanted to rent scooters and Segways, and for environmentally friendly residents, who would like the idea of green transportation.
How do you feel about your location now?
McCleve said he feels good about it.
Being located in a mixed-use building has its positives and negatives. Some residents and neighboring businesses love the traffic Chispa brings in, others aren’t as enthused.
Being next door to a gelato shop helps, he said, because what goes better together than the Italian duo of Vespas and gelato? McCleve said he’s sold several scooters to customers walking in with gelato cones.
Tips/advice: McCleve said working with several people to find a location is helpful, as well as listing what your priorities are before the search in order to avoid getting sidetracked. He also swears by getting a good real estate agent who will comb through all the possible rental markets for you.