"Location is everything." This old real estate adage is true for small business, too. Choosing a business location is equal parts art and science
At first glance, Robert Young could not have found a worse place to put the second location of Altered Images Tattoo. With his base in Cumberland, Rhode Island (pop. 33,506), he reached out to a relatively remote location in Foster, Rhode Island (pop. 4,606). "It's farms. There are a lot of antique stores. You can't see one house from the next one over," he says.
Why do it? Because looks can be deceiving. Foster may be rural, but it's also on a major traffic artery for people driving in from Connecticut. "There are people who tell me: 'I drive by here every day and I just had to stop in,'" Young says.
Choosing a business location comes with certain obvious factors. Rent, demographics, competition. At the same time, though, the right business space can be more than meets the eye.
Consider the culture.
Nick Pirollo recently moved his education-technology company, Scholly, from Philadelphia to Boston. Both are nice cities with good business climates, but Boston had something extra. “The reason Boston is prime for us is the fact that it has a large amount of educational institutions—colleges, universities and other academic centers—and the city has built a large ecosystem around that fact,” he explains. Small businesses need to look at the culture of a city, the intellectual and creative aspects that give the city its heart and ultimately drive its talent pool.
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Mind the details.
When Ann Campeau recently expanded plus-sized bridal shop Strut from Phoenix to Long Beach, California, she had a very specific vision of the space she needed. “We did want good display windows and to be located on a main thoroughfare, not around the corner on a side street,” she says. She wanted ample parking, an open floor plan and an ADA compliant bathroom. Those can run $10,000 or more, she says, so it was imperative the landlord carry the expense. Lesson: Every little detail matters.
Pinpoint customer locations.
Typically, a small business owner will ask themselves about distance: Will customers drive five miles to shop here? 10? At Absolute Automation in Casco, Michigan, Nathan McBride looks even further. "As an e-commerce retail distributor, we are located in the EST time zone, which is a disadvantage for us." When he wants to close up shop at 5 p.m., it's only 2 p.m. on the West Coast. The time zone also muddles up the performance of couriers to the coast. "So for any other small business looking at starting up and thinking about shipping across the continent, I would highly recommend considering basing the company in the Pacific time zone, as it puts you at a real advantage over your eastern competitors," he says.
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Read the fine print.
"Obviously good walk-by and drive-by traffic can be crucial to the success of any business, but it's important to note whether or not there are signage restrictions in the tenant criteria that will negate any of these advantages," notes Brian Weltman, creative director at San Diego's RE+HAB Retail Design. "In fact, careful consideration of all tenant criteria is a very important step in the leasing process since it can dictate how much you're going to have to spend up front, materials you can or cannot use, and what you can creatively do to the space." The perfect space isn't perfect if the contract is too binding.
Follow the basics.
Let's not overlook the fundamentals for securing a business space. Is the city business-friendly? Are you close enough to customers and suppliers? Far enough from competitors? Is there an ample workforce from which to hire? The short answer is to do your research. Realtors, chambers of commerce, other small businesses all can help a business owner make a well-informed choice.
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