Sep 19, 2006

Shop Talk Volume 3

Location, Location, Location. We have all heard this phrase at least a 1000 times when it comes to deciding where our new business is to be located.

Welcome to my third volume of the "business of boutiques." As always, I like to state that I am not a "professional" when it comes to the business side of running a store, but I can offer my personal experience and how I dealt with situations that you may encounter as future (or current) shop owners.

First, I want to discuss the geographical location of the building. These things to consider may sound obvious, but you would be surprised how they can be overlooked when one falls in love with a retail space. Here is a short list of considerations before signing the lease:

1. Is there front door parking? Do customers have to pay to park? Are the sidewalks, crossways, and streets safe, clean, and free of obstacles? Do you have limited parking times or meters in front? Will that time limit affect your business? Parking is something to take into careful consideration.

2. What is the traffic like? Is the store on a busy street? A busy corner? At a stop light? While these may sound attractive, think again. If the street is too busy, or the corner too conjested, people will just whiz by, paying more attention to traffic than your store front. Also, think of the noise. On nice days, when you want the door wide open to let in the breeze, it will be so noisy that you can't even hear your own lovely music playing in the store. On the other hand, if there is little traffic, then look at your neighboring businesses. Do they have the same clients that would shop at your store? If so, then low traffic may not be an issue. If not, then low traffice can be a problem as well.

3. And speaking of neighbors - take a GOOD look at them!!! Many new store owners make the mistake of thinking that other boutiques in their area are "competition." So untrue! Unless you have a huge store, with lots of very unique items, you will most likely not be a "destination" store. You will need other like boutiques and businesses around you and thus the area becomes a destination due to the number of boutiques. Rarely can a small boutique reside alone. Be careful about leasing a space next door to an empty spot that is also for lease. How do you know what will move into that space next door? Unfortunately, many landlords do not care who goes into their space as long as it is rented. I had to work very hard to get a great boutique in next door to me for that same reason. My landlord, didn't care who went in next door, and many people looking at the space wanted to make it into a bar - not an upscale place, but a trashy, let's-drink-all-night-and-hang-out-bar. You will want hair salons next to you, florists, other boutiques, cute cafes, gift stores, antique stores, high-end candy stores, a pet grooming shop...all of these usually have like clients and compliment each other.

4. Finally about the actual location, you really need to check with the city council or planning board to see what (if any) future street scapes plans are in the works. When I rented my space, I used to have parking right in front of my store. After I opened,my front door parking was taken away and replaced with a 20' wide sidewalk. Sounds quaint? Not really. I am no longer visible to foot traffic and thus I have fewer customers walking in the store. I no longer have a clear path to unload items or for my customers to get their large items into their car. I am in a battle with the city council about my portable sign - but more on that in another posting.

Okay, so above I talked about the physical location of the store, now I want to discuss the store itself. Below are some of my thoughts on this:

1. If you sell large items (furniture), then do you have double doors in which to receive large pieces? Do you have a delivery dock in the back? Is there a place to pull up to the door to unload inventory? Doors need to be considered other than if they are "pretty."

2. Trash. Yes trash. Do you have a large (commercial) trash bin next to your store? Is the landlord paying for it? How often does it get emptied? Do you have to share it with other businesses in the area? You will have a lot of boxes, papers, and trash and you will need the space to put it in. Is it down the alley? Do you have to walk far? When you get in a lot of inventory, hauling boxes to the trash can be very time consuming.

3. Office space. Many, many retailers want to use about every inch for sale space. Of course, this makes sense, as that is how you make money. However, having a good office space will save you many headaches. Really think about how much paperwork you will be doing: bookkeeping, ordering, inventory, phone lists, files, mailing lists,....

4. Outlets. I can't emphasize enough how important it is to have tons of electrical outlets. And if you have tons of them, it still won't be enough. Lighting, lamps, stereo, computers, phones, faxes, printers, chandeliers, spots, need a lot of them and don't hesitate to negotiate that into your lease.

5. Wall space....too many small boutiques have little wall space. You will constantly be looking for a way to display things on the floor, a table, or wherever. This is not good. Find a way to incorporate more walls - you won't regret that you took the time to build some before you moved in.

6. Check out counter. I designed mine and had it custom built. Check with coding in your area. Some cities require a handicap counter. I don't know about you, but I can't stand going into a store and the counter is so cluttered that I can't even put my purse on it to write my check. Then the counter is usually way too low. And I am average height. When I built mine, I made it 40" tall - no bending over to write a check. Plus, it allows for more storage behind it. I also designed a space for my computer to be hidden. I didn't want my customers to see a ton of wires and electronics.

7. Flooring. Unless you are lucky enough to have hired a staff of burly men to move your displays around, your furniture or anything else heavy, you will be moving it yourself. Polished wooden floors look nice - for about a month. If you don't want to hurt your back, you will find yourself scooting heavy things across the floor. Stained cement is my favorite. It looks great as it wears and things slide very easily.

I know there is more that I could write, but this is a start. Even though these tips may seem obvious to most - they weren't to me four years ago. I didn't think about the trash, my doors, the traffic noise, or the outlets. I just learned along the way and so now, I am passing on to you what I learned. Like I said earlier, "I am not a professional." But I am getting there. I hope.

Somtimes, learning by doing is best way not to repeat a mistake. But it is smarter to avoid the mistake in the first place by learning from others. I hope I helped you to avoid some mistakes.

from my house to your house,



Anonymous said...

i just want to say that you are the woman...i discovered your blog a few months ago and keep coming back because i luv your style, passion, creativity, and strength. i admire your savvy business sense and enjoy reading shop talk, your honest personal insight offers a real-time experience that cannot be found in any book. i have been in the planning process to open a small booth within an antique mall and i am struggling with choosing the best business structure... right now a booth is "small time" but eventually it is my dream to have my own store, any advice?

Elizabeth Maxson said...

Thank you Rachel. There is so much to consider and so many pros and cons to being in an antique mall or owning your own store. For now, my best advice is to talk to local shop owners, get to know them, and even work for one or two to get a taste of what it is like. Also, keep reading my blog as I will continue with "shop talk" and assist those of you wanting a shop as best as possible.

Thank you!

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