It's been over 8 years since we moved into our cool new digs, so it seems only natural to talk about the importance of location to a small business. No move is easy, whether it’s just you and a computer or if you have twenty employees and heavy manufacturing equipment. There’s a lot to think about when deciding on a new place and many small businesses don’t realize the effect that a location will have on its operations until it’s too late. One question that many forget to ask is what your business location says to your potential customers about your company.
About a year ago we were looking for someone to make a custom trophy. It was a very specific design and we knew not every shop could create exactly what we wanted. After an exhaustive search and about a dozen calls, we found two trophy shops that said they could handle the job. One was about seven miles away. The other was 17 miles in the opposite direction.
No brainer, right? Of course we picked the closest shop. Except six miles into the drive, we realized we were getting into the bad section of town. Really bad. In fact, once we got there we decided not to get out of the car. We were in no man’s land.
The sidewalks were deserted except for a very large, one-eyed dog that stared unblinkingly into our car and a group of teenagers freely exchanging money for something in little plastic bags. It was dusk and the lighting on the street was somewhere between ‘dim’ and ‘I hope someone brought flashlights’. Most of the store windows on the block were boarded up. If we hadn’t talked to the owner on the phone, we would’ve thought the trophy shop was closed and abandoned.
We promptly drove across town to the other trophy store. It was in a strip mall with a well-lit parking lot. Other shops nearby were open. We felt safe. It was worth the drive. Writing this blog reminded us of the trophy shop in the bad section of town. Out of sheer curiosity, we drove past their shop again (this time at noon). Sadly, but not surprisingly, the store was out of business. The owner probably lost far more sales than they saved in cheap rent.
Not every business needs to reside in an upscale area, but your location does say a lot about your business. There are a lot of factors involved in choosing the right location like commercial zoning, taxes, expense, local economy, proximity to supply, street or foot traffic, etc.
If your business requires customers or clients to visit your location, you must remember to put yourself in their shoes and view your location as they do. Does your place welcome customers or does it scare people away?
Here’s a quick list of things to be aware of when determining if your location is customer friendly:
Remember as a kid when your parents were driving on the Interstate and you saw those famous golden arches up ahead? You immediately let your folks know you were hungry. Do you think it’s a mistake that the McDonalds’ sign was the tallest and highly visible from the road?
While your business may not be able to boast 50 gazillion served, it still needs to be clearly marked. Don’t make people guess. Invest in a good sign. If possible, make sure the sign and your street address are easily read from the street. If they accidentally miss your driveway, there’s a good chance they won’t bother turning around – and that means you just lost out on business.
How many times do you pass a business at night trying to determine if it’s still open or not? Make sure your parking lot and entrance area are well lit at all times – for you and your employees. No one wants to park and walk to a place of business in the dark, no matter how great the neighborhood is. And if they are visiting while the sun goes down, don’t make them walk back to their car in the dark. They may never return.
A well lit area says you’re open and customers are welcome. Just as important, make sure any windows that face the street or the parking lot are illuminated to take away any guesswork about whether you’re open or not.
Just like that trophy shop, if you’re customers don’t feel safe at your location, you’re going to have a hard time staying in business. Take any steps within your control to make people feel secure. Lighting is obviously a major factor, but others to consider (depending on your business) are hiring security guards, cameras and employees patrolling the parking lot.
Do you keep the exterior of your location clean? Elements such as broken lights, spider webs in the windows, uneven sidewalks and peeling paint all suggest you’re neglecting a part of your business. The same goes for the interior of your building. Is your desk cluttered or your carpet worn? Is your restroom dirty? These can be warning signs to your customers.
If you have employees that smoke, make sure they’re not hanging out near the front entrance on their cigarette breaks. Provide an area out back or away from your customers. No one wants to have smoke accidentally blown in their face when they’re entering your store. Yet, regrettably, it happens all too often and some of these customers will never return to that business again.
While owning space for a parking lot may not be an option, you should make sure your location has available parking close by and that your customers know where it is. If you have a special parking situation, make sure you include parking info on your website and all printed marketing materials. Don’t make prospective customers have to figure it out on their own. If customers have to use a parking garage, comp their fees if possible.
Is your location easy to get to? Before you sign any lease, make sure customers can get to you in a quick and easy fashion. Also, check to see if there are any extensive construction plans scheduled for your area that would prevent customers from getting to you.
We know a stretch of road that has been undergoing major construction for months. It’s a major inconvenience to get to the stores that line the street. Many of the small business there may be forced to close their doors before the work is finally completed.
Your location says a lot about your business. Make sure its singing your praises rather than putting up red flags for your customers. Do you know what your location is saying about your business? Have you ever stopped frequenting a business because of its location? Let us know. We want to hear from you!