Fall 2003 Growing Pains
Sometimes change is part of the plan; sometimes it’s out of the blue. As with raising kids, growing a business brings change, too—ask any entrepreneur. Just as kids outgrow their clothes, and families can outgrow their homes, successful retail businesses often outgrow their spaces. The cart, kiosk or store bursts at the seams. It’s already too small or too crowded, and the thought of adding more product or new lines makes the fixtures (and the owner!) groan under the anticipated added weight.
Growing pains like these not only signal the need for change but raise questions about the next step: If you operate a cart, should you step up to a kiosk? An in-line store? Should you relocate completely? Or maybe expansion’s the answer: stay where you are and open a second location?
Sometimes it’s not your space that’s the problem—sometimes it’s outside influences. Realities like road construction or a drop in the trade area’s population may force you to think about relocating even though you weren’t planning to. Still, whether a move is a choice or a push, you have to make dozens of decisions first. Making the right ones will make your life easier—and can mean the difference between success and failure.
New (to you) space
If you decide to move to a new center, your first major decision is where—which part of town, or which other town, and which shopping center. If your business is doing well but you’ve simply outgrown your spot, you have the best chance of retaining customers if you stay within five miles of your current location. Otherwise, be prepared to revamp your product selection and possibly your prices to fit the area you’re moving to and its customers. How will you know if you should do this? By doing some homework. Then if you decide to make the move or add a location, be smart about making the move easy for you, and the “transition” easy for your customers. No move happens without glitches, of course, but advance planning can save time, money and nerves. Here’s a starter list:
Do the homework. Do as much market research for the new area as you need to. That way, you can be prepared to make product/pricing changes and promote your business and products accordingly… or decide that’s not the area for you.
Get the word out. If you do change or add locations, one major marketing problem is getting the word out to existing customers, especially the infrequent ones. Three ideas:
- As soon as you commit to a new location, make up a stamp with the new address and phone number, email and URL (if you have one), and the projected opening date. Stamp every receipt, bag, business card, piece of outgoing mail—whatever you can think of—right up to moving day.
- On your computer, create a “We’re moving” flyer with new address, phone and opening date. They don’t have to be elaborate or large (you can do two or four on one sheet). Then make copies on bright paper, and cut. Put a flyer in with every purchase, give one to every customer who doesn’t buy, mount a couple of flyers as counter signs, and put one in your store window if you have one.
- Use signage to tell potential and existing customers about your new location. If your current mall’s rules or city ordinances restrict your use of signs, use creativity. For example, you could put a sign on your truck or van and park it where customers will see it.
Put it in writing. List every item you need to buy, every service you need to set up (phone, address change, etc.), every little thing that has to be done, down to the smallest detail. And—elementary as this may sound—when you finish each task, cross it off. List-makers already know that this not only keeps things organized and manageable, but it’s a great feeling. And each cross-off is one step closer to your goal.
Be secure. Don’t forget that you’ll need security during the actual move. Retail businesses in the process of opening or closing are prime targets for thieves, particularly during the first month in a new location. That’s because the owners are still discovering any breaches in security, from locks to alarm systems. Also be sure to maintain insurance coverage on both locations until the move is complete.
But what if you’re thinking of adding a location instead of moving? After all, double the business, double the profits, right?
Not necessarily. A second location can “cannibalize” the first one: the two can feed off each other, drawing off your own customers and splitting pretty much the same total sales revenue rather than generating new, additional revenues. So ask yourself if you’re looking to open that second one for the ego value, or if can you say with certainty that the profits a second location is expected to generate will be worth the headache—and the expense. Two important things to consider: where and who.
Where will you put it? The second location has to be far enough away so that new, not existing, customers will shop there. Look at the map for routes (streets, highways) and traffic patterns for each of the sites you’re considering. One thing to look for: Does the main drag take the majority of existing and potential customers right past your first location to get to your second one? If so, you’re probably looking at a site that’s in the wrong place.
Who’s going to run it? If your first location is fully staffed, you have to find people for the second one. If you plan to transfer people from the first one to the second, you have to hire new people for the first one. Either way, will you be able to find qualified, interested, trustworthy staffers? Plus a good manager? After all, you can’t be in two places at once.
Space probe. What about the physical layout and display areas in the new location? You can try to duplicate your first layout if the cart or space lends itself to that, and if you think that’s the way to go. Or you can look at the second location as a fresh opportunity to try exciting ways to merchandise your existing inventory, and to carry some new product lines.
Opening a second location is much like starting over. In addition to location, staffing, physical set-up, displays and product lines, you also have to consider all the rest: rents, lease commitments, and capital investments. Be sure to get advice from your accountant, attorney and insurance agent before you sign anything. And don’t overlook the help the Small Business Administration offers.
One more scenario: You’re doing very well at your present location but you’re feeling growing pains and you know you haven’t maximized your potential or your exposure. In other words, you want your retail business to grow faster—but you don’t want to move because you’re in a great shopping center. What can you do? You can move to larger space. If you’re on a cart, move up to a kiosk. If you’re on a kiosk, you could move to an in-line store.
And if you’re already in an in-line and you’re up against the walls? Well, if you’re lucky, the in-line next to you becomes vacant, you snap it up, and negotiate a great deal with the leasing agent. Then open up the wall and—voilà!—you’ve increased your square footage, maybe even doubled it.
But no matter how you add it or how much you end up with, additional space allows the possibility of carrying more merchandise, displaying it effectively, serving your customers better, creating an easier, happier shopping experience for them, and making more sales.
Is it worth it?
Whether you choose to move out or branch out, the financial health of your retail business has to be the main factor that guides you. The first real question is, Can you afford it? Are you well enough capitalized to make the move? And the second real question is, Will it be worth it? Do the results of your research and profit projections for the new or second location justify this investment in your future? If your answer is an enthusiastic “Yes!” all around, then it’s time to make your move.
Looking for more information on wholesalers and products? Check out our directory of useful links.
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