Great Business Ideas: Locate the Right Space

Great Ideas for your Small Business: Locate the Right Space

Entrepreneurs cringe at the thought of leasing office space. It’s scary and expensive and takes time to do. That’s why so many of us work at home until we get thrown out by our loving families.

The Applegate Group, founded in the cozy den of our home in Sun Valley, California, outgrew that space within a year. Taking a big risk, we invested $10,000 to remodel the garage. It was a great commute—down the driveway.

We stayed in the garage until we moved to New York. Our temporary quarters there were in a basement—it was either blasting hot or freezing cold. When my husband and I bought a spacious, three-bedroom apartment in a gorgeous pre–World War II building, it was evident that the company was going to be evicted.

So it was time to look for an office. We found a big, sunny space in the Pelham, New York, post office building in early 1997, and now have three offices there.

If, like me, you can no longer work at home, here are some options. First, look for a business incubator in your area. There are hundreds of private, university, and government-sponsored roosts for small companies. The rent is affordable, and there is great com- fort to be found in the company of other crazy entrepreneurs.

Another great option is to share space with another small business. I once profiled two happy bakers in Orange County, California: a gourmet brownie baker and a cheesecake baker. They shared a commercial kitchen for years; the brownie guy worked days, and the cheesecake guy worked nights. They split the expenses and kept the ovens warm around the clock.

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The owner of an upscale framing store in Hollywood rented out his extra space to an art dealer. They figured they would attract the same sorts of art-loving customers, and it worked out very well for a while.

I also profiled a nurse who became an expert witness. When she quit her hospital job, she moved into an empty office at a law firm that specialized in defending malpractice suits. They gave her a discount on her rent in exchange for a reduced fee when they needed her to testify!

If you must rent space on your own, prepare to do a lot of walking and talking. Many major cities have a glut of office space, so with some persistence, you can find affordable digs.

Here are some tips to help you find the right space:

  • Drive around neighborhoods that appeal to you and look for “For Rent” signs.
  • Check the neighboring buildings to see if they are well maintained. Take notes on the parking situation, proximity to mass transit, and street lighting.
  • Check out the lobby. Is it well lit and clean? Remember that deodorant commercial that warned, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”? Well, you don’t want a building with a dreary lobby.
  • Visit the restrooms and check the fire exits and hallways for cleanliness and accessibility for disabled workers and customers.
  • Speak to other tenants before you meet the building manager. They will usually give you the scoop on life in the building.
  • If you are renting retail space, find out whether the landlord expects a percentage of gross sales as well as rent.
  • Find out exactly what the landlord pays for and what you are financially responsible for.
  • It may make sense to work with a commercial real estate broker, especially if you are renting more than a small office.
  • Ask a lawyer to review a lease before you sign it.
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