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Session 10: Location and leasing

OBJECTIVE: A poor location or a poorly negotiated lease can cripple a wonderful business. Every business has its own location criteria. In this session you will define your criteria, learn how to select the right location, create a site model, and recognize the important aspects of a lease agreement.

      Location and leasing

Location, Location, Location

Phil Holland Founder, My Own Business Phil Holland
Founder, My Own Business
Play Video
Could you offer some suggestions about locating a business and signing a lease?

Whether you are a moonlight or full-time entrepreneur, at some time real estate issues will become important to you. The success or failure of most retail businesses will hinge on the owner's selectivity and judgment in selecting the right location.

An initial step in business is selecting where you will live and where your business will be located. You may have the opportunity to relocate to an area where you would really enjoy living and working.

If you are planning to become a franchisor of your business, successful real estate development and precise location criteria for your franchised locations will become key factors in your success. See our session 10 on Franchising Your Business in the Business Expansion Course.

Zoning Categories

Every city has a planning department at City Hall. You will be dealing with this and other municipal departments and agencies that have discretionary authority to approve or disapprove your intended plans.

You can no longer rely on zoning codes to determine what the rules are in your desired location. Your intended location will often be subject to "precise plan" approval, an environmental impact assessment, and other regulatory issues.

You may find yourself appearing before a review board that can often seem unreasonable in its decisions. Many cities have redevelopment agencies authorized to impose conditions even more stringent than those established by local codes.

One shopping center developer was so frustrated with the demands of city agencies that he finally threw up his hands and sold off his rights to the property. The new owner succeeded in developing the property. His secret, "I went into City Hall and told them that I would do anything they wanted me to do-----and did it."

Now, obviously there will be times when unreasonable conditions will make a location for your business unattractive. In such cases, you should unemotionally look for another location.

George Flowers Commercial Real Estate Broker George Flowers
Commercial Real Estate Broker
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What are some of the worse mistakes made by start-up businesses when deciding on locations for retail stores?
Criteria for Home-Based Businesses
Be sure your home business is permitted and you have the license required by the city. Many homes have an association with regulations for the owners. Check to ensure you are in compliance. See our home based business session for those considering operating a business from their home.

Criteria for a Manufacturing, Warehousing, or Industrial Business

  • Room for future expansion
  • Convenient for employees
  • Good Accessibility
  • Available labor force
  • Appropriate utilities
  • Convenient to freight and express delivery systems

Criteria for a Retail Business
Each retail and commercial business has its own criteria. For example, a donut shop should be located on the "going-to-work" side of the street. On the other hand, a liquor store should be on the side of the street with traffic going home from work.

The selection of your first location will have an overwhelming impact on your chances for success.

In Session 1, you analyzed businesses that are similar to the one you chose. Did you analyze where they were located and why?

  • Select the appropriate type of center (mall, strip, mini). Some business do best in a large center but some, like Mini-Marts, video stores and laundromats, do better in much smaller centers. Others such as florist, nursery or antique stores, do well located on the street front.
  • Demographic data will provide you information about the neighborhood. It will inform you about the population, the number of households, estimated population by race, age and income level within a one, two or five-mile radius. You can find firms that supply this information on the Internet. A good place to start is the International Council of Shopping Centers at
  • Donna Strachan Beauty Salon Owner Donna Strachan
    Beauty Salon Owner
    Play Audio
    Do what you do best, don't try to be all things to all people.
  • Walk and talk the area. You will be surprised how much you can learn by talking to customers, employees and owners.
  • Traffic count is very important because it will give you the number of cars at the intersection. You can also get the pedestrian count, which is great for drop-in or walk-in business. This report can be obtained from the local traffic department.
  • Visibility and signage: Customers must know you are there. They should be able to see your store. Usually the end or corner location is better, which is why the rent for those spaces is higher. Get the biggest sign you can. Tell the public clearly what you are selling. Examples: Travel, Gifts, Pets, tell the products. Both your lease and the city ordinances will have limitations regarding your signs.
  • Access and parking: Be sure you have adequate and convenient parking. Avoid streets with dividers or one-way traffic. Customers prefer stores where the parking is in the front.
  • Proximity to competition: Know where your competitors are located. You can get the names and address from the Yellow Pages. Find out what your competition is doing and how they are doing it.
  • Generators (anchors): These are the big national stores in a mall or shopping center. For example, Albertson's, Nordstrom, Wal-Mart and/or McDonald's will help to bring customers into the center. The closer your business can be to generators, the better it usually is for your business.

Searching for a Property
The internet is a good place to start looking for available properties. You want to partner with experienced agents that are familiar with the geography you're interested in and who know the market. Start your search with a free service like OfficeFinder, which will link you with the right agents.

Leasing Checklist

  • Retain a real estate lawyer to assist you in negotiating your lease or purchase. A five-year lease on a $1,000 per month space is $60,000 (probably a personal obligation) and may well be your largest obligation for your beginning business.
  • Most retail stores leases are Net, Net, Net (NNN) leases (a.k.a., Triple Net Lease) meaning that you as tenant will pay for the taxes, insurance, gardening, utilities, security, trash and sewer, litter, graffiti removal and repairs. This charge is based on the square footage of your space. CAM (Common Area Maintenance) charges can be costly so find out the estimated cost per month before signing the lease. CAM charges can vary but will normally include parking lot sweeping and repair and all aspects of common area upkeep.
  • Ask for options. At the end of your base term, you can then renew the lease or move. Try to keep your initial term short. There are some compelling reasons to have a short-term lease with options:

    Your business may not be successful at your initial location. A short-term lease will minimize your overall rent obligation.

    You need flexibility in lease terms to accommodate growth. Start-up businesses frequently find that their growth rate is more rapid than expected.

  • Consider the possibility that you need to expand your business and will need more space. To provide for this, your lease could provide that if you need more room, your space can be expanded, you can move to another location in the center or you can cancel your lease.
  • Don't hurry your decision. There is no such thing as the last good location.
  • Don't judge entirely on rent. Pay fair rent for an outstanding location. Don't let the leaser dictate all the lease terms.
  • An Internet marketing tool is now available to enable you to locate potential competitors: the "local" link on search engines. To demonstrate the power of this tool, go to a search engine such as Google or Yahoo and enter the type of business you plan to start. Then, click on the "local" link at the top of the page and enter you zip code. Presto: your local competition will be displayed on a map along with links to their Web sites.

Points to Consider Before Signing a Lease or Purchasing Property

  • Is the location the best available in the area where you want to be?
  • Does it meet your own specific criteria?
  • Are utilities and tenant improvements adequate?
Basic Lease Provisions:

basic lease provisions
basic lease provisions
basic lease provisions

Rent: Is the rent comparable to other rents in the same location?

Term: Is your lease for a short-term (a year or less) or long-term?

Floor area: How much square footage of the space? Rent and CAM charges are based on the square footage of your space.

Common area maintenance charges (CAM): What are the estimated charges for a year?

Options: Do you have options to renew the lease after the first term expires?

Rent increase: Is it a fixed rent increase or is it based on the CPI (Consumer Price Index). If CPI, negotiate a percentage cap.

Percentage rent: Some landlords will ask for fixed rent plus a percentage (of your sales) rent. This is an issue to negotiate.

Tenant improvements: Put the agreement in writing as to the responsibilities of the landlord and your responsibilities to do the necessary improvements to get the space open for business. Landlord's Construction Exhibit "C" should be made a part of the lease. Please refer to the sample exhibit furnished in this session.

Right to assign or sublet: Landlord's consent "not to be unreasonably withheld."

Signs: Be specific with exhibit and description.

Provision for expansion requirements: If you think your business will be expanding, make provisions in your lease to provide for anticipated future needs.

Parking rights: Be sure that adequate parking space is provided. In most retail centers, tenants share "common area parking" rights. Nearby restaurants or theaters can monopolize the parking spaces you require.

Personal guarantee: You should avoid this, if possible. If it is required, ask your lawyer to review this clause carefully.

Exclusive: Ask that no other business similar to yours be allowed in the center if it's appropriate.

All leases have Exhibits

lease exhibit

  1. Site plan, which is a drawing of the inside of the store, restrooms, windows, doors, A/C vents and utilities.
  2. Sign criteria, put in a drawing of the type of sign you want, be sure to state color and size.
  3. Construction obligations: state exactly what the landlord will do and what you will do.
  4. Special requirements of tenant

To Rent or to Buy Considerations

  • For start-ups, the primary consideration is that capital is needed for the business.
  • Are requirements going to change? If so, renting is probably preferable.
  • Are there tax or borrowing incentives available if you buy?
  • Some make more on the real estate than on the business. Talk to the Community Development Department.
  • Ownership fixes future cost and availability of the location.

Do Your Homework

  • Completely fill out a standard lease form with contingencies necessary for your particular business.
  • Attend local Chamber of Commerce meetings to find out about community opportunities and concerns.
  • Fully evaluate a specific location, including the completion of a "Site Criteria" table.
  • Maintain contact with the community development department.
  • Find and get to know a good real estate lawyer.
  • Negotiate an actual lease as a dry-run practice.

Site Location Criteria

You can create your own "Site Model" in order to maintain objectivity when evaluating locations for your business. This can be done by assigning different values to the factors that are most important for your particular business. Then each location can be evaluated against these measurements.

Real estate dealmakers concerned with buying, selling or leasing all require possession of expert negotiating skills. Since it has been determined that negotiating is a learned skill and not a natural one, our session "Develop Negotiating Skills" in Business Expansion is recommended.

Some things to keep in mind in site selection:

  • There's no such thing as the "last good location."
  • Copycatting your most successful competitor's site criteria can help you avoid making mistakes.
  • If you are building a chain of stores, never sign a lease on your second location until your first location is profitable and proven.
  • It is better to pay fair rent on a great location than pay great rent on a fair location.
  • Don't rely on leasing agents to make your site decisions.
  • Driving streets and walking neighborhoods is a good way to scout for locations.

The following form will give you a methodical approach for evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each potential location.

First, evaluate your site location for each factor on a scale of 1 to 10, Number 10 being the highest.

Second, decide the importance of each factor to your particular business on a scale of 1 to 5, Number 5 being the most important.

Multiply the grade by the weight to determine the points for each factor. Add up the points to get a total score. Repeat this process for each site to gain an objective, comparative analysis.

Site Criteria Table
FactorsGrade 1-10Weight 1-5    Points    
Traffic count: Cars or pedestrians   
Visibility access   
Proximity to competition   
Parking (include off-street parking)   
Condition of premises   
Proximity to customer generators   
Income level of neighborhood   
Population density   
Ethnic make up of neighborhood   
Age factor   
Directional growth of area   
Area improving or deteriorating   
Crime/shoplifting rates   
Availability of qualified employees   
Labor rates of pay   
Supplier proximity   
Terms and rental rates   
Adequacy of utilities, gas, & water   
Transportation accessibility   
Total Points 

Top Ten Do's and Don'ts

  1. Talk to your city hall planning and zoning department to be sure your intended location conforms to all code requirements.
  2. Create a Site Model Criteria for your particular business.
  3. Look at many locations to establish comparable values for rent and location potential.
  4. Order demographic data to provide information about your customers.
  5. Retain a real estate lawyer to assist in negotiating your lease or purchase.
  6. To minimize your risk, negotiate for a short-term lease with options.
  7. Provide terms in your lease for potential expansion requirements.
  8. Have every agreement put into writing.
  9. Ask that no other similar business be allowed in your shopping center.
  10. Use signs that are the largest allowed and clearly state what you are selling.
  1. Be hasty in making a real estate decision. (There is no such thing as the last good location.)
  2. Don't judge a location entirely on rent.
  3. Permit a potential landlord to dictate all the lease terms.
  4. Personally guarantee your lease if possible.
  5. Sign a purchase or lease document without the approval of your lawyer.
  6. Depend on the advice of a landlord's leasing agent.
  7. Submit to unreasonable conditions; unemotionally look for another location.
  8. Depend on any verbal agreements with landlords or sellers - get it in writing.
  9. Open the second store until the first one is proven and profitable.
  10. Sign a lease without the condition that it is subject to securing all permits and licenses.

Business Plan for Session 10: Location and leasing

We heartily recommend that you download the individual business plan template for this session and complete it now:

Section 10: Premises
doc MS Word

Instructions on filling in the business plan template:

  1. Each box has a permanent title in CAPITAL LETTERS.
  2. Below each title is a sentence starting with an "Insert here" sentence. This will suggest information to insert. The boxes will expand as you take up more room so use all the space you need.
  3. After completing each box, delete the "Insert here" sentence, which will leave only the permanent title of the box and the information you have inserted.
We suggest that you fill in each section of the business plan
as you proceed through the course.

The full template for all sessions 1-15 can also be downloaded into your computer as a single document:

Section 1-15: (Full Business Plan Template)
doc MS Word

Include sufficient research findings and background materials. Make it interesting by the use of background data, your biography, charts, demographics and research data. When your business plan is completed, print off and assemble the 15 sections.

Many other business plan formats are available in libraries, bookstores and online.

Session 10 Feedback:

Please help improve this course by taking 20 seconds to answer these feedback questions.

(Please fill in)
Examples: In what way has this course topic improved your chances of success or reduced risks of failure? What was the most valuable information in this session? Did we make mistakes?

Exclaimation Note: To receive credit toward a Certificate of Completion either log in to your account or create a new account then take the quiz. If you wish to contine without credit, Submit feedback and proceed to Session Quiz below.

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