Pick Your Spot

Search for Research

Whether your dream involves working on a cattle farm or on Fifth and Elm Street, follow the example of Dylan Fager, 26, and do some basic research. Fager found out all the information he could before he and his business partner, now wife, Elise, 26, bought into a Mailboxes Etc. franchise located just outside Cincinnati. It appeared to be a sure thing, and it was: The lot was right across the street from a regional shopping mall, and tons of traffic pumped past the building every day of the week.

But the Fagers still asked for all the information about consumer retailing that they could get from their landlord, the city of Springdale and their local chamber of commerce. "I hate to even call it research, because they made it so easy," says Dylan, who nonetheless felt confident that he and Elise could make a business in the location: "There's 2 [million] to 3 million square feet of office space within five miles of the store. So there was a market, but nobody had tapped into it yet."

Indeed. They opened in 1999 and routinely bring in "the mid six figures," says Fager, who recently purchased a second Mailboxes Etc. in downtown Cincinnati, where he says he has virtually no competition.

Joe Sitt would applaud. He feels downtown is where it's at--even in the most economically depressed and depressing parts of a city. Of course, he would feel that way; his New York City company, Thor Equities, specializes in buying up ruined buildings and renovating them. But he makes a good case for the inner city. "First, you'll have less competition. It's a lot cheaper to get into an urban neighborhood, and you'll be filling a tremendous void," says Sitt. "Why go someplace and butt heads with a hundred other competing businesses, when you could go somewhere where customers are salivating for your products and services?"

If you feel you need more help, it may be worth hiring a location analysis firm like the Roulac Group or GeoMarketing. Although it can cost up to several thousand dollars for them to do all the work for you, some companies, like Geo, will research a location you've already found for as little as $500.

However the research is done, O'Halloran says there are a few basic mistakes to try not to make when finding the right location for your business--one common mistake being the "build it, and they will come" plan. "Just because a concept is great--just because your sandwiches are great, or your clothing line is terrific--it doesn't mean the customers are going to be there," says O'Halloran.

Entrepreneurs also sometimes forget that location is not static, says O'Halloran. "There's a neighborhood near Philadelphia called Manayunk. It's a hip, chic neighborhood. It's become a real shopping destination. But 15 or 20 years ago, everybody was moving out. Nobody came here. Things change-for the better, [and] for the worse. I'm not saying you should do a location analysis every week, or even every year, but if you're the first to see the trend, then you can be the first to be in or out of the area."

But you shouldn't go to the other extreme, warns O'Halloran. "Entrepreneurs sometimes think location is everything," she says. "It's important, but you can be in a great location and have a terrible operator. A great operator can overcome a bad location."

The Finer Things Some places are the right spot for more than business.

Inspiration. That's why Russell Sparkman, 43, located his business, FusionSpark Media Inc., on Whidbey Island, a rural island 90 minutes north of Seattle. Of course, the telephone wires sometimes go down under falling trees, and if he misses a ferry because of bad timing or summer crowds, he could potentially miss an in-person meeting on the coast--which doesn't look professional, especially when you run a business that's making a little more than $1 million per year.

But the headaches are worth it, says Sparkman, whose company produces nature-related photographic documentaries for the Internet, available at his. Work is more fun when you can spot whales from your office window.

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the June 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Pick Your Spot.

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