It Could Happen to You: What to Do if Your Business is Forced to Relocate
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
When running a brick-and-mortar business, the age-old adage still stands: "Location, location, location!" But whether your business is just a small storefront or an iconic stadium that seats nearly 20,000 people, the right to prime real estate isn't guaranteed just because you have keys to your current space's front door.
Last month, New York City's Madison Square Garden -- the arena that houses everything from the Knicks basketball games and Rangers hockey matches to One Direction concerts and Ice Capades shows -- was given ten years to find a new home, its fifth since 1879. After 45 years at its current address, the arena's relocation will make room for an overdue expansion of Pennsylvania Station and a redeveloped surrounding neighborhood.
To avoid a move, businesses of all sizes need both the landlord and the local community to want them to be there. "Public perception and community support are huge -- if you're perceived positively and have great relationships with both the landlord and the community, you probably won't be forced to move your business," says Michael Sinensky, co-founder of Funbars.com which owns and operates Village Pourhouse, Little Town and Tres Carnes in the New York and New Jersey. "I think that's something that people don't generally focus on when they run a business; they just focus on running the business versus worrying about what the community thinks about you. With Madison Square Garden, the community is the entire city."
Here's some expert advice on how entrepreneurs can avoid having to relocate their brick-and-mortar businesses, and how to make any address transition as seamless and stress free as possible:
Negotiate with your landlord. Madison Square Garden has ten years to make their move, but small storefronts may not be as lucky. To avoid any surprise eviction announcements, be sure to negotiate a long-term lease, even if you're a first-time entrepreneur that can't guarantee your business will survive beyond the first year. Protect your space by including the "Good Guy Guarantee" in your contract -- a limited personal guarantee that allows you to honorably exit the lease if profits aren't feasible. "It means that if your business is failing, but you're paid up to date and you have no bills in arrears with your landlord, you can just literally give them your keys and walk away," says Sinensky, who has moved one of his businesses before. "In that situation, a long-term lease is beneficial because if your business works, you're locked in, but you also have the option to walk away if it doesn't, without being on the hook for the entire lease." The guarantee also benefits your landlord, who can hold you personally accountable if you don't pay rent and refuse to move.
Make your business easy to follow. If moving out is necessary for whatever reason -- due to a remodel of your current building or a new vacancy on a better street corner -- make it easy for everyone involved, not just your staff. "A brick-and-mortar move doesn't have to be a bad thing, as long as you have chosen a new location that opens you up to a promising new audience of customers and doesn't inconvenience your current customers," says Danielle Gano, founder and CEO of public relations firm Elle Communications. Be sure to announce the news of your relocation to your community on all your current channels of communication before and after the move, and update any online listings your business has on Yelp, Google Maps, Foursquare, etc. "Depending on your business, customers may go a year -- or even longer -- without visiting you, so it's really important to keep communicating the new location for a long time after the move is over." If you operate multiple locations or related businesses, Sinensky advises cross-promoting the move with on-site flyers, e-newsletters and even your staff's email signatures.
Move into the new community. Even before opening your new location's doors, entrepreneurs need to accept that they're not just moving into a new space, but also a new community. A multi-tiered approach is necessary to effectively spread word of your arrival. "You can't assume that everyone will hear about you from one great article or that everyone can attend one event -- it's important that people hear about the location through several different channels to reinforce it in their minds," says Gano, who advises working several months in advance with key media contacts to secure print placement, contacting industry influencers like bloggers to be brand ambassadors, and hosting several opening events for different audiences (i.e., family and friends, local media, general public). Brick-and-mortar businesses need people in the door to do business, so always give old and new customers a reason to visit your location with a special time-sensitive offer, a delicious menu sample on the street or a rare chance to meet an influential person, says Gano. "You have to really saturate the neighborhood with as much marketing as possible and see what works," says Sinensky. "You can't just try one thing or five things -- if there's ten things to do, you have to do all ten." And even after getting people in the door, make sure your customer experience delivers enough for them to come back to that new location in the future. Adds Sinensky, "Opening is half the battle; actually running it is the other half."