Viviana Langhoff, owner and fine jewelry designer of Adornment and Theory, outlines her business's expansion process.
Expanding your business is a monumental step. Whether you're adding square footage to your current space or opening a new location, there are many things to consider and steps that need to be taken to set yourself up for success. Viviana Langhoff is the owner of Adornment & Theory, an independent jewelry store in Chicago that specializes in artist- and designer-made jewelry. The original, intimate 750-square-foot, brick-and-mortar space was split into a retail area and a smaller back office and workshop space. "Every square inch was utilized the most efficiently as possible," said Viviana. And while that was workable, she also knew it was time to expand.
It started with figuring out how she wanted to expand. Did that mean moving to a completely new location? Was there an opportunity to expand in the same space? Viviana was very methodical with her planning, knowing that it had to be the right fit for her business—both physically and fiscally. After weighing her options, she ultimately took advantage of expanding into the storefront next door.
And this opportunity wasn't by just luck—it was a relationship that Viviana built "in fat" over time with her landlord. "So building in fat, meaning, I remember the person's birthday. I'm friendly and pleasant in my correspondence with them, but I'm also very clear and assertive. I don't beat around the bush. I don't want to waste their time. They don't want to waste mine. And I also do research on my position points so that I already know that I'm in a reasonable range. And I feel more secure when I have the direct ask."
Viviana set a strong foundation of direct communication with her landlord, and she's proven herself as a valuable tenant. This track record made her an asset that her landlord wanted to keep around, and it allowed her to make requests for what she wanted as a tenant. So when you've decided to expand, what's next?
"I started by asking [the property manager] for all of the measurements and layout. And then I designed every square inch of the space before I even approached one contractor. With retail, you have to divide the space by square footage and know how much you're getting out of each piece of square footage.
"Then I had several contractors come in. I had Zoom calls with them as they did a walkthrough of the space. And before they came in, I had already emailed them the layout, the renderings, and everything per number. I already knew the HVAC systems. I already knew all the things, so that was really helpful. My brother owns a construction company in Florida, large commercial build outs, and I was also able to check the numbers against his, just to make sure that things were fair."
Viviana pulled out all the stops when it came to planning, giving her the best opportunity to expand her business successfully. And with that came an abundance of support from her community.
"We were met with a really great reception. It gives people a sense of hope and just joy. It's like oh, one of our favorite businesses is growing. A minority, women-owned business is expanding. We got a lot of love from people and the numbers have been growing."
Here's a quick look at some other learnings from this episode:
- Grow without overextending. Manifesting your business goals is great, but you want to balance ambition with realistic expectations. Viviana is fiscally conservative and decided to grow her business but not overextend just for sake of growth.
- Always consider both price and reputation. When choosing a contractor, sometimes paying a bit more is worth the high-quality work and value of their word.
- Find time to rest and recharge. Big projects like expansions and new locations can create imbalances in the rest of your life. Your work will still be there when you return, but you need the time to reboot.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Viviana, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners every Thursday.
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