Its Not Just What You Do, But Where You Do It

//May 7, 2007//

Its Not Just What You Do, But Where You Do It

//May 7, 2007//

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Location is still a magic word, but don’t pay for more than you need.BIZ SPOTLIGHT – Small Business

When Kerwin Ifill, a former retail sales trainer for the Sealy Mattress Co., decided to leverage his 15 years of retail and sales experience and open a store selling women’s designer shoes, location was a chief concern.

“As a retailer, I want to be in a place that’s convenient to customers,” says Ifill, 44, who opened NãJa Footwear last July in New Brunswick. “This area explodes during the daytime, with a lot of people coming in for work or to catch a train. It means a lot of foot traffic for retail stores.”

Location can play a big part in a business’ success, agrees James Kocsi, district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in Newark. Kocsi says his agency worked with Ifill and New Millennium Bank in New Brunswick to line up financing for the venture.

“A good business plan will address the issue of reaching out to customers and making sales,” says Kocsi. “Location can help, and it may be as simple as setting up shop in a high-traffic mall or on the main street of a city or other high-traffic area.”

But a prime location will often carry a higher price tag, he cautions, so some thought should be given to just how exposed a spot the operation needs.

“Does your business need to be in a high-visibility area?” he asks. “If you sell coffee or other products where people come to you, then it may be necessary. But if your business model involves going to a customers’ location—like a plumber or computer network specialist—then location may not be so important. Weigh the costs and benefits before committing yourself to a lease or property purchase.”

Easy access and competition are other issues to consider, says James Barrood, executive director of the Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison. “An establishment like a restaurant or a bank needs to be available to foot and vehicle traffic, and also needs sufficient parking,” says Barrood, “so these can be critical considerations. But a problem arises when an entrepreneur thinks that location is everything and doesn’t consider lease costs or the presence of competitors.”

Ifill says he looked into these kinds of issues before opening NãJa Footwear. “I considered three other locations—Princeton, Westfield and Red Bank—before I settled on New Brunswick,” he recalls. “Princeton had nice demographics, but the rent was high and it was already saturated with high-end women’s shoes stores. Red Bank was attractive, but the competition there was even worse.”

He came close to choosing Westfield, but, as in Red Bank and Princeton, found the town already had a significant number of entrenched competitors.

“This is a good time to enter the New Brunswick market, since the city is still in a transitional period,” Ifill says. “Between existing businesses like Johnson & Johnson’s world headquarters, which employs a lot of women executives and others who come in for our shoes, and new ones, like The Heldrich [a new hotel, luxury condominium and conference center], New Brunswick is being transformed into an upscale area.”

“Some businesses attract customers because they’re a destination location—a business that’s so unique that people will go out of their way to get there,” says Gary Rago, director of the New Jersey Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Rutgers University in Camden. “Think of Ikea. Other businesses may hitch a ride on a nearby destination location.” Ikea runs free shuttle buses from New York City to its Elizabeth store.

Lois DeCaro, owner of Lois DeCaro, Realtors, took advantage of a location’s pull when she opened her real estate brokerage in the Pine Plaza shopping center on Route 10 in Whippany last June. “Pine Plaza functions as a sort of town center, where people are constantly stopping in,” says DeCaro, 50. “I had been advised that most real estate brokers don’t get much walk-in traffic, but in fact about 25 percent of our business is made up of drop-ins.”

In one case, she says, a couple of executives from a telecommunications company that was relocating to the Whippany area were having lunch in a Pine Plaza restaurant, saw her office and stopped in for advice. They ended up retaining her to find a new office for the firm, says DeCaro.

“This space meets all of our needs,” she says, noting that the shopping center is near major highways. “It’s got visibility, draws foot traffic and the price is right.”

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