Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Commercial Real Estate and the Thrift Store Faith Venture

Over the years at Bud's Warehouse, I have often joked that we have made a habit of preceding future loft developments. We have had to move from two prior warehouse locations because of the development of lofts. Bud’s moved from another location because of the development of a business complex. Recently, our Baby Bud's project closed operations at the Colfax and Peoria location because of the Fitzsimmons neighborhood redevelopment. Moving a business, especially one with 20,000 square feet of building materials, is not for the faint-of-heart and fraught with all sorts of retail risks. Will our customers follow us? Will the new location be visible enough? Will we be in a convenient location for our program participants?

Commercial Real Estate is a difficult but extremely important undertaking for any retail business. The location of a business is one of the top factors for retail success or failure. For thrift store faith ventures, commercial real estate becomes an even bigger challenge. One must balance the need for a visible location near your customer base with nonprofit budget constraints. So you find yourself wrestling with the inevitable tough question: Should we move into donated space in a lousy location or rent expensive space in a high-traffic area?

At Belay Enterprises, we've pursued both approaches with mixed results. We spent six years running Baby Bud's out of a donated space, slowly watching our customers disappear because of community redevelopment. Yet, we found it hard to give up free rent for a move to a better location...until we were forced out. But now, while we are moving into our new space at Martin Luther King and Downing in Denver, I sense that the better location with rent will result in an increase in sales beyond our rise in expenses. As we've seen at Bud's Warehouse over the years, renting the best retail location you can afford will often outweigh the less attractive donated site. When devising your business plan, build in enough of a budget for a visible location and it will have a positive impact on your mission.

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