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buildout tip - keep it MOVING...

Currently, I am working toward building out my fourth store. At this point, I can ensure you that buildouts are typically a love--hate relationship. The end, no matter what the struggle until then, should be love. Every other point until then, not so easy, and typically settles somewhere between aggravating and hate within you. As I have learned through trial and error, I can share with your confidently, be patient, never give an opening date more than 2 weeks before the date, and stay positive (no matter how hard somedays are, and they will be). A friend once told me this, and I still remember it often today…

Someone out there is holding their breath and hoping you fail. Make sure they suffocate.

My current buildout is in the city of Pittsburgh. It is my first location not in Suburbia, and my first experience with the many hiccups and bottlenecks of the city planning and permit review system. Every step has been rather painful so far, but the endgame keeps me focused. Our layout is solid, our spot is awesome, and one way or another, I will make the execution work. Remember as you begin, no one has more invested in your success than you, so this is just another proof of your skill level.

Once our spot was solidified (as we went through lease negotiations and met reasonable

terms), hire an architect to tour your space and give you input. Architects typically are familiar with the codes and regulations of the jurisdiction, so use them to give you needed insight. To be sure the experience with architects is the most beneficial possible, understand your equipment requirements, the spec sheets on your equipment, and layout ease. If you have more than one thing requiring a drain, be sure you have a drain. If your register uses WIFI, be sure you have the proper hookups to get that. I also typically have my architect file for our starting permits, but your contractor can as well. If you are waiting for your contractor to, keep in mind that can be a project delay unless you hired your contractor and architect simultaneously. I reviewed the spot, had drawings done, and had our architect team submit for the permits. While that was being done, we took bids from contractors on the space and decided who would best meet our needs. By the time contractor negotiations ended, we were only a week away from receiving our permit, versus 6-8 weeks if we would have waited for the contractor to file. My tips to you involving contractor selection…get references; inquire about their past projects; understand their familiarity with working in the area and its codes/regulations; ask questions about any subcontractors they may use; be sure their bid is fair; go with your gut. I cannot stress enough, trust your gut. Anytime I have doubted mine, I lost in the end.

Next, it is important to remember, no matter how perfect your plans, reviews and edits will need made. Keep your main execution points intact, and you will be fine. We received our permit and have since started our buildout. We are in our second week, and I believe we have already made about 15 edits to the plan. One thing you will learn, there is no perfect plan. Somehow, something will always be a moving piece. Is the paint getting done too late, does the framing have enough electrical outlets, is the floor getting done too early, is the inspection delayed, is the equipment working properly…honestly, embrace the chaos. The best businesspeople react and adapt quickly, and this is a great opportunity to learn. As you do so, remember you are the one who must push the contractors, keep timelines intact, and work toward your hopeful/needed open date. Do not feel bad for being aggressive with due dates and redo’s. It is your dream, make it happen as best to your plans as possible.

Beast mode on, feelings will have to be put on the back burner, and the true business persona in you must be come out. I have had more than one conversation where I may have doubted my approach, but honestly, straight and to the point works for me. I do not want to dance in unneeded details. Figure out your strategy and go with it. Buildouts are not for the weak and you are not going to be successful if you cannot communicate your expectations.

Now that your buildout is underway, have a timeline. Make a timeline. Again, have a timeline. Know what is happening when, where and how. The finish line is set, but how are we moving to it, and in the best approach? The timeline should include framing, floor prep and set, drywall work, painting, case work, HVAC installation, plumbing install, equipment delivery dates, electrical, etc. The more thorough it is, the better you will be later. I will comment with the timeline, use it and love it, but understand some delays are out of your control. Examples include permit approval, inspections, or delivery date issues. Knowing your areas of exposure in advance, however, make you more prepared to deal with them and stay on track later.

At this point, with a contractor, timeline and hopefully permit in hand, execution. Whether you hire a general contractor or not, I would recommend (especially if your first buildout), to do progress updates at least weekly. Are you on schedule? Is the space moving the way you envisioned? Have you taken into account local codes and regulations? Get your health department (if applicable) involved and know your requirements to meet inspections and keep your permit valid. Do homework now, later will cost you money.

Since that is all rolling, my favorite part of the buildout comes into play, the aesthetics. The design, the colors, the furniture, the artwork…all have the capability to change a consumers impression of the entire business, without even getting to the product yet. In today’s society, depending on your target market, looks matter. Decor is noted, added extras are appreciated. As you pick out decorations, keep in mind how it pairs with your product and overall layout, and always consider the perception to the consumer. Have fun here, create the soul of your business, tell a story with your space. The monetary investment here, if done right, will pay dividends long past what you put out and in more ways than one.

Good luck, and I will leave you with these reflection points:

1. Use every reference you have, in regards to everything. Do not be afraid to ask for help/input/suggestions. Asking does not commit you to taking it, but experience is an amazing teacher, and if you have people who have experience with buildouts, ask them questions/tips, anything really. Location good? Size of spot good? Does the business have a market?

2. If you do not have patience, invest in a lot of alka seltzer. Unfortunately, no matter how well-planned out you think you are being, there will be hiccups and hurdles. It will be hard, very hard. You will be stressed. Go in knowing every part of your patience will be tested, and the only way to get to the finish line is to pick battles carefully. Trust me, picking them all will not create a win for anyone.

3. The more you think of in advance, the better situated you will be. That said, you will never be able to anticipate everything. You are working to be a business owner though, and their skill is at times solely measured by their ability to react. So be present, and remember each day completed puts you one closer to your dream (hopefully).

4. No matter how much room you have, or think you have, in time you will always want more. Be cautious to utilize the space to its fullest, putting shelves in open areas and not wasting inches, or worse, feet. As you grow, the space quickly shrinks, so build it with that thought in mind now.

5. Whatever your budget it, you will go over it. Plan accordingly.

6. If you are building out a commercial space that will experience heavy traffic, remember that. Remember too that no matter how much scotch guard you put on a cloth couch, it will be ruined. Buy furniture and fixtures that fit your goals, expectations and expected customer base. Sometimes, the cute fluffy white chair that looks great in your bedroom, will be an expensive fail in a commercial buildout. If you do not need kids benches because your business market does not involve them, then do not add it. This is your dream, this is your execution, remain focused and clear with your follow-thru.

7. Enjoy it. I said after my first buildout, never again. Now I am on my fourth buildout and also did a move in there for one of our locations. There is something amazing about turning 4 walls into what was once, a dream in your head. You got this. you amazing soul. Do not quit; crying is okay, and remember, there is a finish line waiting.

until next time,


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