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bUildOuts. lOve tHem or hAtE tHem.

How many of you have ever thought about starting your own business? Being your own boss? Chasing the all American small business dream? I will tell you, some days it is the best gig going, but others, nothing but turbulence...

Today let’s talk about buildouts and offer some business advice. I secretly love them, but they are frustrating messes of inspections, proper fittings, plumbing, electric and aesthetics. Taking four walls though and turning it into a cool meeting place, nothing better. I still remember my first buildout vividly. It was the longest six months of my life and the end seemed to be nowhere in sight.

I had an A-Frame sign outside the building with a grand opening month that I was putting tape over nonstop. July – Aug – eventually to October 30. After we opened I still remember telling my first employee hired at churn, that there was no way I would ever do another churn because I never wanted to venture into another buildout process.

Now, after almost 4 complete buildouts, here is some knowledge I will share with you to do as you wish with. To start I will also include this fact; I was on site for my buildouts and controlled most of them, including deadlines and inspections. I learned a lot, tested every nerve in my body, and realized quickly where exceptions can and cannot be made to hit marks and keep the endgame intact. If you hire a qualified general contractor you do not need to be on site, but if that is your route be sure your architect does detailed plans with your vision in mind. I would also mention to be sure and verify your spec sheets are exact, with color coding, proper electrical needs and measurements documented. Do not neglect to check all regulations you are under before starting construction, to save more time and aggravation. Drains, sinks, pipes, ventilation…not bad to add on or change at the beginning, but adjusting or adding on during gets pricey...quick.

General feedback, here goes:

· If anyone tries to tell you men and women are on the same playing field, treated as equals, they are in a cloud.

· If you want to ensure it is done right, especially at start-up, do it yourself or have a direct hand in it, at least your first time around.

· If you set a budget, add 30% to it if you want make it to opening day with funds.

· Treat everyone with respect, but understand there is a line where they can start taking advantage of you. Be nice, but you are the one with everything on the line. Always keep your end goal in sight, and understand any issues coming up delaying that. No matter what, go in knowing at some point you may have to fire someone. If you cannot face that and cringe at direct confrontation, you are not cut out for this. Stop now.

· Get everything in writing. Unfortunately, the handshake system of my grandfather is no more.

· Be proactive in your thinking, considering alternatives for problems that may/can arrive. I do not go into any location without a checklist in mind of what I need to see to consider the spot. ADA bathrooms, square footage, drains, etc. Understand your needs, because if you do not, your pocketbook will pay the price.

· Before you start, be sure you have a customer base in mind and that base is available in the area you are at. Location does matter, and at times you may have to sacrifice money for a location to get you closer to your target market. People think they can beat a bad location with increased direct marketing; but that is short-term sight. Pick a spot that fits your goals, be reasonable, but understand sometimes the exposure of a spot and the higher costs of that can pay off much quicker than a bad spot.

· Do not expect your first year to be amazing. Hopefully it will be, but depending on your business, you yourself probably have a lot to learn. I always told myself before I started I would work at Starbucks to see the procedures and scheduling systems, but those things do not happen. They are not bad ideas, but time quickly becomes your most scarce asset. Go in knowing you are learning too, sometimes from customers, sometimes from your own errors and sometimes from your employees. You will never know everything, and understanding from the start that the market continually changes and you have to adapt will help you tremendously to stay competitive and survive.

· A picture is worth a thousand words, so be visual. You can write trying to sell yourself or your product, but at the end of the day, pictures sell. Use minimal words and maximum photography, and make the photography interesting and not redundant. When I first started I remember thinking, we will be more sophisticated and drop pictures…use calligraphy and different color fonts for attention, but nope. Quickly after adding just a few pictures we realized every picture item was a top seller.

· Put a banner up as soon as you start construction, but do not list a date. Coming soon works, and gives you some freedom to get through inspections and buildout. Banners create buzz, buzz is good.

· Name your business something simple, yet effective. People too often choose something that is hard to understand, such as a general name or a word that’s meaning is vague. People might see your business sign and that is your one chance to grab their interest. Use your name as an easy sales tool into what you are. As you grow and brand, remember, your name will be everywhere, so the more it is understood, the more likely you are creating interest in people’s minds.

Small business is the heart of our country, and though the current situation is rough, I still believe in small business. They are the creatives, the thinkers, the problem solvers, the ones who work best under pressure and against odds. They are my people, and I wish every one of them nothing but the best.

Until next time…

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