Updated: Jan 8
That’s the mantra for small businesses. Right? Location, location, location. For me, in late 2015, it implied that if I messed up this decision my business would be doomed. Destined to failure before the doors were ever opened.
There are things you hear your whole life. People repeat something. It sounds good and then you pass it along. It is said so often it becomes social dogma. Ingrained into our daily lives.
Soccer is the fastest growing sport in America. The divorce rate is 50 percent. Location is the number one factor toward small business success or failure.
Before I opened my coffee shop and bookstore I was in sales, traveling the country and parts of Europe. In the months prior to exiting that career I went to as many coffee shops as possible. Where were they located? How did they run operations? What was the layout of their lobby?
Some were located in the center of town. Others along major traffic routes; foot or vehicle. Yet I found a few coffee shops off the beaten path. Those were performing as well or better than the others. One in particular was a Starbucks on the northern outskirts of Miami, Florida. Not only was this Starbucks off the beaten path, the parking was terrible, and getting to the parking lot itself was a nightmare. Once I finally got inside to do some work I could barely find a seat.
Before this particular sales trip to southern Florida I had read an article on the importance of business location. I was doing a lot of research about opening and running a small business. This one article stuck with me because it was downplaying the importance of location. In short, the premise of the article was how location is overrated.
Just like with all things we see and learn, one should apply context. For example, Starbucks had something - has something - I still don’t have. Brand name recognition. People will drive through some serious obstacles to get their fix at Starbucks.
But the experience provided me with perspective. The pressure to find the perfect location was eased. Not only did this remove some of my anxiety, it allowed me to search for a location with lower rent. Maybe location is overrated, but it still commands a premium.
After almost four years in business things are going pretty well. Really well, actually. Though I have not reached the all important five year mark, my coffee shop is, so far, a success by every measure. My location is far from the best one. The space I occupy is in a small strip mall, down a block from the main thoroughfare in town. It had been unoccupied for almost a year when I phoned the realtor. I knew of at least two businesses which had rotated through. I was hearing another one of those things we hear without questioning the comment; “that location is jinxed.”
I don’t mean to imply location does not matter. I simply believe it’s importance is often overstated. After just two years running The Coffee Shelf I adopted a saying which I believe sums up this article.
"Great execution can overcome a poor location, but the best location in the world can’t compensate for poor execution."
Every week I hear someone complain about my location. Or my parking. Or I’m asked to open another coffee shop in another town. And I hear this from some of the same customers. People who have been coming to my coffee shop for almost 4 years. Get the point?
If you are looking to someday open a small business, yes, think about location. But weigh it against the cost of real estate (rent or mortgage). The day after you open your doors, when the excitement goes away and the reality of chasing revenue hits you, it’s time to focus on execution. Make sure your business becomes a destination for your customers.