Successful relocations require preparation and plan for keeping customers

vbridges@newsobserver.comApril 29, 2013 

  • What to consider when choosing a new location

    •  Brand image: Is the location consistent with your image?

    •  Competition: Are surrounding businesses complementary or competing?

    •  Local labor market: Does the area have potential employees, and how long will their drive time be?

    •  Future growth: Do you need a building that you can expand?

    •  Safety: What is the crime rate? Will customers and employees feel safe?

    •  Zoning regulations: Can you conduct your trade at this location?

    •  Finances: Small-business owners also need to evaluate their finances; look for hidden costs such as renovation and equipment upgrade expenses; know the tax rate and wage requirements; and determine whether they qualify for any government economic incentives.

    Source: U.S. Small Business Administration: sba.gov/content/tips-choosing-your-business-location

— When Buck Dickerson learned that Honey’s Restaurant and Catering would have to find a new location, he thought that it might be time to shutter the business that has served the Bull City breakfast, lunch and dinner 24 hours a day for more than 50 years.

“It’s been hard on me,” Dickerson, 55, said. “It is a 24-hour operation. It’s not just a nine-to-five job.”

But Dickerson quickly came to his senses.

“A big part of my motivation in moving instead of closing is my love of the business, my love of my customers, and my loyalty to having 40 to 50 employees,” he said. “I take that seriously.”

Within the past six months, Dickerson learned that Holmes Oil, which owns the Honey’s land and building, is planning to take a different direction with the property at the busy intersection of Guess Road and Interstate 85. Dickerson said he isn’t sure when he will have to move, but expects it to happen in the next four months to a year.

Choosing a location is one of the most important decisions a small-business owner will make, according the U.S. Small Business Administration. But if an established business owner is forced to move, they also have to execute a marketing plan to inform their customers and update their digital presence, local business consultants said.

“Moving is one of the hardest things to do for a business,” said Mike Phillips, owner of Raleigh’s Men at Work Car Care Center, which has had three different locations since 2005. “Do I worry about me having to move soon, or do I prepare myself and give all the energy I need to move forward? And that’s what I decided to do.”

Phillips, 53, operated for 18 years at Blount and Cabarrus streets when he lost his location in 2005 to a condominium. Phillips was mobile for a year while he looked for another downtown location.

In 2006, Men at Work opened at 501 W. Morgan St.

“We got back on our feet when we got that building,” he said. Phillips knew the location would be redeveloped in the coming years, so he opened a second location at 520 W. South St. in September 2011 as a type of insurance. Phillips had to move from the West Morgan Street shop in September 2012.

“Of course, some folks questioned why would you open up so close (to the other location),” Phillips said. “But I had the vision, the foresight to see … eventually we were going to have to move.”

Making preparations

The relocation process, which includes finding a place, negotiating a lease and making improvements, usually takes about six months, said Rhody Dillon, president of Dillon Commercial Real Estate Services in Raleigh.

Small-business owners should turn to a professional who can help them understand the lease and the associated costs, Dillon said.

“Too many times they look at only the cost per square foot and sign a lease, but additional rent clauses and landlord rights to charge for services and other areas in the lease are sort of hidden,” Dillon said. “You don’t pay attention to them, but they could really add up.”

Now is the time to buy if an owner is considering it, Dillon said.

“It’s never been better than right now, but you’ve got to have confidence that your business is going to succeed over the long haul,” Dillon said.

A lot of people, however, are scared to buy because they are concerned about the economy, he said.

After small-business owners identify their new location, they need to inform their customers of the pending move, said Jeremy Sisk, president of Xperience4Higher, a full-service marketing and consulting firm in Durham that focuses on small businesses.

Owners, who have 60 to 90 days notice, should promote the move just like they would a big event or sale, Sisk said. They should communicate the move to customers, create cards with the new address, put a sign on the front door, and mention the change in all of their advertising.

“Have some kind of sale at your new location, like a grand opening, that encourages people to know that you moved and to come and shop with you,” Sisk said.

It is crucial for business owners to update their website, social media and all Internet listings, Sisk said. Those changes can be made manually, or an owner could pay a provider.

Inconsistent addresses and phone numbers will confuse customers and hinder search engine optimization.

“If these citations are out of sync, your ranking is going to fall,” Sisk said.

Staying with customers

Honey’s, known for its 24-hour breakfast and country-cooking menu with more than 400 items, opened in the early 1960s by Honey Enterprises, a Charlotte-based company that once owned restaurants and hotels in the Carolinas, but is now focused on commercial real estate. Dickerson started working the late shift at Honey’s around 1980.

Over the years, Dickerson and his brother Mel managed and co-owned the business with Honey Enterprises. The Dickersons completely acquired it in 2008. Mel Dickerson retired in 2009, leaving the company with Dickerson.

Dickerson’s plan, he said, is simple. He is looking to lease a location within a two-mile radius of the current location.

“It’s where all my customers are,” he said.

The new space will likely be smaller than the current 5,000-square-foot building, the menu will be streamlined, and Dickerson also hopes to add a drive-thru.

“This is the bottom line,” Dickerson said. “If you serve good food, and you give good service, people will come to you.”

Bridges: 919-829-8917

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