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3 Dogs

Site Selection and Zoning

There is no substitute for getting out there and doing some searching on your own.  After all, you’re the one whose success is based in large part on the location you select.  You are most likely starting the business in an area that you live and know, and feel that there is a void in what existing facilities provide to pet owners in the area.  Here’s a closer look at what you can do to find a location:

–Get on the Internet. Do a search for “Dog boarding and daycare” in your desired area.  Most search engines, like Google, Yahoo or Bing will  map these competitive business locations.  You can also utilize MapQuest, Google Earth, or similar sites to put in a location, and then do a subsequent search on their site to “find nearby businesses”, again put in “Dog Boarding and Daycare”.  Use multiple search sites to do this exercize, as often not all businesses are showen on every site.  As you do this, see where is there a void in terms of convenient locations.

Also, there are often on-line consumer ratings associated with many of these competitors.  Take a look at these, or on sites like Angie’s List to get a feel for services lacking among competitors.  Remember to think like a potential customer and make sure that you feel there is a compelling reason why your location/ business is better for them.

–Visit your local city / municipality zoning office. Do this early on in your search to ensure you know what areas are zoned correctly, or that a “conditional use permit” could be obtained for a desired location.  Your zoning office should know where the city would like to see a business like this—which is a good consumer service and a future tax contributor——can best be located.  It is good to become friends with the zoning office as zoning approval is a critical step on your path to opening.

–Utilize a commercial real estate agent. Try to be as specific as you can about what you need.  How many square feet indoor / outdoor / parking.  We recommend, and can help you with, putting together a brief, 5-6 page PowerPoint presentation that tells who you are, what you are looking for, and your “vision” for your business, including pictures (from other facilities) that demonstrates the quality level of facility that you are planning.  We find that this simple procedure can help get you credibility as having done some homework and thinking about what you want, as well as better communications via “….a picture is worth a thousand words……”

–Assemble the data. Claritas, DemographicsNow, and are examples of demographics firms you can buy information from, but there are free resources, too. The U.S Census Bureau’s Web site and the local Chamber of Commerce are two good ones. You want to understand who lives in the area surrounding your potential store location—the trade area, as it is called. Things like income levels, number of people per household, educational level, and daytime employment are important numbers to have in your evaluation. We can also use this data to help estimate the number of dogs in your targeted area.  Traffic counts are important, too. You can get these from the city or county traffic engineer. It is a general rule of thumb that people will travel further for boarding than daycare—-which needs to be pretty convenient in relation to their daily schedule.   Now, get back in the car with your map and drive through all the areas again, armed with all this new information. Does your experience verify what the data say?

Once you have pinpointed the area you want to locate in, it’s time for step two: narrowing down a specific site. In this phase, you’ll want to consider these factors:

–Location synergy. Fancy words for “you want to be where related businesses are.” If you can be close to Veterinarians, Pet supply Stores, the Airport, Child Daycares, etc it can only help you.

–Visibility. This is an important factor, because if customers can’t see you, you’ll have to spend more money in marketing to tell them you’re there. If your sign is clearly visible from the street, you’re part way there.  However, boarding and daycare is more of a “destination” business than an “impulse” business, so it may not be woth over-paying to get a highly visible property.

–Access. If customers can see you, but can’t easily get to you, you’ve got a problem. Here you need to consider such things as street medians, left-hand turn lanes, traffic signals, and the number of driveway in and out of your site.

–Parking. If there’s no parking, you’r going to have a really tough time. And don’t forget to consider when you need that parking to be available. Generally there are “rush hours” for picking up and dropping dogs off.  If you are sharing a parking lot, there may be lots of parking after work each time you driven by the site, but have you checked it out at during the busy times ?

There is no substitute for driving the streets and doing your own research. By using the data you gather  you’ll have a fuller picture of all the pros and cons of each location — and be well armed to make a good decision.

One last important suggestion :  take the land purchase agreement, or landlord’s lease to a qualified real estate attorney, and have him or her review it. You may spend $1,000 to get his comments, or $2,000 to $3,000 if he or she handles the subsequent negotiations for you. This expense is probably worth it — many times over. You need only one “glitch” in your five- to 20-year relationship with your landlord to make a few thousand dollars seem like the best investment you ever made.   Take site selection and negotiation very seriously, and don’t be in a hurry. Keep in mind that this is a big decision — you are making a sizeable investment and committing to a five- to 20-year lease obligation. Accept the fact that it will probably take a year or more to find the right site, negotiate the right purchase or lease, and open your business.

Back to Stage 1: Business Plan to Financing Approval

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