By Tony Ozelis

One of the Many Supporting Ingredients to a Successful Location

We’re going to talk about one of the absolute essential ingredients that many great businesses have and possibly a great hedge against any of your competitors coming in to your trade area one day and eating your lunch (Including most of the big boys).

Without question, one of the single most treasured twinkles that any location can have… is Character. Now, don’t get me wrong…don’t think you can just walk down the street and find it. It’s usually not that simple and many times, it takes a trained eye...and the right zoning to make it happen.

The Big DuckAnother thing; we’re not taking about “Follies” or “Duck Buildings” here. Those are buildings, similar to the cute twenty-foot tall duck on the right that are designed to resemble the products they sell…no, when it comes to a location with Character, we’re speaking of more subtle positive design or other physical attributes.

Depending upon your use, there’s usually a lot more to finding a good potential location than just finding a building, a neighborhood or even a district that has some unique characteristics. Truthfully, it’s one of the “X” factors in good real estate development and just about every market has a few of them around. The prize? Creating that right place, with the right character, for the right use, can be priceless…and even very profitable.

It’s one of the best ways to compete with the big boys on their turf, simply because of the malaise that usually occurs in the corporate conference rooms. There; designers, operations and finance people all meet in a corporate tug-of-war of sorts. The operators are usually focused on floor plans that support higher sales volume and still retain an ease of maintenance, while the designers wanting to flex their designer muscles and create an environment or experience, are usually heavily restrained by the bean counters. Most companies today are more concerned with sales volume over customer experience, with the innocent bystander in all of this being character, which in turn creates the opportunity for you.

Not a big deal you say? In 2007, Howard Shultz, the man and brains behind Starbucks meteoric rise, said in a corporate memo; "Our stores no longer have the soul of the past" and he was absolutely right. It seems the Sirens of high volume prompted some in their design department to value customer queue lines in exchange for the comfy couches and inviting overstuffed chairs that were the original soul or essence of the place. No longer did Starbucks offer their loyal customer base a unique kick-back and chill experience. They started to become no different than their cheaper competitors, like Dunkin Donuts.

Fortunately for the brand, it was Mr. Shultz himself who discovered this, and since then, they are making efforts to get back their character…the mojo that made them cool in the first place. In an effort to avoid the same fate, Chipotle, the successful Mexican restaurant concept, does a really good job at making each one of their restaurants different in its own way. Although they use uniform building materials, they take great pains in making sure each of their interiors are distinctive and therefore creating a certain character that makes each visit unique for its customer.

Not to complicate things, but Character is not limited to just the physical design of the space or building; it could be the location itself. It could be a freestanding building with parking in a central business district (a CBD), or the end cap of a shopping center closest to the parking lot. And what works for one use, may not work for others.

We’ve all seen the little convenience store at the foot of a bus or train stop, or that McDonald’s restaurant conveniently located right off a freeway exit. You think that’s a coincidence? No way, Jose. Sometimes character comes in the form of the vacant lot, an old industrial building or even a former church building. Yup…you can manufacture it and careers have been made in the real estate and design fields by those smart enough to identify it…sure, even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while, but the real pros know how to create them with little to no effort…they sniff them out like pigs to truffles. Think of it as one of the many art forms that dwell within responsible site selection.

Although you should always look at your business through the eyes of your customers, you should look at your location through the eyes of your competitors. Many of the big boys are good at creating a customer experience in the parking lot, and then continue it in to the store or restaurant from there. Try as they may, your competition will have to climb a pretty big mountain to catch up to you.

Does good Character ever replace good access or visibility? No…it doesn’t. Think of Character as a supporting ingredient rather than the main course, kind of like the sprinkles on top of a sundae. When you are on a level playing field with your local competitors, including the big boys, a good site with can give you a winning edge.


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About the Author: Tony Ozelis is a real estate development consultant and frequent contributor to  Mr. Ozelis' 23 year career has primarily been focused on restaurant and retail development throughout the United States where he has served as a Director of Real Estate for companies such as Pizza Hut, Inc., Boston Chicken, 7-Eleven and Wendy's International.

With well over 700 successful projects completed to date; he has been at the forefront of incorporating new technologies into corporate real estate development and regularly teaches on subjects such as; Strategic Market Development Planning, Contract Negotiations and incorporating Green Technologies into site design.

Mr. Ozelis is a member of both the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) and the United States Green Building Council (USGBC).

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