In a previous post I’ve talked about on-site versus in-shop repairs and how to choose the best business model for your computer repair business. Now I’d like to take that a step further and explore the age-old question: Should I continue to run my business from home or is it time to open up a physical store?
As always, I like to explore the pros and cons of both situations. This helps me understand which approach would be best for my business based on my goals. Here are some points to consider when weighing the possibility of opening up a storefront.
Pros of a Storefront
It’s tempting to want to take your business to the next level and have a storefront. It’s a physical embodiment of your brand and all of your hard work. Lets take a look at some reasons why this is a good idea.
If you live in a studio apartment, there are only so many customer computers you can accommodate. That’s not including spare parts, office equipment, and anything else you might need to run your business. If you find yourself running out of space in your home and moving to a bigger place is not an option, a store front might be the best move for you.
Also, I feel it’s important to have a relative separation of your business and personal spaces. If your bedroom is also your office is also your repair desk, you may find it hard to work professionally when you’re sitting 5 feet from your bed. Get a storefront and you’ll then be able to keep all your business equipment in a separate location and it won’t be encroaching on your private space.
If you’re looking to grow your business larger than a one man show, you’ll need to start hiring employees. Although you can hire employees without a store front, it makes it much easier when you have a rally point other than your home.
A potential downside to working from home, and one that I face often, are the distractions. At home, your office will be in close proximity to your TV, kitchen, bed, and yard…all of which may provide tempting distractions throughout the day. You may also have family members at home vying for your attention. It’s tough to set the work/life boundary when working at home. In your own shop, you’ll be removed from all of these distractions. You’ll be in an environment (hopefully) that’s conducive to work.
There’s only so many customers you can service in a day as an on-site computer repair tech. To take your repair business to the next level you’ll need to stay put and have people bring their systems to you. While this is still possible from your home office, it may not be the best idea to have your customers coming over to your private residence. There may also be zoning issues in your town that frown on customers coming to your home.
Cons of a Storefront
Opening up a shop on Main Street may seem like an enticing idea. But there are more responsibilities and less flexibility involved in such a decision. Take these points into account before jumping in.
Although it is possible, it’s tough to run a storefront business all by yourself. That’s because running a store-front, at a minimum, involves greeting customers, handling customer issues, answering phones, and repairing systems. You couldn’t possibly do all of these things to a satisfactory level on your own. In that case, you’ll need to be ready to hire employees, which is a whole new topic onto itself. Just ask yourself if you’re willing to take on that burden before jumping into a brick-and-mortar business.
Does your schedule change every week? Do you like the freedom of choosing what time of day, or day of the week, that you work? If you like your work hours to be flexible, a store front might not be for you. A physical shop will normally need to keep regular hours in order to service drop-offs and pick-ups. You could hire employees to cover shifts that you’re not available, but even they will need the courtesy of a boss who keeps somewhat regular hours.
One big consideration when working out of a storefront is the ongoing cost. You’ll not only be paying to lease the space, but you’ll also be paying taxes and utilities on the space as well. This is in contrast to your home, which you’re already paying for and which you can deduct the portions of it used for business.
You’ll also need to keep up the interior and the exterior including updated signage and advertisements. This will be easier with employees, but it’s still a significant increase in extraneous activity when compared to working from home.
It’s hard to change the direction of your business when you have a store front. If you decide that you want to move your business in the direction of website development or software training, a brick and mortar shop with hard drives on the shelves and a work bench for repairing PCs will become an unnecessary burden. While working from home, all you need to do is change your website a bit and you’re a new company!
Other Things to Consider
Location, Location, Location
If you do decide to open a storefront, it’s success will depend greatly upon the location. You want a store that’s easily accessible, in a high-traffic area, and in a different area than your competition. Sure, you can open a store off the beaten path and still rely on customer’s word of mouth and advertising to bring people in. However, the amount of extra customers you’ll need to cover the extra expenses of a store front means you’ll want to bring in as much traffic as possible. Location is therefore an important factor.
What are Your Goals?
Before jumping into opening a store front you need to asses your goals. Do you envision yourself planting roots in the community, hiring employees, franchising, repairing/selling hardware, and working standard hours? If yes, then a store front might be for you. If you want to have more flexibility and the option to shift gears quickly, it may be best to stick to your home office.
There’s actually a great way to compromise between working from home and renting a corner store in your town.
No I’m not talking about the movie (though it is a hilarious flick for folks who have ever worked the 9 to 5 grind) but I’m talking actual office space. More often then not, a small suite in an office park is often cheaper to rent and easier to maintain than a brick and mortar store front. With your own office outside of your home you’ll have the benefit of less distractions, more space, and room to grow. You’ll also have the option to hire employees or not, as there will be no need for someone to man the “front counter”.
You can basically treat your office space as a home base for your computer business. You can accept drop-offs if you want and not worry about people coming to your home. You also have the flexibility to shift your business model quickly since you won’t have a store front that needs overhauling.
The major disadvantage here is the lack of visibility. You will not get random walk-ins in an office building. But because you’re cutting costs in other ways though, it may be worth sacrificing the few extra customers a retail storefront would bring.
So what did I decide is best for my business? Well, having recently started my computer business full time, I’m still trying to find a business model into. I’m seeing signs that hardware break/fix is becoming less and less of a commodity as computers become cheaper and more reliable. Yet I still really enjoy helping people solve computer problems.
For the moment I’m going to continue working from home. I have no desire to hire other employees. I like the flexibility of being a solo consultant. If I do ever consider taking my busniess out of my home, it will probably be to an office space instead of a store front. I’m just not the type of person who wants to be tied down to a brick and mortar shop.
In the end the decision to run your computer business out of a store front is a personal one. If anything, I would recommend that you run your computer business out of your home first, and then grow into another location if you choose. There’s just too much risk and up-front cost to justify jumping into a brick and mortar shop from the get-go.
Now I’d like to hear from you. I know I have readers who run their business from all the locations I mentioned above. Why do you choose to run your business from the location you’re running it form now? Do you plan to change that in the future?