I began my business in January 2012 by offering computer repair on the side. I literally fixed computers on my coffee table in the evenings and on weekends.
There was no shortage of work. I found myself running home over lunch to continue scans that were in progress, and using vacation time to keep up with the demand.
I did this for two years, but couldn’t continue this pace any longer. On January 6th 2015 I left my job of eleven years. Then three months later I opened a storefront. This is an account of my experience making that transition.
Why a Storefront?
Working from home was great! I could pick the hours I wanted to work, and schedule my work around it.
Take a day off? No problem!
Kid home sick from school? Not an issue, I’m home anyway!
However, the negative side was starting to present itself. Parking is at a premium where we live. I had to schedule clients to avoid traffic congestion in the street out front.
I had intentionally kept my address out of my advertising, and I’m sure this made some people question my legitimacy. But I didn’t want people just showing up since I have a family here.
I also didn’t have the ability to offer merchandise for sale, or to display the refurbished systems I had available. Time to open a storefront!
Once I made the decision to open a retail store I had to find a location. There is a large business district 1 mile from my home and this is the area I focused on. I found a few really nice locations next to larger anchor stores.
Being next to a larger, more established business would be great free advertising. However, at $1,500 a month with a 2 year lease I felt this was too big of a leap. While the business was profitable enough to cover the overhead and still make a profit, I had to keep in mind that I no longer had the income from that $50,000 a year “day job”.
I had heard that an office suite environment might be a more affordable compromise. So after a little more searching I settled on a smaller shop in a 3 tenant building. It’s only half the space of the ones I was looking at, but it’s 60% less per month. Utilities are included, it has plenty of front door parking, and is less than half of a block from a main street.
As an added bonus I picked up the neighboring business as a client. Directly behind it is a very busy gas station. Nothing better for someone to do while pumping gas then to read my sign!
I was expecting this move to be expensive. However, it really wasn’t.
The only cash I had to lay out was for a deposit, a small increase in my business insurance, a check-in counter, inventory, and a security system. All told it was less than $5,000.
By choosing this location I was in a position where I could use my existing cash flow. Had I gone with the first location I probably would have had to tap my business line of credit to get started. I haven’t touched it in 3 years, and I didn’t want to start now.
Setting Up Shop
Moving the business was a stressful ordeal. Things were busy at the time and I couldn’t shut down for the move. I knew that I was going to have twice the bench space at the shop as I did at home, so I simply duplicated the bench area I already had in my home office with new equipment and moved operations to the store. After that I was able to move the home office equipment into the shop.
After setting up the repair area I was only left with around 144 sq ft. I wanted to maximize this space for retail sales so I looked into purchasing some standard store fixtures from a hardware store that was going out of business. These fixtures are bulky, and were going to make my already small retail area even smaller. I decided to use slat-wall instead. I was able to cover the walls with it, and not lose any floor space. They have an endless variety of display accessories available for it as well.
One thing started to occupy my thoughts after the move: overhead. Up to this point the only real overhead I had was my business insurance and remote support software. I knew once I moved I would be increasing my rates.
We haven’t finalized the new rate structure yet, but it looks like a 15% increase is in order. If I could go back I would have raised my rates several months before the move. This would have provided even more cushion should things slow down, as they typically do around here in the spring/summer.
We have been in the storefront a little over 6 weeks now. Merchandise isn’t flying off the shelf, but it is moving. It’s additional income and people like the convenience of being able to pick up a USB drive, wireless mouse, or a ream of paper while they are here.
Since the move my wife has left her job to work in the shop full time. This has allowed me to market our Managed Services Plan to small/home businesses more, while she manages the phones, walk-in clients, and break/fix repairs. While break/fix will always be a large part of our business, Managed services will be our big push going forward.
It’s a little early to tell how the move from home office to storefront has impacted the business, but I have noticed that each week more people just walk in without calling first. This is a very promising trend. It tells me people are finding us online, and like what they see enough to just pack up their device and bring it in.
Although the move to a brick and mortar store was a lot of work, it looks like it will pay off in the long run.
What are your experiences with transitioning from a home office to a store front? Let me know in the comments below!