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Location, Location, Location
A real estate baron, Lord Harold Samuel coined the phrase, 'There are three things that matter in property: location, location, location". No other factor is as important to the success of your business than the location you choose.
Location is not the only consideration. You also require a quality product, a clean stand, and friendly employees. You also need signs that are bright and visible from the main road and walkways. None of this will do any good if you can't get customers to your area. Careful determination of new sites is critical for most retail businesses. I can give you some general guidelines and things to consider when making this decision. It's time to put location at the top of your to-do list. Below are some of the things you should consider.
For a basic snow cone stand a little common sense is the primary component in your decisions making. There are software tools that will give you traffic patterns, demographic information and other data, but you should be putting your stand not only in your city, but in neighborhoods you know. You should know, just from living there, the prime areas to be looking to for locations.
You should be looking an area with young families and children or high school kids who can drive. Elementary, middle schools and high schools are good areas. Parks, pools, and childrens sports complexes are also good indicators of the right demographics. High traffic areas like malls, restaurants, and stores are another good indicator. Depending on your city foot traffic or vehicle traffic will be much more important. Another indicator is if there are other kid friendly businesses in the area. Do you see an area with a concentration of ice cream shops, toy stores, arcades or other similar businesses? If these businesses are successful in this area you likely will be to.
Once you've decided on the areas you should be considering then you need to test your locations to see what will work the best. The easiest way to check is to just go out and watch the area. Park in the location you are interested in and watch the traffic. Are there lots of kids running around the local park? Do you see as many cars as you hoped? Are families coming in and out of the local businesses? Sitting and watching on both a weekday and a Saturday can be best way to really get to know an area.
Leasing and Renting
There's more to be done for your snow cone stand at this point. Just because you've found the parking lot or store front of your dreams doesn't mean the work is done. Hopefully there is more than one spot that you think will work for your business. If this is the case you need to start contacting the business owners to sign a lease. Your rental agreement is almost as important as the location itself. A good landlord can make your business run much smoother, but a more difficult one can cause you a substantial amount of problems and stress.
In general there are there are 2 types of business owners you can work with: small business owners and large chain stores. Small business owners are much easier to work with. You can typically deal with the owner personally and the business owner will appreciate the rental income. The corporate headquarters typically handles renting parking lot space for a major chain store. In this case you can't just walk into your local Wal-Mart, Target, or Best Buy and sign a lease. Attempting to deal with a corporate office means spending a lot of time on the phone trying to find the right person to speak with. Even when you find them you have to hope they care enough to call you back. The person on the other end of the phone won't see any of your rental income, but has to make the extra effort necessary to to help you. There is no incentive for this to happen. There are also a number of chains that have a general policy of not dealing with small businesses or renting out parking lot space.
How much you should pay for rent will vary considerable from city to city and location to location. In my experience $250-400 was an average range for rent but this may not be accurate for your situation. I suggest asking around to other snow cone and concession stand owners to get a range of the going rate. Be sure to outline if the lease includes electricity to your stand and the way you get power. Other issues that are easy to forget are where you can empty your dirty water tanks, and dump your trash. You also need to be sure that there are spots for you customers to park and the hours you can keep the stand open. This may seem obvious, but you need to make sure that you and the landlord are on the same page. If you don't spell this out then a different set of ideas may cause you a great deal of problems.
Be aware of all the costs associated with the initial opening of your business and the location. This information is crucial to correctly budgeting and planning for your opening. When it comes to starting a business, underestimating the costs and the time involved in is one of the most common and dangerous mistakes new entrepreneurs make. It's also one of the simplest to avoid.
The best advice I can give someone is to be thorough in your research. There are no perfect or simple answers. Know your city, area, and the particular location. Test your assumptions and do the leg-work to be sure the spot is actually as busy and kid-friendly as you thought it would be. Good luck!