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Location and Leasing

Provided by My Own Business, Content Partner for the SME Toolkit

OBJECTIVE: A poor location or a poorly negotiated lease can cripple a wonderful business. Every business has its own location criteria. In this session you will define your criteria, learn how to select the right location, create a site model, and recognize the important aspects of a lease agreement.

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Location, Location, Location

Jack Edwards
Commercial Real Estate Broker
"Most retail businesses require good accessibility and visibility."
Transcription - html

Whether you are a moonlight entrepreneur or full-time, at some time real estate issues will become important to you. The success or failure of most retail businesses will hinge on the owner's selectivity and judgment in picking the right location.

An initial step in business is to decide where you will live and where your business will be located. You may have the opportunity to relocate to an area where you would really enjoy living and working.

Zoning Categories

Every city has a Planning Department at City Hall. You will be dealing with this and other municipal departments and agencies that have discretionary authority to approve or disapprove your intended plans.

Phil Holland Founder, My Own Business Phil Holland
Founder, My Own Business
Play Video
Could you offer some suggestions about locating a business and signing a lease?

You can no longer rely on zoning codes to determine what the rules are in your desired location. Your intended location will often be subject to "precise plan" approval, environmental impact assessment and other regulatory issues.

You may find yourself appearing before a review board that can often seem unreasonable in their decisions. Many cities have redevelopment agencies authorized to impose conditions even more stringent than those established by local codes.

One shopping center developer was so frustrated with the demands of city agencies that he finally threw up his hands and sold off his rights to the property. The new owner succeeded in developing the property. His secret, "I went into City Hall and told them that I would do anything they wanted me to do-----and did it."

Now, obviously there will be times when unreasonable conditions will make a location for your business unattractive. In such cases you should unemotionally look for another location.

Criteria for Home Based Business

Be sure your home business is permitted and you have the license required by the city. Many homes have an association with regulations for the owners. Check to ensure you are in compliance.

Criteria for a Manufacturing, Warehousing, Industrial Business

  • Allow for future expansion
  • Convenient for employees
  • Accessibility
  • Available labor force
  • Appropriate utilities
  • Convenient to freight and express delivery systems

Criteria for a Retail Business

Each retail and commercial business has its own criteria. For example, a donut shop should be located on the "going-to-work" side of the street. On the other hand, a convenience store may be best positioned on the side of the street with traffic going home from work.

The selection of your first location will have an overwhelming impact on your chances for success.

In Session One you analyzed businesses that are similar to the one you chose. Did you analyze where they were located and why?

  • Select the appropriate type of center (mall, strip, mini). Some business do best in a large center but some, like Mini-Marts, video stores and laundromats, do better in much smaller centers. Others do well located on the street front, such as florist, nursery or antique stores.
  • Demographic data will provide you information about the neighborhood. It will inform you about the population, the number of households, estimated population by race, age and income level within a one, two or five mile radius. You can find firms that supply this information on the Internet. Go to major search engines and enter "demographic data."
  • Donna Strachan Beauty Salon Owner Donna Strachan
    Beauty Salon Owner
    Play Audio
    Do what you do best, don't try to be all things to all people.
  • Walk and talk the area. You will be surprised how much you can learn by talking to customers, employees and owners.
  • Traffic count is very important because it will give you the number of cars at the intersection. You can also get the pedestrian count, which is great for drop-in or walk-in business. This report can be obtained from the local traffic department.
  • Visibility and signage. Customers must know you are there. They should be able to see your store. Usually the end or corner location is better, which is why the rent for those spaces is higher. Get the biggest sign you can. Tell the public clearly what you are selling. Examples: Travel, Gifts, Pets, tell the products. Both your lease and the city ordinances will have limitations regarding your signs.
  • Access and parking: Be sure you have adequate and convenient parking. Avoid streets with dividers or one-way traffic. Customers prefer stores where the parking is in the front.
  • Proximity to competition: Know where your competitors are located. You can get the names and address out of the Yellow Pages. Find out what your competition is doing and how they are doing it.

Generators (anchors): These are the big national stores in a mall or shopping center. For example, Albertson's, Nordstrom, Wal-Mart and/or McDonald's will help to bring customers into the center. The closer your business can be to generators, the better it usually is for your business.

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Leasing Do's and Don'ts

Larry Tien
A B Photo Service
"Make sure either your product or your service is the best."
Transcription - html

Leasing "Do's"

Retain a real estate lawyer to assist you in negotiating your lease or purchase. A five-year lease on a KES1,000 per month space is KES60,000 (probably a personal obligation) and may well be your largest obligation for your beginning business.

Most retail stores leases are Net, Net, Net (NNN) leases (a.k.a., Triple Net Lease) meaning that you as tenant will pay for the taxes, insurance, gardening, utilities, security, trash and sewer, litter, graffiti removal and repairs. This charge is based on the square footage of your space. CAM (Common Area Maintenance) charges can be costly so find out the estimated cost per month before signing the lease. CAM charges can vary but will normally include parking lot sweeping and repair and all aspect of common area upkeep.

George Flowers Commercial Real Estate Broker George Flowers
Commercial Real Estate Broker
Play Video
What are some terms to be watchful of when negotiating a lease?

Ask for options. At the end of your base term you can then renew the lease or move. Try to keep your initial term short. There are some compelling reasons to have a short term lease with options:

  • Your business may not be successful at your initial location. A short-term lease will minimize your overall rent obligation.
  • You need flexibility in lease terms to accommodate growth. Start-up businesses frequently find that their growth rate is more rapid than expected.

Consider the possibility that you need to expand your business and will need more space. To provide for this, your lease could provide that if you need more room, your space can be expanded, you can move to another location in the center or you can cancel your lease.

Leasing "Don'ts"

Don't hurry your decision. There is no such thing as the last good location.

Don't judge entirely on rent. Pay fair rent for an outstanding location. Don't let the lessor dictate all the lease terms.

Points to Consider Before Signing a Lease or Purchasing Property

  • Is the location the best available in the area where you want to be?
  • Does it meet your own specific criteria?
  • Are utilities and tenant improvements adequate?

Lease Check-Off List (See Attached Exhibit: "Commercial Lease")

Figure (1)

Larry Tien A B Photo Service Larry Tien
A B Photo Service
Play Audio
Do what you do best, don't try to be all things to all people.

Rent: is the rent comparable to other rents in the same location?

Term: is your lease for a short-term (a year or less) or long-term?

Floor area: how much square footage of the space? Rent and CAM charges are base on the square footage of your space.

Common area maintenance charges (CAM): what are the estimated charges for a year?

Options: do you have options to renew the lease after the first term expires?

Rent increase: is it a fixed rent increase or is it based on the CPI (Consumer Price Index). If so, negotiate a percentage cap.

Percentage rent: some landlords will ask for fixed rent plus a percentage (of your sales) rent. An issue to negotiate.

Tenant improvements: put the agreement in writing as to the responsibilities of the landlord and your responsibilities to do the necessary improvements to get the space open for business. Landlord's Construction Exhibit "C" should be made a part of the lease. Please refer to the sample exhibit furnished in this session.

Right to assign or sublet: Landlord's consent "not to be unreasonably withheld"

Signs: be specific with exhibit and description

Provision for expansion requirements: if you think your business will be expanding

Parking rights: be sure that adequate parking spaces are provided. In most retail centers tenants share "common area parking" rights. Nearby restaurants or theatres can monopolize the parking spaces you require.

Personal guarantee: avoid, if possible. If it is required, ask your lawyer to review this clause carefully.

Exclusive: ask that no other business similar to yours be allowed in the center if it's appropriate.

All leases have Exhibits

Figure (2)

  1. Site plan, which is a drawing of the inside of the store, restrooms, windows, doors, A/C vents and utilities.
  2. Sign criteria, put in a drawing of the type of sign you want, be sure to state color and size.
  3. Construction obligations, state exactly what the landlord will do and what you will do.
  4. Special requirements of tenant

To Rent or to Buy Considerations

  • For start-ups, primary consideration is that capital is needed for the business
  • Are requirements going to change? If so, renting is probably preferable
  • Are there tax and borrowing incentives available to buy?
  • Some make more on the real estate than on the business. Talk to Community Development Department.
  • Ownership fixes future cost and availability of the location

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Do Your Homework

  • Completely fill out a standard lease form with contingencies necessary for your particular business
  • Attend local Chamber of Commerce meetings to find out about community opportunities and concerns
  • Fully evaluate a specific location, including the completion of a "Site Criteria" table
  • Maintain contact with the Community Development Department
  • Find and get to know a good real estate lawyer
  • Negotiate an actual lease as a dry run practice

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Site\Location Criteria

You can create your own "Site Model" in order to maintain objectivity when evaluating locations for your business. This can be done by assigning different values to the factors that are most important for your particular business. Then each location can be evaluated against these measurements.

Some things to keep in mind in site selection:

  • There's no such thing as the "last good location."
  • Copycatting your most successful competitor's site criteria can help avoid making mistakes.
  • If you are building a chain of stores, never sign a lease on your second location until your first location is profitable and proven.
  • It is better to pay fair rent on a great location than pay great rent on a fair location.
  • Don't rely on leasing agents to make your site decisions.
  • Driving streets and walking neighborhoods is a good way to scout for locations.

The following form will give you a methodical approach for evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each potential location.

First, evaluate your site location for each factor on a scale of 1 to 10. Number 10 being the highest.

Second, decide the importance of each factor to your particular business on a scale of 1 to 5. Number 5 being the most important.

Multiply the grade by the weight to determine the points for each factor. Add up the points to get a total score. Repeat this process for each site to gain an objective comparative analysis.

Site Criteria Table
Factors Grade 1-10 Weight 1-5     Points    
Traffic count: Cars or pedestrians      
Visibility access      
Proximity to competition      
Parking (include off-street parking)      
Condition of premises      
Proximity to customer generators      
Income level of neighborhood      
Population density      
Ethnic make-up of neighborhood      
Age factor      
Directional growth of area      
Area improving or deteriorating      
Crime/shoplifting rates      
Availability of qualified employees      
Labor rates of pay      
Supplier proximity      
Terms and rental rates      
Adequacy of utilities, gas, water      
Transportation accessibility      
Total Points  

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Top Ten Do's and Don'ts


  1. Talk to your city hall planning and zoning department to be sure your intended location conforms to all code requirements.
  2. Create a Site Model Criteria for your particular business.
  3. Look at many locations to establish comparable values for rent and location potential.
  4. Order demographic data to provide information about your customers.
  5. Retain a real estate lawyer to assist in negotiating your lease or purchase.
  6. To minimize your risk, negotiate for a short-term lease with options.
  7. Provide terms in your lease for potential expansion requirements.
  8. Have every agreement put into writing.
  9. Ask that no other similar business be allowed in your shopping center.
  10. Use signs that are the largest allowed and clearly state what you are selling.


  1. Be hasty in making a real estate decision. (There is no such thing as the last good location.)
  2. Don't judge a location entirely on rent.
  3. Permit a potential landlord to dictate all the lease terms.
  4. Personally guarantee your lease if possible.
  5. Sign a purchase or lease document without the approval of your lawyer.
  6. Depend on the advice of a landlord's leasing agent.
  7. Submit to unreasonable conditions; unemotionally look for another location.
  8. Depend on any verbal agreements with landlords or sellers - get it in writing.
  9. Open the second store until the first one is proven and profitable.
  10. Sign a lease without the condition that it is subject to securing all permits and licenses.
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Business Plan for Session "Location and Leasing"

We heartily recommend that you download the individual business plan template for this session Business Plan Template Document 6 and complete it now.

Section "Premises"
Microsoft Word File MS Word

Instructions on filling in the business plan template:

  1. Each box has a permanent title in CAPITAL LETTERS
  2. Below each title is a sentence starting with an "Insert hereâKES¦" sentence. This will suggest information to insert. The boxes will enlarge as you take up more room so use all the space you need.
  3. After completing each box, delete the "Insert here" sentence, which will leave only the permanent title of the box and the information you have filled in.

We suggest that you fill in each section of the business plan
as you proceed through the course.

The template for all sessions 1-15 can also be downloaded into your computer as a single document:

Section 1-15: All
Microsoft Word File MS Word

Include sufficient research findings and background materials. Make it interesting up by the use of background data, your biography, charts, demographics and research data. When your business plan is completed, print off and assemble the 15 sections.

Many other business plan formats are available in libraries, bookstores and software.

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Session Feedback and Quiz

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