Monday, February 06, 2006

Location, Location, Location

This past Saturday I went to brunch at an east side Milwaukee restaurant to celebrate my sister’s birthday.  I left in plenty of time to get there, yet I was late. Why? Because I couldn’t find the darn place.  In fact, I drove past it, along side of it, and behind it, but didn’t see it.  Before I left I tried to find out where it was located, and called it a “Brady Street” restaurant, while the phone book had its address as being on Water Street.  Turns out it was not actually on either of those streets, but near them.  The restaurant also lacked visable outdoor signage, so I drove past it and did not even see it.  Finally, after driving around for several minutes I called my mom, who put someone else on the phone that explained to me where the restaurant was and that there was a Shorewest realty sign outside—my landmark, rather than a sign for the restaurant.  On my way home I spotted another restaurant I have heard of as being one of the best in the area, on a small street, and I only found it because I was caught in a maze of one-way streets that didn’t seem to get me in the direction I needed to go.  Neither place had any parking to speak of either, as you could probably guess if you are at all familiar with the east side of Milwaukee.

These restaurants made me think about locations. “They” say the key to a business is “location, location, location.”  Yet, these Milwaukee hot-spot restaurants seem to do just fine with minimal signage and locations that can be tricky to find, especially if you are not familiar with the area.  I guess if you are in an urban down-town area, do some marketing, and can quickly become known for your food and/or drinks; you can still fill up your restaurant with hungry customers.  People will drive out of their way to find you, and park out of their way to eat in your establishment.  On the other hand, a Perkins or McDonalds has to be located on or near a freeway, with major signage and parking, in order to get people to come into their stores.

This made me think about comic book store locations, of course.  Are comic book stores like a fancy restaurant that people will seek out, or are they like a McDonalds where people will just go there because it is convenient?  After thinking about this a while, I decided that it is a bit of both.  There are people who will shop at an out-of-the way comic book shop, with no parking to speak of.  Usually those people are “regulars” who might have gone to this shop because it was the only one around, or because they had a great selection of back issues, or even because they got a great discount.  These are usually serious comic book shoppers.  Then there are the people who stop into a comic book shop because they drove by or because their kids saw it and had to come in.  The thing with retail is that the more accessible your location is, the more “occasional” shoppers you will get. And, the easier you are to find the better chance you have to pick up new “regulars” too.  Food can be very individual and distinctive – so if you want a specific restaurant’s food you will probably be willing to go out of your way to have it.  A retail product is usually the same no matter where you go.  My Marvel Zombies #1 is the same as another store’s copy.  So, why put up with trying to find an out-of-the way store with no parking and few hours if you can just go to another that is more accommodating?  

Now, I am NOT saying that my store is the best one for this.  Not at all. While Sunset is a fairly major street here in Waukesha, we have a hard time bringing in people from the cities in the surrounding area because Sunset is not a major street to them.  Plus, this is a suburb, not an urban center, which means the surrounding population is lower than it would be in an urban center, which then means that I have to pull people from further away in order to do the same amount of business a store located in an urban city could do.  We would much rather be located off of the freeway. Unfortunately, due to money, time, and being a brand new business, when we opened over 2 years ago that sort of location was out of our reach.  If and when we move this store or open a second one, we would definitely try to be in a major shopping area with nearby freeway access.  Could we survive in this location or a different out-of-the-way location? Probably, but we would like to do more than just survive.  I want this business to grow!  Being located in an out-of-the way spot will stifle business growth – it is as simple as that.  The higher the traffic that goes by, the more people will stop in, the more people that stop in the more chances I have to sell things and develop new relationships with the people who stop in.  If I am hard to find, located on a low-traffic street, have little to no parking, or am only open 12 hours a week, I would make it much harder to grow my business.

Yet, there are a lot of comic book stores located in out-of-the way places, with little to no parking.  “Why do they do that?” you ask.  Often because rent is much less expensive than it is in a major shopping area.  Profit margins for comics is much smaller than in most other forms of retail, so it becomes difficult to justify paying the same cost per square foot for a comic book store as one would if he/she had a different type of retail store where the profit margins were higher.  In order to pay that higher rate for square footage, you have to be confident that you can increase purchasing volume enough to afford the location.  On the other hand, your business can still suffer if you have low rent but can’t increase your business. Costs go up, “regulars” move or cut back on what they buy, and if you cannot bring in new shoppers it becomes more and more difficult to stay in business.

Location is not the ONLY thing that can make or break a store – comic book or otherwise. However, it is one of the important ingredients.

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