In 1866, in a small town about 40 miles from Manhattan, a builder selected a site at One Main Street to build a retail building in the center of Mendham, N.J., a town established by European settlers in 1750. Back then, towns were called hamlets, the horse and buggy was the luxury mode of transportation, and the main commerce was farming and the local grain mill. In 1999, that retail building was dilapidated, crumbling and condemned by the town due to unsafe conditions within the structure. I bought the 9,000-sq.-ft. building, renovated it and secured leases for the three apartments and six retail spaces. It is one of my best investments because it satisfies the first three rules of real estate: location, location and location!
One of my tenants who rents the most prominent space in the building has become a casualty of this recession. Now I’m faced with wondering if I should seize an opportunity to showcase my custom home and remodeling business in this store-front building in the center of my hometown. I have been researching the idea and weighing the pros and cons.
When in doubt, reach out … for help! A consultant I hired a few years ago pointed out that one sign of a successful leader is knowing when to ask for help. So, for help determining the right answer I consulted with Pat Fiore, president of Fiore Associates, a local marketing firm with a 27-year track record of helping her clients succeed. My marketing director, Lauren and I met with Pat for a brainstorming session. Some interesting ideas flowed from this meeting.
My business has been successful for 20 years while operating out of my home office. What can I do to ensure success in this space? We agreed that we did not want to open a traditional showroom featuring kitchen displays and small room vignettes featuring the latest tile, floor and door samples. My business is about building high-end custom projects so the focus needs to be on creating an environment that makes people feel comfortable enough to establish a relationship with me and my company. Pat said, “Your goal is to help excite your audience, get them to dream and have them come away with great new ideas on creative new lifestyles.”
We discussed using part of the space for a comfy couch with a living room feel and maybe adding a fireplace. We discussed building one stone wall and a partial wine cellar to further set the tone for an environment of creativity. We discussed a conference room with a large flat-screen TV or monitor with a constant flow of new jobsite photography taken of various jobs in progression. To avoid a feeling of stagnation within the space, we envisioned a collaborative working environment within which we host architects and designers that join us on a rotating basis. Pat asked; “Why not use the space to create a center for developing lifestyles? Host seminars, bring in guest speakers, and provide an environment that makes prospects feel relaxed?”
Is it realistic to implement this atypical use of a retail space in these trying times, and to make it an economically rewarding enterprise? Candidly, I don’t know. I like the ideas and I am definitely intrigued. We are seeking feedback from local architects, builders and interior designers to try to understand what may be missing from our vision and what needs to be our true focus.
I’d also like to get your opinion. If you have any thoughts on the concept of using a retail location as a think tank for initiating the creative part of the design/build process, I would love to hear from you. And if you decide to run with this idea in your home town, please be sure to stay in touch and let me know what’s working for you and what’s not. It is time to think out of the box and be willing to take risks that you haven’t taken before. I can’t wait to find out if I do or not.