Location, location, location
A few years ago I was doing some work with a licensed café bar. The bar was actually in an old church and as you can imagine the building was something very special including a number of stained glass windows. Due to the church’s size and a slightly complicated ownership structure the bar shared the building with a number of other small businesses including a hairdresser and barbers.
Whilst not ideal on a more positive note one would have thought that by having multiple non-competing multiple businesses in the same place would have helped drive traffic for all concerned. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The hairdressers offered free coffee to its clients which didn’t help the café and the barbers was very much looking at customers on a budget, so spending more than they had to wasn’t really an option.
The other issue or rather the main issue the bar had was its location. Although not that far from the town centre it was located in a side street and as such had absolutely no passing trade. If you didn’t know the place was there then it was unlikely you would pay it a visit. As a result word of mouth and social media activity was crucial to driving footfall. Despite continually telling the bar owners of the importance of this they chose to focus on other aspects of the business. I am sad to say that as a result of the low footfall they decided to move on to do other things.
Whilst it’s not always possible to choose the ideal location for your venue, it is vitally important that operators understand any limitations on where they might be and whenever possible try and turn these disadvantages into opportunities.
Don’t put it there…
When thinking about locations I usually fall back on a great piece of advice I was given when talking to quite a successful multiple site operator a few years ago. When you are looking for the right location for a new venue one of the most important things you can do to begin with is to eliminate all the bad locations from your list. It may seem obvious but if you don’t do this then you are only likely to be storing up trouble for the future. You also need to be quite ruthless, if your aren’t you can be sure your prospective customers will be.
For example will you be easy to find, can you be seen from the street? If not, then you will need to adopt a very specific approach to your Marketing to drive footfall.
How do you expect your customers to get to you? If you expect them to drive, then having good parking either on-site or near-by is a must. It should also be affordable and safe to use. People won’t come to you if they think there is a 50/50 chance their car will be broken into whilst they are trying to enjoy themselves when they are in your venue.
If you are in a city or town centre and you expect your customers to use public transport then is it fit for purpose? And by that I mean does it operate regularly, late enough in the evenings and also safe to use?
Finally if there are other restaurants or businesses in the area how are they doing? It might sound counter intuitive but you are more likely to be successful in an area which already has successful restaurants vs. an area where they are continually closing down or are boarded up.
Right offer for the right location…
In the same way that one solution will rarely fit every problem, one location will not always be right for ever style of trading. When looking at where you might want to be its extremely important you have a strong vision of what your offer is, who it is aimed at and what there average spend is likely to be.
If your offer is quite price driven then footfall and high turnover of tables is going to be a key driver to being successful. You therefore need to be in a location which can offer this. This is why you will often see new pub builds next to big housing projects or transport hubs. Outlets that fall into this group are all about the numbers, relying on high turnover of tables but probably quite tight margins.
Alternatively if one of your key customer groups is families, say with children under 16, then a safe environment is often a key factor for where they chose to go. These types of customers will usually travel by car, so good parking is very important to them. They are also more likely to be attracted to places where there are other things going on or available. This is why operators who target this group often like to be on retail parks and/or near multiplex cinemas.
When it comes to dining at the higher end of the market then location takes on a different role. Customers are usually paying much higher prices so projecting grandeur and style often comes into play here. These visits are more than likely planned and pre-booked so less reliant on passing trade. What is important here is that the location (and of course offer) are in keeping with the prices being paid. It’s going to be quite difficult to convince people to spend in excess of £75 per head if the neighbourhood you are in looks like a de-militarized zone!
Places don’t stay the same…
One of my favourite historically quotes, often wrongly accredited to his brother, is by Robert F. Kennedy “History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.” The same can be said about locations. Places which where once perfect locations for a particular bar, restaurant etc. may now seem at best outdated or even worse inappropriate.
With the hustle and bustle of everything an operator needs to do on a day to day basis it is often difficult to take a step back and look at what is going on around you. This is something I always encourage my clients to do, so they don’t miss any changes in local demographics, infrastructure or other things which may impact their business.
On a more positive note the reverse is also true. Places which were once no go areas for businesses can start to become the most attractive places to be. This can be due to local government investment, private developments or indeed a change in demographics of the people who now live there. The important thing is to keep monitoring your surrounding so that you can make sure you are in the right location for what you are offering. If things are changing around you it may be necessary to tweak or amend your offer or in more extreme circumstances change your location.