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Searching for the Perfect Site and Space for Your Business

By Christopher Seepe

Part 1

Location, location, location! That’s been the proverbial wisdom and mantra of real estate site selection since humankind first started creating settlements. Location is key, there is no doubt, but it is the many variables and parameters of location that combine together to make that phrase meaningful.

And, even after finding the perfect site that promises the greatest chance of success in business, you WILL almost assuredly run into other concerns, considerations and forces that you didn’t know even existed. Hopefully, they are all resolvable, but you may be dismayed to discover that one or more is not.

The list of concerns is as different as there are different types of business. Farms, manufacturing, retail, commercial—they all have unique requirements. No generalized list could possibly embrace the many unique requirements of every type of business. A bank, for example, needs to be in the heart of a densely-populated urban setting while a farm, with its smells, chemicals, and noise during uncommon operating hours, needs to be far away from that same urban setting.

Whether relocating a business or looking to opening your first, here are some of the obvious, and not-so-obvious, issues and concerns you should address as part of your site selection process. This list tends towards retail/commercial but could apply to other business types, and is in no specific order. However, most of them have to be addressed sooner or later.

More Obvious Considerations

Support/Infrastructure services: Can the demand by your business on infrastructure and support services (generally provided by municipalities) – hydro, sewage, water, gas, etc.—support your existing and hopefully growing business. Can these services be scaled up cost-effectively as your own business grows?

Shipping and Receiving: Will there be a lot trucks, couriers, mobile employees and so on? Will it create traffic congestion, parking issues, or undue risk to children and the elderly?

Tim Horton’s has been so successful as a business that the drive-thru operations have had a serious impact on traffic flow in many neighbourhoods. Planners of some municipalities go to extraordinary lengths to install road dividers, for example, or to pass by-laws that are specifically targeted at discouraging the further development of drive-thru operations.

Latent versus Patent Defects: Patent defects are issues with a property that are readily apparent, such as water pooling at the corner of a building. Latent defects are not readily apparent, such as a water leak behind a brick wall.

While this may seem obvious, it is surprising the number of business operators that do not employ a property appraiser to look for signs of latent defects. Do NOT ignore this critical input into your site selection criteria. There could be many hidden reasons why your business could fail or be saddled with an unexpected major financial burden. How about water in the basement after a major storm that destroys all your inventory during the peak holiday season?

Parking: Is there sufficient parking for your staff, visitors and customers? Western society lives in an age of inventions and discoveries that are driven by the need to improve productivity and convenience. Do you know anyone that would drive their car two blocks to the convenience store rather than walk or take a bicycle? I’ll bet you do.

Visibility and Accessibility: Do you need to be where your customers are or will they come to you? Can customers get to your business easily? Is it on a side street, hard to find, buried among large facilities, or accessible by a driveway on a side street? Does the site and the municipality allow for putting up a pylion sign, billboard, backlit signage, etc.? Some municipalities will not allow signage that has “moving” graphics.

Site Selection and Local Traffic Considerations

Demographics: Can the area afford your product or service? Do you depend on their disposable/household income? Are you marketing to families, executives, office lunch crowd, yuppies, etc.

Zoning By-laws: Towns, cities, even rural areas are divided into zones of “use,” which the municipal authority thinks best sets the balance between the disparate needs and interests of many business and users. A factory should not be next to houses. A sewage plant should not be next to an office building, etc. Will the municipality let you conduct your business there?

Municipal Codes: Does the site and building meet all municipal codes – especially fire, electric and building codes but also handicap legislation, etc.

Landlord Relationship: If leasing, can you get along with your landlord? You’re marrying them for five, or possibly thirty, years.

Neighbourhood: Will schools, parks, hospitals, ethnic diversity and concentrations, or crime rate impact your business?”

Competition: Some businesses like to be next to each other, such as automobile dealers and fast food services. Others don’t.

See if there are any competitors doing good business in your target area. Sooner or later, some of their customers will stop at your location out of convenience or curiosity. Often, the competition has developed a customer base that you can exploit, especially if the competition is either lacking in some product or service, is over-priced, or is simply a poor operator.

In Part 2 we’ll talk about some of the less obvious considerations in selecting your site and space.

Christopher Seepe is a commercial realtor, and maintains, a website dedicated to providing expert advice and sharing his personal investment and ownership experiences to those investing, or looking to invest, in multi-unit residential, income generating properties in southern Ontario, Canada. You can contact him directly at

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