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Location, location, location crucially important for small biz

Where to locate a business is just about the most important decision owners of small businesses make. Sometimes business owners have to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em and move to a different location.

“Unequivocally, location is an important part of the success of any size of business,” says Andy Stetelman, a Hattiesburg commercial Realtor who’s been in the business for 30 years. “I hate to be trite but location, location, location matters. It just makes sense.”

He says things are incredible in this South Mississippi town, business-wise, and he reminds business people they’re looking for exposure. It’s what Walgreen Drug Stores call the corner of Main and Main or the best spots in any town where there are two opportunities for signage.

“I explain to small business owners that locating in a busy spot and putting up their sign is like having an outdoor billboard,” he said.

Stetelman’s site location tips include: 1) check traffic counts. The Mississippi Department of Transportation and many cities have these, along with various Web sites. 2) consider demographics; depending on the type of business you have, you want to know the target market. 3) talk to other business owners in the area. They have experienced what you want to have and can tell you a lot. Plus, they can tell you about the landlord.

“Some people look at traffic counts themselves,” he said. “You can park yourself there and watch traffic and certainly talk to other occupants of the area.”

He points out that second tier businesses that fit certain niché markets need to be in special locations or destination points where people will seek them out. “Some downtowns are like that. Shopping is entertainment,” he said. “It’s an experience. Hattiesburg and Meridian are like that.”

N&H Electronics has been in business in Hattiesburg since 1950 and located on Hardy Street since 1978. Ricky Gibson, the owner since 1988, considered moving but decided to stay put even though he’s on the less busy side of the long business thoroughfare, between the University of Southern Mississippi and downtown.

“I considered moving but I like this location. It works for us, and it would be expensive to find as much space as we have here,” he said. “We also have good accessibility with an easy-to-get-to parking lot.”

The wholesale distributor of electronics and Twelve Oak car audio systems distributes in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee. It occupies a 15,000-square-foot building.

“It’s a real good location for us since we’re wholesale. People know where we are,” he added.

But for Andrea Yeager, her kitchen and gourmet food shop, Andrea’s Annex, needed retail exposure she was not getting in downtown Gulfport where she opened in 2002. So in June 2004, she packed up and moved a few miles to the west to Jefferson Davis Avenue in Long Beach.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done for business,” she says. “High traffic is so important to a small business, and there are 10,000 cars a day on Jeff Davis Avenue, according to a study done by the city. And I’m only five minutes from where I was.”

She didn’t change her shop’s name, although she’s no longer an “annex” to another business. Her present location is a small house that sits back from the street on a lot shaded with huge live oak trees.

“It’s sort of an annex to the street and changing the name would have been too much change,” she said. “There was no question about it, I had to move to save the business, and I also saved on rent.”

Yeager feels the Long Beach street has the potential to be a shopping mecca like Ocean Springs and Bay St. Louis where shoppers park and walk to different shops. “We offer variety. No one has the same thing,” she said. “It appeals to tourists and snowbirds who like to get out and walk. That’s a big plus for me.”

The new location is so much of a plus that Yeager has expanded her offerings to include prepared gourmet and local foods and high-end kitchen and gift items.

“We’re seeing more people and they’re asking for different things,” she said. “We started making lattes and cappuccinos here because people like to sit on our porch and have coffee.”

Clarksdale business owner Benard Nowell bought and renovated an old depressed property at the busy corner of Highways 49 and 61 because he saw a lot of traffic and potential in the location.

“All around that intersection, property had gone south, but I wanted to bring it back,” he said. “The Delta has been depressed and there are a lot of good people here who want to revive it.”

Some of the property Nowell renovated at the intersection that’s often called the Blues Crossroads has been rented. One large building now has a furniture liquidators store. In another building, Nowell and Austin Jones opened the Silver Moon Restaurant, serving Cajun food with fresh seafood and many New Orleans dishes that have diners coming from surrounding counties.

“We took the worst piece of property in town and turned it into one of the nicest, and people seem to appreciate it,” Nowell said.

J. Walter Michel, longtime Jackson commercial Realtor and state senator, says the best business location tips to consider are visibility, traffic count, accessibility and income demographics. He says the hottest places around Jackson for retail are County Line Road, Lakeland Drive and the Interstate 55-Highway 463 area of Madison.

“The demographics might not necessarily be high end but are whatever target group you want for what you’re selling,” he advises. “Look at a three to five mile circle around the area where your business will be located.”

He says small offices are now locating in the suburbs because the amenities that used to be downtown — post office, couriers, parking, deliveries — have moved to other areas.

“Many people like to locate near home and their children’s schools,” he said. “Everyone’s looking for convenience.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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