Choosing a location for your start-up – how to choose where to call home
Choosing the right location for your business is absolutely vital to its success: how can your customers find you if you’re not in the right place? Kelly McCarthy shares her experience of finding a happy home for her company, Zest Food – a company that provides healthy, freshly-cooked takeaway food for busy professionals in Canary Wharf.
What are you selling and who’s your customer?
Before anything else, you need to think about the market your product is targeting and where they are based. For example, Zest Food aims to deliver healthy food to young professionals with higher than average disposable income who work long hours. Therefore we thought if our target market works late, then perhaps they want their food delivered straight to their desks. Ideally we wanted to find a location with a high density of workers, allowing for a smoother operational process in terms of deliveries, and the two most significant working areas in London are City of London and Canary Wharf (where the average earnings are also significantly higher than the rest of London).
Another option we considered was that some professionals may simply get home late and want their dinner delivered to their home, and so we looked at where young professionals who work in the City or Canary Wharf live. It turned out lots of workers were based in the Isle of Dogs/ Docklands region close to Canary Wharf, and so we went with this location.
Where do you live, and can you run it from home?
So you know where your customers are located – but how does this fit into your own location? Where you live is another key point to consider, as with the limited time resource you have as a start-up you certainly don’t want to spend the majority of it travelling to your business, which is why it is recommended that you start your business near where you live unless you’re willing to move to a better location. A positive that comes from running a business close to home is that you’re most likely know the area & people well and are therefore better placed to promote it to the local community and gain insights about the current market conditions pre-launch.
You’ve probably heard that a lot of start-ups begin in their homes, or even their parents’ basements, and there’s a very good reason for this. When you’re a start-up you generally have very limited capital, and therefore the cheapest option is usually the best one in the beginning - if you already pay rent, why not just start from home? This is the way Zest Food started and in all honesty it was great - it gave us a chance to really understand our product and our value proposition, as well as test market conditions & demand whilst also keeping financial risk to a minimum. If your product can be sold online, then starting from home is usually the best option. Even if you’re designing bespoke clothing or something else highly-specialised, you can still run your operations from home and simply travel to client’s houses, or even get them to come to you. There’s absolutely nothing wrong from starting from home as long as you make yourself get out of the house for some fresh air and exercise during the day to prevent cabin fever (it’s a real thing, you know!).
What can you afford?
As we’ve just said, starting from home is usually the cheapest and best option. However, if like Zest Food you’ve either grown to a point where this is no longer possible or decided that it’s time to expand your customer base, then affordability definitely comes into play. For us we originally thought (following our one month pilot scheme from home) that opening a retail unit in Canary Wharf would be perfect. However, after looking into it further we realised that a deposit alone could be up to £20,000 for premium retail space - and don’t forget business rates, extortionate rent, and utility bills. Ouch. So we went back to the drawing board, and with the help of our Virgin StartUp business advisor came up with the idea of using a production kitchen aimed at start-ups (i.e. cheap rent!) to prep the food, and then use a catering trailer which we could park near Canary Wharf to be used as a delivery hub (for last-minute cooking and distribution of our hot food). Through being realistic about what we could afford and hedging our financial risk as much as possible, we were able to reduce our start-up costs by about £30,000. It also gave us more confidence in our ability to run the business, simply because it was an expansion of what we had already done at home. This organic process of growth allows us to learn as we go rather than being thrown in the deep end, which could’ve resulted in complete failure with the added negative of huge financial losses.
Where are your competitors based?
Another great point to consider is where your competitors are based. There are two sides to this. If there is a highly condensed area of your competitors it signifies demand in the market for your product, but also tough competition. However, if you choose a location where there aren’t that many competitors, people may be more likely to choose your product but the people there may not want your product, which could account for the lack of competition. One of the ways Zest Food will choose future locations when we expand is to look at where our competitors are located, as we know they’ve done the research to test the market and have been successfully running for numerous years in those locations – we may even set up next door to them!
Does it matter?
If you’re an online company, then you could literally set up anywhere in the world and it wouldn’t matter as you have a global customer base. However, if location is key, then use the above points to inform your brainstorming.
Wherever you choose to place your business, I would definitely recommend testing the market through a pilot scheme before you invest in a permanent location – it worked for us!
Best of the luck with your exciting new venture and finding a home for it!