When I first starting working for what I consider a “renowned” local commercial real estate developer, I would come back to him with what I thought were good locations for a few banks and pharmacies that he represented. They would have good traffic counts, sometimes corner locations, and sometimes even had a high density of homes nearby. When we would start discussing the properties that I thought were good, he would ask me what is nearby? Are there any banks, pharmacies, fast food, or any other “shopping” district attributes, initially my answer would always be “no, but it has many other great attributes”! He would reply, “we really do not want to be the ones who create the shopping district, we just want to be in a good location where a shopping district already exists”. With this said, I quickly learned that if a prospective location is not where people shop, eat, bank, or run other errands, then it is too risky. Now, I only look at locations that have 4 to 5 franchise stores nearby creating some type of “shopping district”. If you are considering locations that aren’t in one of these areas I would give you the big thumbs down on the location. I know that in some rare instances, there are very successful retail businesses in remote areas, but this is the exception to rule and is a very risky play. Always find a location (even in a rural area) that has some type of shopping district. Having other retail nearby including shopping centers is up there among the most important factors to consider when evaluating a proposed location. A modern, up-to-date strip center nearby will also be more advantageous than an older shopping center. A nearby shopping center will drive business to your car wash.
Neighborhood Play vs. Regional Play
Now that you know how important a shopping district is to your business let me discuss some other factors about shopping districts. Some shopping districts are what I call “Neighborhood Plays” and others I refer to as “Regional Plays”. The best way to describe this is by describing two communities that are nearby in the east suburbs of Pittsburgh (one that I eventually built my wash in). The “neighborhood” shopping district has the following attributes, a traffic count of 14,000 cars a day, a rather large supermarket chain, a McDonald’s, a Pizza Huts, a local restaurant, a national pharmacy, a large Pittsburgh bank branch, a Dollar General, a Subway, a Exxon gas station (with car wash), a Kinder Care and a few other local family owned businesses. The “regional” shopping district that is also nearby, has a four lane highway with a traffic count of 35,000 cars a day, a large regional mall, a Lowes, a Home Depot, a Target, a Sam’s Club, four large shopping centers, many car dealerships, and pretty much every franchise, bank, pharmacy you can think of. Now, you might automatically think that the regional play is always going to provide a better location and in many cases this is true, but with land cost factors, ease of entry and exit, and a few other factors can sometimes make the regional play less attractive in some instances. A self-serve car wash on a $1,000,000 + piece of land in a regional shopping district is not a “best use” when it comes to commercial real estate development in my estimation. You might wash a bunch of cars but the revenues could probably not support the expense of the land. As mentioned, there are exceptions to any rule but “rolling the dice” on one of these high priced locations would be too risky for me.
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