Thursday, April 3, 2008

Empty Spaces

Half of our UPS order was delivered to the Weight Watchers next store this morning. It was a rude reminder that I'm a peddler of stuff. Sometimes I'm so into planning and ordering and events that I forgot that it's about the stuff. We had a new UPS driver, a frequent occurrence. I had to wait until 5pm to get the package, since Weight Watchers isn't open throughout the day. It got me wondering again about our neighbors.

The space next to us is still vacant; it used to be part of our larger space before the connecting doors were walled up. At one time I was trying to negotiate for that space, plus a few hundred square feet of our current space. The landlord wisely turned me down and my plans to carve up their real estate. On the other side of our space is the Weight Watchers. They're only open about 4 hours a day during our business hours, a third of the time. I consider them an absentee tenant, and it blows my mind how they can afford the rent with so little happening. It must be all those frozen dinners.

Besides our next door neighbors, we've got a thrift store, a Hostess outlet, the ubiquitous nail salon, a furniture store and the Japanese restaurant. The Japanese restaurant delivers food to us regularly, so they're kind of a value add. However, none of these storefronts bring in our target demographic. In fact, the thrift store and the Hostess outlet seem to attract some pretty rough clientele. I'm starting to develop a low-life detector, a sense you get from their appearance, but more often from their loopyness.

So my big question, especially after our last location, is whether it's better to have an empty space or a store that doesn't attract our demographic. I've been so fixated on parking issues, that an empty space has a lot of appeal. When the Auction Central went out of business in the last location, it felt like we had more breathing room, at least until the restaurant closed their nearby store and directed all their traffic to our parking lot. That was disastrous. An empty space means plenty of parking, while the average store seems to have very little impact on our sales. Game stores tend to be "destination" stores, places people seek out, rather than drop in because they happened to be there.

We do get some drop-in traffic, mostly from Weight Watchers. People regularly drop by after meetings and browse the toy section. The level of sales isn't significant, but more than what we saw at the last shopping center. The demographic of Park-N-Shop, just around the corner, is heavily Hispanic, and we see few sales from that community. The kids usually want to buy toys, but the parents rarely give in. There's the usual look of confusion at our alien offerings, the look everyone who's not plugged into gamer sub-culture gives us.

Then there's the negative draw, like from the thrift shop and Hostess outlet. If a neighbor attracts people who not only don't frequent your business, but also requires special attention when they do show up, to make sure they don't steal the copper wiring, then that business is probably better off not being there. I don't think these two neighbors are quite this bad, but sometimes I wonder. If you need to buy bread at wholesale to get by, you probably have no business in my store, a place that's all about want and has nothing to do with need.

Where we really benefit from our neighbors is a little bit farther away. Fry's Electronics is a destination store as well, and many gamers shop there regularly. If you're in the area, shopping for electronics and video games, why not hit your local game store as well? I often wonder what proportion of their disposable income goes to Fry's versus us. I suspect an awful lot. Fry's also has plenty of gamer employees, including a group that plays Magic with us.

The folks at the furniture store think it would be better to have a tenant rather than an empty space. Empty store fronts give the impression that a shopping center is dying. If you're the kind of business that takes advantage of drive by traffic, then that's an important factor. I'm not so sure we're not in that category.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Stupid Spammer.

    On topic: I just thought of this. Have you ever looked around town for businesses that compliment yours and sent them a letter suggesting they should move in next to you?

    Can't hurt, could it?

  3. We got very close to having a comic book store next to us, but he couldn't negotiate it with the landlord.

  4. What, the Hostess store and Weight Watchers aren't complementary? The clients can gorge themselves on snack food and then drop in for a little lesson on weight management.