A Lesson in Logistics: People! (and then location! location! location!)
People ask me a lot of questions about Amethyst. Do you like owning your own business? Is it still fun? Is it profitable? What are your plans for expansion? How many employees do you have? How many hours a week do you work? Who does your accounting? Do you have a good plumber? Who is your favorite roaster? Why do you have this espresso machine? The list goes on and on, and most of the questions are inquiries I expected. However, there's one question I get asked more often than I thought I would:
How did you choose this location?
It's never occurred to me to ask that of any coffee shop owner, and the way the question is phrased represents such a small part of why I chose to sign a lease at the Metlo. So, before I tell you how I DID choose Amethyst's location, I'll tell you all of the things I didn't do and absolutely 100% should have done.
I didn't run analytics on the foot traffic or population density of the neighborhood. I didn't know how many new apartments were being built in a 3-mile radius (a lot, it turns out), and I had a rather loose idea of the vibe of the neighborhood. It seemed like a nice balance between residential and commercial in an area of town that seemed to be eclipsing the 'up-and-coming' phase. When I signed a lease in October 2014, that was the only statistical information in my head, and that gamble was certainly not my best move.
For those of you that are not familiar with Amethyst's location, we are nestled in the bottom right hand corner of the Metlo. Built in 1958, it was originally known as the Broadway Plaza Motel. I don't know much about the building's history, but I do know that right before our landlord bought the building and fixed it up it was known as the 'no-tell motel'. For some fun reading you can still find 2 yelp reviews of the Broadway Plaza and they are, in a word, glowing.
Needless to say, I was charmed.
I love the floor to ceiling windows (even if they're constantly covered in spilled beverages and smudged by the faces of small children) almost as much as I love the random floor drains where the toilet and the shower used to be. I like that the building has a history and a little bit of soul to it, be it the soul of a 'tweaker' or 'a voluptuous girl wearing one seamless piece of hot pink spandex' (see aforementioned yelp reviews).
Unsurprisingly, my first regular was a homeless man. I'd be working alone (and also alone in the cafe because it was really slow) and he'd come in, ask for water, I'd tell him no, he'd get some anyway, and sit down. It was our little game, until one day he just stopped coming. I don't know what happened to him.
Anyway, you get the point. I didn't totally do my homework. I asked a bunch of different friends to come by and look at the space and tell me what they thought. None of them were sold. The problems? The building is facing the wrong way down a one way street, so if you're driving you have no idea it really even exists. The space itself is kind of awkward. It's a rectangle, long and skinny in all of the wrong ways. There's no way to ever own the building so you'll pay rent forever. The parking lot is small and awkward. You have to share the building with 16 other tenants, talk about drama town. This neighborhood isn't really hip. One friend told me that another more established local coffee company could make our space work, but there's no way I would be able to.
Naturally, I signed the lease anyway.
You're thinking, 'BUT WHY!?!' It's like a horror movie where the characters do all of the wrong things. The girl takes her clothes off and gets in the shower after leaving the back door wide open and the kitchen knives out.
The answer is simple : my landlord. Amethyst would not be in business today without him. I knew that our opening budget was laughably small, and I knew I wanted to lease from someone who understood small business. Mark and his wife Dominique made it a point to lease the Metlo to small, local businesses. Most of us previously worked at other places around town and branched out to do our own thing. If there's a leak Mark fixes it. If our HVAC doesn't work, Mark calls a repairman. He pays a man to keep the parking lot and shared space of the Metlo spotlessly clean. He installed a ridiculous security system and I know that my staff is always as safe as they possibly can be. When I leave town I know that my staff can always call Mark and he'll come running. He is on top of everything without breathing down my neck about how to run my business. He works hard and we have a relationship built on mutual respect. It's really best case scenario.
I know that I got really lucky. There's certainly a draw to our neighborhood, the Golden Triangle, but it's not nearly as cool as some other areas of town, and the more I think about it the more I took a huge risk not investigating some more important aspects of our location. I long for the day that I can find the perfect space and build my dream coffee shop, but for a first go this is exactly what I needed and I love it so much.
People come first for me, they always have and they always will, no matter what the situation. In the future, I'll be a little smarter about doing my research, but my advice is, as always, to find the people you want to work with and you work everything else out around that. I'm not saying you should rent a quaint little farmhouse from the nicest couple ever out in the boonies (or whatever your dream location is) and try to open a coffee shop because we all know coffee drinkers are still wildly driven by convenience, but I am saying that paying rent in the coolest, most inhabited part of town to someone who doesn't care whether or not your business survives could be just as detrimental to your business as opening in an almost-there neighborhood. Finding the most beautiful space but needing to work with a landlord you don't get along with doesn't seem worth it to me. You always have to weigh your options, and just about everything to do with this is on a case-by-case basis, but don't let people tell you that just because something looks good on paper means it's going to work out.