Choose Your Home Base Wisely for a Successful Startup

When you’re looking to lease or buy property for your pumping company, remember the old real estate adage: “location, location, location.”

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Selecting the best spot to open a contracting service business requires careful consideration. Gary Kes, owner of Benjamin Franklin, The Punctual Plumber, in Northfield, Minnesota, has changed locations several times over his 30-year career.

Kes founded Kes Equipment in 1985, working from a single van to provide water treatment services to dairy farmers. Fast forward to 2007 when he became a Benjamin Franklin franchisee and residential plumber. From one van, he upgraded to a truck, then to a building across the street from his home. About 10 years into the business, he purchased a meat market in a commercial district of Northfield, Minnesota, and remodeled it to suit his needs. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s plumbing, pumping, portable sanitation or any other local service business, many of the tips for starting out are the same. For Kes, the best advice was to start small and keep the overhead low as you grow. 

“Sometimes you’re starting out in your garage or your truck, whatever it takes to get your client base up,” he says. “In the beginning, it’s not that easy. You have to knock on a lot of doors; talk to a lot of people.”

Once a contractor begins to hire employees (for example, a receptionist to answer calls), it may be time to find a facility of some sort. Leasing space may be the best option to keep costs down. Kes first leased a 40-by-60-foot building across the street from his home. While it was a better option than managing the business from his truck, the new location had its drawbacks. Operating a contracting business in a predominantly residential area wasn’t ideal.

When searching for a better location, Kes looked for a facility where trucks could go in and out without problems. Semis delivered equipment regularly, so it was important to have space for trucks to enter, back up, unload and merge into traffic. He also wanted a convenient place for employees to park. Lastly, he wanted the exposure of a busy street so customers could see he was providing a service in their area. 

“We just tell people, ‘We’re on a state highway on the north side of town,’” Gary says. “They say, ‘Oh yeah, I go past your place all the time.’” 

Prominent signage draws attention to the business. Service vehicles are outfitted with the company logo and parked out front. They serve as highly visible moving billboards, capturing the attention of passing traffic. 

Exposure on a busy street yields different results than exposure on a busy internet, but both are important, Kes says. “Google loves storefronts,” he says. “When people are Googling you, even Google Plus will not recognize a business unless it has a storefront or building, not just a residential location.”

Once contractors have a physical location, they should register this location with Google. “It’s really crucial to have that, especially today with people looking for reviews. It pops up a lot better if you have a storefront,” Kes says.

He recommends investing in a physical location as soon as possible.

“The sooner a person can put it in their budget to buy a piece of property, the better. You can sit on that asset until you’re ready to retire,” Kes says. “It helps as part of your portfolio and your retirement plan. You can sell it or rent it out to the next owners or sell it outright.”

U.S. Small Business Administration loans and other financing options are available. “Have a good working relationship with a local bank. That always helps,” Kes says.

When building or remodeling a facility, pumpers should carefully consider the design. Begin with a well-marked entrance where a receptionist or customer service representative greets customers. Beyond the reception area is space for back-office personnel and a lunch room. Equipment and inventory rooms are next in line, with a truck bay at the far end of the building. Safety, convenience and aesthetics are three important design considerations.

“If we ever built a new building, I would build it so we can drive our trucks in one door and straight out another one without having to back in,” Gary says. Parking trucks indoors is another goal, especially during the cold winter months.

“It’s nicer to get into a truck that’s nice and warm in the morning, and everything is ready to go. You don’t have to worry about everything being froze,” he says. Tools and other supplies aren’t fun to work with when they’re frozen stiff, he says.

Another factor to consider when choosing a location is customer base. You want to be conveniently located in your service territory and map out the homeowners’ or commercial areas where your service will be needed. “You’ve got to find your niche to know what’s going to work the best for you and your business,” Kes says.

Pumpers who provide service work need a location that grants them 24-hour access to customers. When starting out, pumpers can build their business more quickly by offering critical around-the-clock service. “Especially starting out, they’re going to need to be that person to build their business,” he says. “It’s easier to get that customer when the customer has a dire need.”   


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