I am starting a new prototyping lab in Huntsville, AL based on the fab lab model. I’ve dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur and have done a fair amount of research on the topic. But this is my first attempt at starting a business. Here is where I document weekly my mistakes and successes in creating a business from scratch.
I’m currently working on my business plan. I have some meetings this week to review the plan and to explore financing options, so finishing the plan soon is a good idea. But instead I’m playing hooky and writing this post. I’ve already done the fun parts of writing the business plan and now I’m left with slogging through a lot of text, trying to get years of thoughts and ideas organized in something resembling coherence. The two parts I found the most interesting were working up the financial projections and laying out the store. I’ll save discussion of the financial effort later.
As for the store I’ve not settled on a location yet but I have to do some layout for planning purposes. I’ve looked at numerous places, mostly ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 square feet. Its been difficult at times to figure out exactly how much space I need. The biggest problem is estimating what sort of response I’ll get when I open. The equipment and materials don’t require a lot of room but having enough work area can make or break me. If I plan for too much room and I don’t get a large response then I’ll be eaten alive in rent and maintenance costs. If I acquire too small a space and underestimate the response I’ll end up with cramped and irritated customers. I won’t be able to create the relaxed and friendly atmosphere I want and all that patronage will turn into negative word of mouth. At this point its hard to predict the response.
In planning a new store, property and advertising budgets go hand in hand. An expensive location means less advertising spending is needed to get customers into the store. More than once I found a location facing a main road that cost two to three times as a similar space two hundred feet off the road. The cheaper spaces aren’t nearly as visible to the heavy traffic on the road.
My current leading candidate for a location is pretty large, near 3,000 square feet. It’s off the main roads, but it’s close to a large shopping center. The space is actually two units in a small strip mall. It once was a chain unit for a very popular fitness center catering exclusively to women. Point is, the unit was left with few internal walls which means I have little remodeling to do.
I should point out that traditionally any modifications done inside a rental unit are the responsibility of the renter. The owner is responsible for providing a ‘basic box’ – that is four walls, ceiling lights and HVAC. Tearing down walls and carpet from the previous renter and adding new fixtures are generally the responsibility of the renter. I believe that in this unit I will have to knock out one small wall, converting two dressing rooms to an office, pull up the carpet and paint the walls and floor and I’ll be ready to go. Does anyone have a suggestion for flooring other than painted concrete? Seems like I should have other options but I haven’t found anything that makes sense.
My son likes to talk about ‘his corner,’ the part of the shop dedicated to kids. I like the idea of a kid-friendly space; I believe it will make it easier for moms and dads to join MindGear. I really enjoyed designing the corner with my son. Once I was able to parse his nine-year-old worldview I realized he had some great ideas. We talked about what the kids would do while mom or dad is working on their projects. I balked at having a TV or video games in the corner as I want to spark the kids’ creativity, just like with the adults. We came up with a roughly 10′ x 20′ area that has whiteboard paint on the walls so kids can draw (also in the main area), tables with various construction toys and lots of floor space to accommodate active imaginations.
The best part is a long table with a half dozen cubbies built in to hold parts. Every couple of months we’ll stock it with different components to build some object, like a car or house. We’ll insure that there are many different possible configurations. Another long table is configured to go with the monthly theme. So if we’re building cars this month the table is configured like a racetrack or city street, so the kids can imagine their new cars zooming around town. This idea was almost all my son’s, and so I asked him to sign it at the bottom of the layout. I look forward to seeing how it turns out in real life.