Way Out in Colorado: The Diaries of Starting a Business
"So what are you doing way out in Colorado?" - the most common question I receive from friends and family on a regular basis. I admit, if you check my Instagram, it probably looks like I'm frolicking through the mountains and having a grand ol' time. Don't get me wrong, I've had a lot of fun adventures this summer, but my day-to-day routine would probably shock most people. So, to anyone who has asked, here's what starting a business in a brand new place looks like. "Everything will take twice as long and cost twice as much," one of my Entrepreneurship professors said in college. More than anything, I find this statement to ring true, time and time again. I was officially approved to open a Pure Barre studio in Colorado Springs in early March 2014. The Franchise Agreement (making me official) was solidified at the end of the month, and the first milestone was to secure a space. Five months later - I'm almost done with step 1.
Lesson number one: Commercial real estate sucks.
Right before I was approved, I was out in Colorado Springs meeting with my realtor, who has been amazing, and he showed me a lot of different spaces to consider. Up until this point, I had never learned a thing about commercial real estate in my life. I knew about business, and I knew about Pure Barre....after the studio was up and running, that is. I knew that we had to pick a location that fit the PB brand, fed into my target demographic, was the proper square footage, was in my budget, and followed other Pure Barre specifications. We found a space on that first day in March that fit the bill, and I was eager to get moving...five months later, I'm still eager.
Lesson number two: All startups are different.
I have worked with a lot of startup companies, but they were all technology based, to some degree. For some bizarre reason, I had this preconceived notion that working in the context of a franchise would be more straight forward than starting a concept of your own creation. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. I'm not saying that one is easier or harder, but it's a completely different animal. More than anything, starting a company that requires a physical retail location that has to be built to very specific guidelines is not something my undergrad business degree taught me to orchestrate.
Why does real estate take so long, you ask? Let me explain. When you like a space, your realtor submits an LOI (letter of intent) to the owner/landlord of that space. The LOI contains initial terms that must be agreed upon. Rental price, hours of operation, the kinds of signs you can display, any months of free rent you may or may not get before you open, etc. Negotiating the LOI can take a couple of days or a couple of weeks, depending on how prompt the landlord is and how prompt you, your realtor, and your lawyer are.
The space that I first fell in love with was bought by a huge national corporation at the exact same time that I found it. So, instead of working with a local landlord, I had to play with the big dogs. This corporation wasn't concerned with my timeline, so it could be a week or two before we would even receive an updated LOI back from them. Meanwhile, we were submitting LOIs to other locations and negotiating those as backups. Keep in mind, I was still in Nashville and in school for two months while some of this was occurring. I was registering my business as an LLC, setting up bank accounts, flying back and forth to Colorado for Pure Barre training, scoping out more real estate, and getting engaged. Towards the end of May, we finally received a lease from my favorite space.
Lesson number three: Just because it feels over, it's not.
The LOI had been agreed upon, and I was packing my U-Haul to drive across the country during this time. Naively, I assumed the lease would be done in a week or two, which may have held true for another situation, but this space had some bumps in the road. When you're trying to become a tenant of a space in a retail center, you have to consider the other businesses around you. Unfortunately for me, there was a 24 Hour Fitness in the same area as my potential space. Before we could begin to negotiate the lease, we needed to make sure they approved of Pure Barre coming in the center because they had the right to approve or deny another fitness concept in their lease.
Lesson number four: Whistle while you wait.
Thus began the eight week journey of waiting for 24 Hour Fitness to make or break my life. My realtor and the PB corporate realtor were extremely confident that 24 Hour would approve, so it was just a waiting game. During those two months, my intern/friend Erin and I would wake up, work out, and stake our claim at a local coffee shop for the next six hours. We analyzed the competition in the area to create our pricing structure and built marketing campaigns for pre and post launch. We put ads on Craigslist for potential teachers, screened incoming applications, and held interviews. We met with different non profits and entrepreneur organizations in town to build strategic partnerships. We visited as many local food/health concepts that we could find to develop future cross-marketing opportunities. We spent countless hours in the car, driving all over the state of Colorado to visit seven different Pure Barre studios. We analyzed their layouts and retail offerings before building our own.
Personally, I set up my business bank accounts, set up my payroll, and played with Quickbooks (often scratching my head in confusion). I created handbooks for new teachers and desk staff that explained our operating procedures. I fielded the never-ending slew of emails between my Dad, my lawyer, my realtor, the PB corporate team, and the landlord about the progress (or lack thereof) with 24 Hour. Every day, we heard something different and anticipated a change. We'd build out a new calendar for auditions and retail ordering, only to have the plan be put on hold. And, after eight weeks, we received a nonchalant email that changed the course of everything - approval denied. Bye.
Lesson number five: Waste no time.
Thankfully, during those eight weeks, we had been scouting out backup spaces and had managed to find one that I ended up falling in love with. So, soon after the first deal fell through, we had another in the works. The lease for this space should be done (fingers crossed) within the next week or so, and we've been working on it for about three weeks. During the lease negotiation process, I've met with contractors so that they can bid the space - meaning they tell me how much money I will spend to build this baby. We are working with an architect to draw up plans so that we can apply for building permits when the lease is finalized and get started. I've contacted different retail vendors to set up orders for their holiday lines, and I'm finally ready to coordinate teacher auditions. Like I said, all part of step 1.
Though it was crushing to realize that I spent two months waiting for a rejection, I'm thankful for the time it gave Erin and I to engage in the community, build relationships, and gather a never-ending amount of research. My business will be better because of it, and I definitely feel more prepared than I would have if real estate had gone smoothly.
The thing is, starting a business is a mix of blind optimism, a lot of rejection, and a healthy dose of humility. Even when step 1 is checked off the list, I know there will be many complications going forward and the season of "waiting" on something will never truly be done. Four or five days out of the week, I drive the 45 minutes to Denver to take class or work in the city. On that drive, I usually feel anxious over the fact that I don't know when my dream of having a functional studio will be realized. It could be a couple of months, or there could be more bumps in the road. But the waiting and working through it is part of the dream.
Self-motivation isn't an option, it's a job description. So, for those who asked what I'm up to, I'm working. Day in and day out, I'm living my dream, but it's not always fun. Some days I'm thrilled at good news and feel that opening day is at my finger tips, but most others, I close my computer in frustration. Starting a business means being okay with 6 AM wakeup calls, even when you're working from home. It means making that 45 minute drive, even when you don't want to, because you will get rusty if you don't. It means always being on call and having your email glued to your palm. It means faking a lot of things that you've never done before, managing large sums of money, paying yourself only when you have to, and being responsible for something bigger than yourself. It means taking control of your own schedule.
The challenges aren't going to stop, and that's okay, because this is what I wanted, every little frustrating bit of it. What I can promise, is that things will keep moving because they always do. Starting a business means moving forward when the rest of the world decides to sit still.