Finding the premises for your organic/zero-waste shop: how to do it and all the mistakes to avoid

Finding the premises of your sustainable shop is the most important part of preparing to open a shop!

If you plan to welcome your customers to your shop, it must be:

  • welcoming,
  • well decorated,
  • well equipped,
  • in the right location!

In this article, I will outline the main characteristics of ideal premises. I will then discuss the key things to remember when choosing your premises and before signing your lease.

What are the ideal premises for your shop?

You’ve probably heard this popular saying when it comes to property: the 3 most important things are location, location, location!

This is even more true when it comes to the retail sector: your shop needs to be ideally located.

However, this isn’t so important if your product offering is very specific and if customers are willing to make a diversion to visit your shop.

Let’s imagine a tattooist who has a nice shop in a small village: not exactly the most obvious place to find a tattooist.

But thanks to his clientele and his reputation as a creative professional, his customers are willing to travel, even if they live miles away!

Your future shop should also be well decorated and well equipped.

As far as decoration is concerned, this isn’t necessarily something to consider when looking for your premises, which will usually not be decorated. You will have an empty shell to express your creativity and make your shop a warm and welcoming place.

Beware, however, because some premises may present significant disadvantages, depending on your project. If you want to create a rustic feel, for example, the premises shouldn’t be too “industrial” in terms of their design (metal columns, suspended ceilings, etc.).

Lastly, your future premises should be as well equipped as possible.

No premises will have all of the equipment and facilities you need for your specific project. But you should expect:

  • ventilation or an air-conditioning system,
  • electrical/gas installations which comply with current requirements,
  • disabled access,
  • automatic doors at the shop’s entrance,
  • a storeroom or back office or, if not, a curtain.

If some of these elements are not available but are required for your shop, negotiate with the landlord to split the costs or see whether he/she will pay for them.

How to find your future premises?

The search may be very quick or it may take a long time.

With my organic/zero-waste grocery shop which I opened with two partners, it took us almost 18 months to find the premises, after visiting 6 different options!

It all depends on the availability of business premises in your catchment area.

Some towns and cities have seen a decline in retail in recent years; this makes it possible to find premises more quickly.

Other towns and cities are very dynamic and interesting premises are snapped up as soon as they become available.

If this is the case for you, then this is my advice:

  • Tell your network and even your community that you are actively looking for premises. You can share news of your search by email, on Facebook or when you run into people. Feel free to share details about your search.
  • Contact the local authorities in your town, city or region: they may be able to help you.
  • Get in touch with other retailers who are already established. They will be very familiar with the retail network and will be able to help you to identify premises which will soon become available.
  • Lastly, contact estate agencies which specialise in professional properties.

This is an important point: if you are in a popular area where demand is high, try to be prompt when visiting premises which interest you!

What do you need to watch out for?

Let’s take a look at the things to watch out for before committing to a commercial property.

The premises: things to watch out for

We’ve already mentioned that you should ensure that the premises include standard equipment and facilities.

Let’s go into this subject in a little more depth, because you can’t afford to have major work done once your shop has opened. This would cause significant disruption to your business and frustrate your customers.

First of all, let’s talk about compliance with safety standards: electricity, gas, water, etc. All facilities need to be certified as meeting safety standards. Ask for confirmation of this from your landlord and check the certification documents yourself for personal reassurance!

The building materials used must also be fire-resistant in the event of a fire.

To be entirely thorough about this, I recommend that you read the regulations in force concerning public access buildings (in French) to ensure that everything’s in order! In Belgium, safety visits are regularly organised; in the event of a risk to the public, the property can be shut down!

The lease: things to watch out for

The most important thing to check about your lease is the intended use of the premises.

Depending on the planning regulations in your town or city, the premises may not be available for use as a local business. Be careful not to sign a commercial lease for premises which are incompatible with your business plans!

You must also ensure that the regulations of the building’s association of co-owners allow a business to be opened on your future premises.

Commercial leases are usually signed for a minimum of 9 years (known as a 3-6-9 lease). However, make sure that you are able to terminate your lease on a three-yearly basis, in case you need to change premises.

A change of premises doesn’t necessarily mean an end to your business. You may move your business to new premises:

  • which are bigger, if your business grows,
  • which are in a different area, if business slows in your neighbourhood.

Most leases also contain rules on maintaining and repairing the premises. Check that your lease is balanced and that you are not responsible for everything. You should be careful about the division of tasks between you and the landlord. This isn’t always a key area of focus when signing a lease, but it can be a source of significant expense if repairs are required.

Lastly, make sure that the rent stated in the lease matches what you negotiated with the landlord. You should also check the service charges to get a clear idea of the total monthly cost of your premises.

If you have any doubts about a legal point related to your lease, contact a specialist lawyer and ask for advice!


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