Relocating a business is a lot like moving your family to a new home, except the “family” includes crews, equipment, materials, an office of technology and more. Plus, you can’t exactly press “pause” on your workload and take time to transition.
There are significant preparations involved in moving a business: finding a facility or property, razing a building or retrofitting an office, and then actually transferring your physical assets to the new digs. Let’s not forget marketing. How will people find you if you don’t tell them you moved?
This month, Lawn & Landscape spoke with three owners who share how they executed a business move and the lessons they learned in the process.
A venue with vision
A new $3-million facility for Southview Design in St. Paul, Minn., represents a growth milestone and opportunity to raise the company’s professionalism. Owner Chris Clifton says the new building will “get people’s creative juices flowing” when they visit the office, and employees are inspired by a space that better suits the business with room to grow.
Southview was in desperate need of space to accommodate the growth it had experienced in the past few years, tripling revenues in that time. “We simply ran out of space in our old location,” Clifton says, noting that the 600 square feet of office space and 1.5-acre construction yard provided no room to expand. “We had no indoor storage, no shop space,” he says, adding that the employee facilities also lacked. “There was not room for another single desk, and the bathroom situation was difficult,” he adds, relating that the long hours employees work necessitate a break room and comfortable facilities.
So two years ago, Southview Design began planning a move, with a priority of staying true to its St. Paul roots but finding a spot close to its mostly Minneapolis client base. The company found some desirable land in the core of the metro area in summer 2013 and purchased an option on it.
During that time, Southview Design began crunching numbers. How much would the new facility truly cost? “One of the reasons we bought an option on the land to tie it up before we actually closed on it was because we wanted to verify what the full project cost would be and make sure it was something we could afford,” Clifton says, noting that financial preparations included analyzing historical facility costs as a percentage of revenue, then estimating costs at the new facility.
Clifton also factored in that the company would be purchasing land and investing in a building rather than leasing space. “That would give us flexibility to acquire larger quarters,” he says, adding that the location is close to an industrial park and offers an option to gain more space if needed.
Southview Design financed the new facility and land through a combination of cash and standard commercial bank loans.
In January 2014, the company closed on the land, and construction started in June. Southview moved to its new 17,000 square-foot facility, with 9,000 square feet of office space and outdoor covered storage in November 2014. “We are near the airport, and when planes fly over people can see down into our yard, so we want to keep it looking immaculate,” Clifton says, adding that mulch, rock and other bulk materials are concealed.
The facility inside resembles a modern warehouse, with high ceilings and cable railing. “It is a square, industrial building and we wanted it to have a downtown loft feeling,” Clifton says, adding that the space will forward the company’s business development, from recruiting talent to attracting clients. “People prefer to work in a professional building, and a lot of landscaping companies are places like where we used to be which is not as aesthetically pleasing as a brand-new building custom built for our application.”
The new facility is designed just for Southview, but Clifton has a broader vision for the building’s purpose. He hopes to host industry association meetings and networking events. “We want it to be an open forum designed to further our industry,” he says.
A new ‘family’ home
Over the years, the 13-acre property where Greenland Landscape’s design/build operation and nursery were located had been developed into residential neighborhoods. Along with that came increased property taxes, and some strategic business changes at Greenland that reduced its demand for so much land – namely, a desire to close the nursery.
“We had to monetize the land we were on because it was a very big parcel, and we had acquired various pieces over the years,” says William Weiss, second-generation owner with his brother Tom.
The Weiss family was seeking a developer to either purchase the land, or they’d develop it as a residential area themselves. So when an assisted living company approached them with a long-term lease offer for the land, where it hoped to build a 177-bed facility, the Weisses took the opportunity.
After 65 years in Paramus, N.J., this critical move was possible. But finding a spot in the densely populated region was challenging. No one wants even a light-duty commercial operation in their neighborhood, and warehouse space in New Jersey is too expensive, Weiss says. “We finally got far enough away from town,” he says. They found a 2.5-acre plot in a “quasi-commercial” area in between key population centers in Wayne.
Next, the Weisses had to choose a date to move. Michael Weiss, project manager and next in line to run the family business, coordinated the logistics of the move. He hoped to stage the move during winter, but because of the timing of the real estate close, Greenland’s move was slated for September. “We were trying not to skip a beat,” Michael says, noting that the company was entering leaf-removal season for its maintenance accounts.
Moving in two stages helped the process go smoothly. First, the construction division relocated to the new Wayne space – a lease-to-own property that the Weiss family plans to purchase. Materials were moved to the location first, then within a couple of days the crews began reporting to the new facility. Phase two was moving maintenance equipment, and then relocating those crews.
“We moved a mechanic over to the new location and got him set up in two days,” Michael says. His crews helped move equipment on a Saturday. Monday, the mechanic moved to the new facility to prepare the shop, and Wednesday the crews reported to the Wayne location.
Organizing inventory before the move made the actual relocation of equipment and materials easier. Greenland closed its nursery at the previous location after Fourth of July weekend, then took advantage of the employees working in the store to pack prior to the September 2014 move. “The store was officially closed after that weekend, but we sold what we could to people who stopped in because we didn’t want to move (the inventory),” Michael says.
The move offered an opportunity to streamline inventory. The tighter space in the new location, and the cost of moving inventory, weighed into packing decisions. “You find inventory you haven’t used in 20 years,” Michael says.
Now, in the new location, Greenland Landscape is poised to evolve into the next generation, while continuing to reach the loyal client base it has served for more than half a century. “We’re taking this to the next level,” Michael says, relating that the move is a new, exciting phase in business life for the family operation. “We can guide it into the future.”
A grassroots effort
When Josh Schnaiter bought Prairie Nursery & Landscaping last year from the previous owner, he initially planned on taking over the property, which was located in Princeton, Ill. But when the property was appraised for nearly $100,000 more than the asking price, Schnaiter and partner Bryanna Poorman realized, “There was no way we were going to do that.”
Schnaiter had reservations about moving the longtime business. He had worked there since 2000 and actually helped the previous owner build the facility. “There was sentimental value there,” he says.
But the price tag for the property quickly negated that feeling, and Schnaiter began searching for other options. The couple found a 20-acre bean field west of the old shop, just out of town, “but not conveniently out of town,” Schnaiter adds. The property sits between Princeton and Pisgah, another small town.
“There is a decent bit of traffic from people going between the two towns, and a quarter mile from our shop is Lovers Lane, where there are a lot of nicer homes,” he says. The land is close enough to both towns to continue driving bulk materials business – selling mulch and rock. (Schnaiter moved about 600 yards of mulch last year.)
There was no building on the land, so Schnaiter had to meet with the local zoning board to ensure he could continue selling mulch and rocks.
“We are on a state highway, so we had to get permission for our entrance to make sure it was in the right area because the land is positioned where the highway curves,” he says. The driveway location had to be deemed safe.
Schnaiter opted to build a pole barn on the property, similar to the structure at the old location. He worked through Morton Buildings, which provides the supplies and then builds barns (and other structures) on site. Schnaiter acted as the general contractor on the project. “We did all the concrete work and electrical. I had a guy help with the plumbing. We tried to do anything and everything possible to cut down on cost and really make it our own,” he says.
The building also includes living quarters for Schnaiter and Poorman, along with stables for Poorman’s horses.
Balancing time working in the field and finishing the building was the greatest challenge. Schnaiter spent days working on clients’ projects. After 5 p.m. he moved on to his own building site. The building was completed and the business moved to the new property in August 2014.
After the move, Schnaiter did some radio advertising to let the locals know that the business had a new home.
But because there are about 7,700 people in town, word traveled fast, he says. At the town’s annual Homestead Festival, Prairie Nursery & Landscaping had a float in the parade with brickwork and a sign announcing the move.
“It was amazing how many people would drive by the new property and stop to see what was going on while we were building,” Schnaiter says.
Schnaiter hopes to begin planting nursery stock this year, and he wants to grow the retail business. He says the building will probably never be “finished.” “There will always be something,” he says, “but we’re feeling settled in now and everything is flowing.”