Skip Common Errors in Designing Commercial Space for Your Business

Once you

Whether you’ve already signed the lease or are still searching for
the perfect commercial space, think hard – get some help if you need to
– about how you’ll make it yours, and what it will take.

in mind the business mantra, “image, image, image,” how can you mold
the space to give a distinct impression, provide plenty of elbow room
and easy traffic flow, hold up to building inspections and more, all in
keeping with your budget and business goals? From carpet to closet,
staff bathroom to board room, pizza joint to antique superstore, the
materials you choose and the way your people come together are crucial
keys to success in your new business.

A flight to inner space

out your retail space, you may be surprised to learn, depends upon
having a sound business plan that can help you determine logistics and
customer demographics. Once you have that, then it’s time to make a
list of all the functions that need to be accommodated by your space,
says Michael Kelley, director of interior services at KZF Design in

Do you need a waiting area? How big must the
checkout be? How much space will you devote to displays? Do you need
storage? Restrooms? An office in back? And if you’re a specialty
business like a dog groomer or kennel, is there plumbing where you need
it, or will you have to move pipes?

When Lena Moore
opened Club Pet Too, a kennel in Commerce Township, Mich., she had a
12,000-square-foot empty warehouse to remake in her dream kennel’s
image. She started by mapping out where the front desk check-in area
would be and took it from there.

“We wanted to create an
entry that was safe as far as the flow of people in and out,” Moore
says. “They’re coming in with dogs on leashes. We needed lots of space
so they weren’t bumping into each other.”

Guided by her
architect-builder father, Moore took pen to paper and decided where to
situate day-care area, boarding kennels, cat boarding space, grooming
space and retail. After the drawings came the tape measures. “We wanted
to make sure to create an effective work environment for everybody
working at the kennel,” she says.

They did move pipes to
have plumbing wherever they needed it, Moore notes. “Check out where
your utilities are and consider the cost of moving electrical or
plumbing,” she says. “It’s a big deal.”

TIP: Don’t forget to figure in handicap accessibility where needed and
required (check local codes), bathroom access, storage space for
inventory, and lighting. When you’re trying to sell something, it’d
better be well-lit, inside and out, Kelley advises.

No time for sighs — prioritize

Many startups have limited interior design dollars, so prioritize, says Joyce Fownes, principal at Perkins+Will in Atlanta.

are the most important things for your space? A really strong image in
the reception area that sets the brand of your company, or support(ing)
your employees?”

Whether or not they’re strapped for
cash, many companies are opting for the high-efficiency “cockpit
design” that puts everything at employees’ fingertips, Fownes says. And
don’t forget to add extra space for “circulation.” Fownes recommends
allowing an extra 40 percent space for corridors and closets.

Kelley: “You want an environment that is going to promote your
business. Create an image or brand that sets you apart. You don’t want
to walk into a jewelry store and have it look like an auto parts shop
because that’s what was there before. Have a common thread as part of
your inventory, part of your advertising, letterhead, business cards —
a cohesive business image.”

How do I look?

Any company can benefit from an imaging study, but it’s particularly important when furnishing your first office.

suggests pulling pages that you like from magazines to create a file of
interesting images – consensus building, so all stakeholders develop a
shared vision. This vision directs you to a palette of colors and

A restaurant, for example, needs to attract
passersby – that’s where image and visibility connect. Julius Nasso,
vice president of operations for Big City Development in New York,
suggests putting together a team consisting of an interior architect
and a kitchen designer to help identify special utilities and equipment
needs like mapping out exhaust ducts, special plumbing, floor sinks and
walk-in coolers. Because the chef and his staff are the ones who will
have to go about their frenetic craft in the space you make for them,
their input is important and can provide insights not even imagined by

Also with restaurants, the Health Department
needs a document package that includes architectural plans and the
kitchen design, Nasso says. The materials in a commercial kitchen must
meet health codes, many of them, including such requirements as a
washable ceiling and durable, easily cleanable surfaces in food prep

Have a seat

“Finance and
insurance companies still want a very traditional look with wood, high
ceilings and standard lighting,” Nasso says. High-tech and
companies, however, are opting “for more of a Euro design with a mix of
glass, wood or metals.”

Office furniture has really
reached the 21st century, with options like glass wall systems to
separate while fostering a feeling of camaraderie. With the flick of a
switch, glass walls can even turn opaque to make meetings private.

are five major lines of commercial furniture, purchased from retailers
and wholesalers alike – Steelcase, Knoll, Allsteel, Herman Miller and
Haworth. (Each company has its own website, too.) Scores more small
companies outfit offices with desks, chairs and cabinetry, and all
commercial furniture vendors offer leasing options, so you don’t have
to spend thousands outright.

As for specialty equipment
and funky fixtures, check out trade shows, where you can watch demos
and try out the equipment yourself. Leaf through trade magazines and
don’t gloss over the advertisers. Online searches can be helpful for
price-shopping, and most cities have a merchandise mart or design
center to which design professionals have access and can often obtain

Above all, keep it simple, says Kelley.
“There’s a lot of great retail spaces here in Cincinnati that get
really creative – they use the concrete floor, the cinderblock walls,
they suspend things within the space and make it their own but it’s all
about their merchandise, not their environment.”

the environment you have,” says Kelley. “Keep it simple, keep things
free-standing.” If everything’s detachable, then when your business
takes off, you can easily move to bigger digs when your lease is up.

Let your lease be your guide

of leases, you’ll need to read the fine print to determine what you can
and can’t do to modify your commercial space. It’s all spelled out in
legal language – whether it’s okay to break down walls or just paint
them. Learn the lease, and if you’re having trouble understanding what
it says, hire a good real estate lawyer to translate.

buildings require tenants to hire from a preferred list of contractors.
That, too, is crystal-clear in the lease. Also, look for language
indicating whether the landlord will pay a certain amount to help you
furnish your digs – that’s known as “tenant improvement” or TI dollars.

the end, don’t be afraid to hire someone to help — from attorneys and
architects to interior designers. They’ll draw up contracts and
construction documents, which every commercial tenant needs to start
the design process. After the landlord approves the plans, a general
contractor submits them for the proper permits.

time you’re developing space where the public is going to be, the city
building department is going to want to see a set of documents that
ensures you’re going to meet all safety codes,” Kelley says.

like you want your business to flow, make sure your journey to a cool
space is smooth. Ask good questions and work with qualified
professionals. Everything takes teamwork.

Lynne Meredith Schreiber is a freelance writer for StartupNation.

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