Twelve Hints for Choosing a Location
1. There will be times when your emotion wants one place and your budget and business plan say it is wrong. You must put your emotion aside and follow the rules. Match it to your LIFE.
2. How do I handle expansion from a small start up? Easy, rent another room. One of the best ways to expand is to set up a nearby premises. Remember in the event you want to downsize in the future, it is very easy to let go one of two small premises in preference to shutting down the entire large school. Think cash flow at all times. Plan for the best and worst.
3. Demographic information such as population, number of people using the trains in your area and population profiling, can be supportive. If you can’t find this information, then find someone who can and pay them to research the area. These services can be inexpensive and are well worth paying for. You can find them via the Internet or if you need help to getting going, contact my office.
4. Get into the area. Walk around, feel the atmosphere. See how the locals react to you speaking English, and to you.
If you feel you have found a nice place to start up, be sure to walk it at night. I am amazed at how many people rent rooms without going out to check them at night. Get out there about closing time at the drinking holes and walk the area. Is it well lit? Does it feel friendly even at night? Does is feel safe? Remember if you are teaching adults, 85% of your business may well be female and studying with you after work. We don’t want them scared off by a nasty night atmosphere.
5. Sign-age. When negotiating your contract for the rental premises be sure to include the use of external sign-age within your conditions. Whilst it is not essential to have a prominent sign, it sure can’t hurt.
In some cases the owner will refuse with a wink. The wink may be hard for us as foreigners to read, but this means “no but O.K.” If you keep your eyes open you will usually be able to figure this out and I would always go with a good wink in these cases. In these cases you use the “try it and see” method. Put up a sign and see what happens. I suggest you start with a small inexpensive sign just in case!
6. Easy to find. For most students the decision to join your school or not will be made at a demonstration or trial lesson. If on the way to this first lesson they get lost, you will be lost. Make sure the location is easy for the students to find.
7. Get up close with the large Japanese-owned chains. Have no fear here. Your product is better, you care about your students and you let your students pay by the month. Rather than worry about being too close to these large Japanese-owned companies, seek them out. Remember they spend millions of dollars on advertising to bring students into your area. Most students who visit them will also look around for other schools in the area. If this is your school they visit, you just took advantage of some free advertising.
8. Rural areas need parking. If you’re in one of the big cities, parking will be of little use. However to the rural school, it is very important. Parking will normally cost money. Be sure to negotiate parking before you open. Look around for free parking.
9. Terms of contract. Check the terms of rental contract before you sign. Key points are:
a) How much of the key money (you will be hard put to escape key money in Japan) is refundable.
b) Term of contract and releasability. How long does the contract last and what notice is needed to terminate the contract. I would think long and hard before entering a contract with more then 60 days notice with a small start up. I prefer 30 days and most of the over 100 contracts I have helped set up have been 30 days releasable. Remember even if the term of the lease is one year or more it doesn’t matter if you have a 30-day release clause, you are out in one calendar month. This flexibility can be life saving.
Check for annual or biannual resign fees. In the Kyoto area and some areas of Tokyo, we see fairly heavy resign charges of up to 2 months rent on a biannual basis. Don’t be afraid of these but do calculate them in as a monthly average expense within your budget. I would usually average these lump sums payments out over two years.
10. Conditions of the room:
No stairs past the third floor please.
Good lighting in the day and not too much at night.
We want a neat and tidy entranceway. Don’t want to see too many bicycles in the entrance.
Check for air conditioners. You will need them and they cost about US$700 each. The more of them in at the beginning, the better.
No dirty advertising in the letterboxes. Look out for it as it is easy to see: if they are there they will probably be flowing out of the rubbish can by the mailboxes.
If you will be living in the rooms as well as teaching, look for a shape that allows for the classroom to be by the entrance and can be shut off by a door or curtain. We don’t want the students moving through the actual living area if it can be helped.
11. Proximity to your residence. Of course if you will be living and working from the same place then you have no concerns other than keeping it looking good for students at all times your schedule is open.
If you are not going to be living in the school, then give ample consideration to how far you place the school from your home. Daily transit times can be wearing and transportation costs add up. I would always want to live in the same local as my school. The more you are seen in the area of your school, the more prospective students will trust your school.
12. Cost per new student. Once you establish the initial student base, you will find students arriving on at your school via word of mouth. The cost for one of these students is no more than doing a good job.
However when we first get going, we must advertise to GET new students. As a rule of thumb you should know that the bigger the train station or more densely populated the area, the more it will cost you to find each student.
Take care of this as many a new schools are attracted to the big stations as they see them as massive recruitment fields. They are but there is a cost. It comes down to a balance. The smaller the station, the quicker everybody will know about your offer.
Once they know, there is little you can do but keep reminding the same people.
The larger the station the more expensive it becomes to advertise; however at the large stations we never run out of fresh population to tell about our school. So small areas have a cheaper cost per new student and large areas will cost you more per student. Take care to choose a station or area that suits your LIFE.