Up and Out

Build-out and expansion tips from retailers who have been there, done that

When it’s time to expand to a new location, perks can morph into pitfalls when details are ignored. Retailers who take time to plan and communicate through every phase of the building process can open their next location with confidence.

Know what you’re getting into 


Jeff Bassemier, vice president of Bassemiers Fireplace, Patio, & Spas in Evansville, Indiana, has plenty of experience when it comes to expansion. He has four buildings located at one site address, two of which are showrooms. 

His advice to retailers: Be aware of what you’re getting into. 

“Don’t assume anything,” Bassemier says. “If what contractors are telling you doesn’t sound right, and you’re not experienced enough to be sure, find somebody who is. Don’t get free advice. That’s the most expensive advice you’ll ever get.” 

He says paying another contractor or architect for a second opinion is always an option. 

Christy Carlson, co-owner of Alaska Stove & Spa in Anchorage, Alaska, suggests retailers be prepared for the loads of details and financial stressors that will need to be addressed.

“I would expect to have added delays and additional cost,” she says, explaining that gaining a building permit will likely require bringing everything up to current building code, which could include expensive service or device upgrades, visual enhancements like landscaping or sidewalks, modification to signage, property drainage and more. 

“Contractors will hit you hard on changing orders and plans that are made mid-construction,” Carlson warns. “Knowing precisely what you want things to look like at completion before you start the construction will save money and time.”

After a retailer has decided on a contractor, it’s important to make sure both parties sign a solid building contract before any chargeable work begins. 

“Think of everything that could go wrong and account for it fairly within the contract,” Carlson says. “The popular headaches with contractors will be related to poor work quality and lack of progress. The time and amount of work required between when you sign on a property and when you make your first sale in the showroom can be painful.” 

Carlson explains that daily property expenses will grow until the location can open and gain income. A four-week job can easily take six months or more without good management, so creating a completion schedule with the contractor and holding them to it is vital.

Think critically and creatively about your design choices

When it comes to shopping for a new location, retailers can expect a challenge because the perfect building for their business may not exist. 

Carlson says if a retailer has the mind for it, they should sketch ideas on paper to help express their vision to the contractor. 

“If you are not confident with your own creativity, a commercial architect can go over some different design elements and materials to help you through the process,” she says. “You will likely need flexibility in some areas and design creativity in others for the location to fit your needs. Take time to identify what those needs are.”

Retailers should think about what is working but also about what problems need to be solved. 

“Many important facility features I have learned to love over the years revolve around maintenance and efficiency because time is money,” Carlson explains. 

Plenty of parking for customers and contractor partners that may show up with trailers is one feature that Carlson prioritized, along with secure storage outside and inside the warehouse space. 

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“If you will be testing and repairing spas, make sure to have a space that can handle water leaks and has the proper electrical hook up,” she says. “Think about how your operational side [warehouse] impacts your customer side [showroom.]” 

Some questions retailers can ask themselves are: Will customers be able to hear forklifts running? Will the showroom be exposed to fumes and dust? Does it take a large effort to swap out floor displays? 

There are five doors and 5,000 square feet of space in Bassemier’s newest showroom. He says in its old showroom, it had one door, and the aisles weren’t wide enough to get a tub down.

“If you sold the tub in the back, you were moving six to get to that one,” Bassemier recalls. “So laying the building out in such a fashion that allows the ease of transitioning of product is always a plus.” 

Make the inside feel like an experience for the customer

When it’s time to design the inside, Bassemier suggests keeping the customer’s experience in mind for every detail. He says the decision to go with more square footage in its showroom had to do with recognizing that we’re in a world where people want to see, touch and feel. 

“I felt that the way we would be viable long-term would be not just to be a retail store but to be a destination,” Bassemier says. “To do that, you’ve really got to bring the ‘Wow.’ ”

Bassemier says to consider aesthetics in everything, from color schemes to the placement of electrical plug-ins. To fulfill his vision, Bassemier had a system of trenches dug in the floor so power and water could be seamlessly hooked up to hot tubs in the showroom.

“We plumbed it all so that we can actually hot fill a tub,” Bassemier says. This allows them to quickly and easily offer wet tests on any hot tub on the floor. “We very much push ‘Try before you buy.’ ”  

I felt that the way we would be viable long-term would be not just to be a retail store but to be a destination of sorts. To do that, you’ve really got to bring the ‘Wow.’ ”

Jeff Bassemier, Bassemiers Fireplace, Patio, & Spas

When it comes to color schemes, Bassemier suggests staying away from shades of green because they could reflect off on the hot tub water, making it look dirty. “People are going to see green and smell scum, even if the place smells wonderful,” he says. “The brain tricks you that way. Choosing blues is really a no-brainer.”

He also believes a retailer’s showroom, regardless of what they’re selling, needs to have a welcoming aroma to it as well as visual appeal. In his spa showroom, Bassemier uses Spazazz, an aromatherapy product for spas, in the ventilation system but creates a scent transition when customers walk into the adjoining grill showroom. “You’ve got to make it look, smell and feel right,” he says.

Something is always smoking on a grill in their indoor kitchen with vent hoods, giving off a barbecue aroma to match the rest of the vibe. 

“We knew we hit it when you have customers walk in for the first time and they stop and go, ‘Oh, wow,’ ” Bassemier says.

Before getting immersed in the details, Carlson advises retailers to first consider whether opening another location makes sense for the business. 

“Remember that at the end of the day, it’s not what you make but what you keep,” she says. “There are many smart reasons to open additional locations; however, more is not always better. Examine your company’s revenue efficiency. This can help you decide if the juice is worth the squeeze.” 

Bassemiers Fireplace, Patio, & Spas
Bassemiers, based in Evansville, Indiana, has expanded operations by utilizing multiple
buildings on one site, including two large showrooms designed to help customers have a
memorable spa-buying experience.

Alaska Stove & Spa
When Christy and Robert Carlson III took over the family business, they expanded by
designing a nicer, larger showroom to hold a variety of hot tub and sauna models.