While we love to produce voluminous tomes of floatation-related material, sometimes just a brief overview will suffice to get the ol’ mental cogs turning. When it comes to opening a float center, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds on any given topic.
In honor, then, of our newly minted, fresh off the press, prize winning, Construction Packet, we are releasing one of its more succinct components, the Location Checklist, as a free resource. Don’t let the fact that it’s only one page fool you – this set of questions breaks down the major site and location considerations for your center. In the Construction Packet, the checklist is the culmination of a longer section that explores how to pick spot for your float center in depth.
The Location Checklist is broken up into two parts. The first set of questions focuses on the physical building itself, while the second dives into major considerations for selecting a location. This post will explore a few of those questions in depth.
This section focuses on the physical assets and capacities of the building as it relates to the construction and operation of a float center. There are an incredible amount of types of buildings available for commercial lease and purchase. You might be looking at a downtown spot, strip mall, old building, second floor studio, etc. Whatever you are considering, be sure to evaluate your options carefully.
When looking at a building for your prospective center, you’ll want to take your time and get to know the structure well, inside and out. Whereas a less dynamic small business, such as a bookstore, has a lighter tread, a float center’s success rides on the guts and bones of the buildings that they are in. The weight, moisture, and salt do battle with the floors, walls, HVAC, and electrical systems and you want to be sure that the building has the ability to support your center for the long haul.
What’s the substrate made out of?
If you’re choosing between two more-or-less equal buildings, and the only difference is the type of substrate, wood or concrete, then absolutely go for concrete. It’s easier to work with, harder to destroy, and more compatible with a range of other building materials. With concrete and steel, you get more of a blank slate from which you can create your ideal space. A wood floor, and wood in general, is more likely to bend, expand, and flex in a wet environment. Wood floors will flex with the seasons and, therefore, aren’t compatible with inflexible waterproofing materials such as epoxy. Because concrete doesn’t flex, there are more options for materials.
In general, making plans based on worst-case-scenarios isn’t the ideal way to live. In fact, I like floating because it puts me in exactly the opposite state of mind. “The bus is late. Sweet, more time for petting this cute dog and listening to the DTFH podcast.” However, when it comes to float centers, you want to head off any and all problems well in advance. If you are renting space in a building with a lot of wood and your equipment malfunctions, not only can it ruin your space and buildout, but also your landlord’s building and, most likely, your relationship. That said, if you have to go with wood substrate, there are ways to protect it. It’s feasible, but gives you undoubtedly less variability when planning your space. Be sure to consider the cost of procedures needed to protect a wood substrate against salt damage. Maybe it’s worth it to pay a little more rent for a building with concrete?
What floor are you on?
Somewhere down the temporal timeline, when floatation has been accepted into the mainstream and everyone has a tank in their skypad (this is what we call apartments in the mega-cities of the future), float technology will be so advanced that we’ll no longer need to worry about salt, water, and noise protection. We’ll be able to put a float tank anywhere. Buildings will heal themselves from salt damage. Perfectly calibrated noise-canceling speakers will ensure silence even when your downstairs neighbors are having an oldies dance party and jamming out to Lorde. Nano-drones will control the temperature, keep the moisture at bay, and fly around, cleaning up micro salt particles.
However, we live in the here and now and are limited to the knowledge and technology currently on hand. A lot of commercial buildings aren’t ready for the impact of a float center, and putting a center on a second floor can be risky. Salt is destructive enough without gravity helping it destroy all of the floors below you. While you’ll find most float centers on the ground floor, some people are making elevated float centers work out. In cities especially, space is limited and the rent for first floor retail space can be too high for their business model work.
Even if you are looking at a ground floor option, make sure that the upstairs and downstairs neighbors are compatible with your need for a quiet environment. If it’s a commercial space, visit the above, below, and neighboring spaces to make sure that the noise created is acceptable for the hours you intend to be open.
What walls already exist and how easily can you move them around?
There are a lot of really creative ways to fit a good number of float rooms into a relatively small space. By optimizing wall, tank, and shower placement, you can squeeze a lot of value out of a small amount of square footage.
You will be constrained by the structural realities of any building you are looking at. Make sure to take note of the load bearing walls and, to clear serious alterations with your landlord-to-be. Some landlords might even cover some of your buildout costs if they see your construction as an improvement to their space.
While new development might come with a higher rent, this can save you money in demolition and buildout costs. It also increases your center’s value because you are able to lay it out exactly the way that is right for you and your customers. Catching new construction sites before they are built is a great way to get tenant improvement (TI) money: the landlord will often be willing to give you a set amount of money per square foot if you’re doing all of the buildout instead of them.
Location, flocation, floatcation!
Location matters because it dictates how your business is fated to interact with the world at large. Do you plan to be a hip urban spot, nestled on the 3rd floor just above the bustle of the street, or do you envision a stand-alone building? How do you want your center to fit in with the other businesses offered? What is your customer base?
How noisy is the surrounding environment?
Noise is a huge consideration. While the integrity of the building and skill of your contractors matter for soundproofing, all of that is irrelevant if the building is next to a road with heavy truck traffic. Regular cars don’t pose much of a problem – it’s just the deep rumbles that will probably make it into your float tanks. Naturally, a didgeridoo store as a neighbor probably wouldn’t fly.
Make sure there isn’t a community machine shop in the basement or a Tuesday/Thursday rock-yoga class at the yoga studio next door. Expect that the use of neighboring space will be different for varying days and times. Do your research and make sure you don’t have any hidden sound surprises! You don’t want to make the $500K mistake of not fully vetted the surrounding environment for potential noise issues.
Is the location publicly visible?
How visible is your center to the public? Are you in a foot-traffic heavy neighborhood, or do you plan to be on a main road? Visibility, while it comes with a price tag, is some of the best advertising. General lack of exposure is probably the biggest hurdle towards filling our tanks.
At Float On, we love being in a spot with a lot of foot traffic. The floating brochures we put outside get taken like hotcakes, and this fosters awareness while bringing in new customers that might not have found us otherwise. If your float center is a little more off the beaten path, you might need to put more money and time into outreach and advertising.
What’s the history of the area?
You’ll want to know the history of the building, neighborhood, and the overall area. What other businesses are around and how long have they been there? Spend some time in neighboring shops, talk to the landlord, and be sure to explore the surrounding blocks.
Is it an up-and-coming spot with projected development? Future growth can be good for bringing in new customers in the long run, but it can also mean jack-hammer headaches and rumbling trucks in the short run. Talk to other store owners and get a sense of the history, as well as the potential upcoming changes. Make sure to get in touch with the relevant neighborhood business association as well.
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The questions explored in this post are but a sample of what you’ll need to consider when facing the exciting and uncertain task of finding a home for your new center. Be patient, do your due diligence, and stay flexible and open-minded during your search. Make sure to compare different options, and not just get location one-itis with the first spot that catches your eye. Hopefully, you’ll have the luxury of comparing a wide range of options.
There will be locations that are objectively better than others, but there will also be locations that are simply different that will present you with a classic “two roads diverged” dilemma. Just as in life, your float center will end up being a unique amalgamation of an infinite amount of choices. When exploring location options, it’s helpful to have a balance of openness, creativity, persistence, and compromise. This is one of the biggest commitments that you’ll make along this journey of many large decisions. Be patient — there’s a salty paradise for you out there somewhere.