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(Re)Build It, and They Will Come

By: Joanne Sasvari

When, Why, and How to Renovate Your Business

There will come a day when you look up and realize that your pub is no longer charmingly retro, but rather hopelessly outdated. Or maybe you finally decide to do something about that blind corner in your store where all the product keeps going missing. Or perhaps you’ve had one too many complaints about the smell in your shabby restrooms or the rickety railing on your stairs.

That’s the day a renovation becomes inevitable.

The good news is that renovating has plenty of benefits other than a better-looking space: it can improve operational efficiency, create a better guest experience, attract more customers, and increase revenue by 10 to 20%, according to The Restaurant Times.

The downside? A reno is expensive, time consuming, and disruptive. And renovating a business is more complex than renovating a home. Here’s how to tackle the big job.

The Timing

Mahony & Sons had an enviable location in the Vancouver Convention Centre, overlooking Burrard Inlet and the North Shore mountains and with plenty of foot traffic passing by. But after nearly 12 years, its décor seemed dated, so ownership embarked on a refresh with the help of MGBA Architecture + Interior Design. Two months later, just in time for the busy summer season, doors opened onto a rebranded Mahony’s Tavern. It’s bright, fresh, contemporary, and welcoming. And just as important, it’s functional.

The timing was right for a reno. In fact, some might say it was overdue.

“Restaurants should update their operations every five to seven years.”

Experts suggest that restaurants should update their operations every five to seven years. That doesn’t necessarily mean a wholesale makeover each time, but it does mean staying on top of maintenance. It’s also a good idea to replace aging equipment before it breaks down, when it will almost certainly cost more and disrupt your business.

For a bigger reno, consider the following:

  • Could a makeover attract more customers or a broader market for your business?
  • Could it increase the efficiency of your operations?
  • Could it alleviate safety, security, or sanitary concerns?

Once you have decided that a bigger renovation is in the cards, consider the best timing for your business.

It’s preferable to plan a reno for the slower season, if possible, or for slower times if it is not. Experts advise setting a reopening date and working backward from that. Ongoing supply-chain issues and backlogs in permit approval can delay your project by weeks or even months, so be sure to build in some extra time.

The Budget

The same goes for your budget. Renovations generally run 15 to 20% over budget (often more for food-service establishments) and can go even higher in these inflationary times. A 35% cost overrun is not unheard of, so plan accordingly.

Courtesy of Mahony’s Tavern

In BC a ‘typical’ restaurant reno that requires major upgrades will cost $300 per sq. ft., according to Vancouver-based renovation company Canadoo Enterprises. Of course, there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ restaurant reno, and costs can rise much higher than that depending on the necessary work and how fancy you want to get. The biggest costs include pricey equipment such as refrigeration, ovens, stoves and other appliances; furniture, which is subject to both wear and tear and the changing whims of fashion; and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and cooling) systems that ensure your business is not just comfortable for guests and staff, but will also pass inspection.

In addition, there is the cost of painting, millwork, lighting, landscaping, and permits, not to mention the design and labour. It all adds up, so look into available financial assistance and how much debt you are comfortable taking on.

The Plan

Now you probably have a good idea of what you want, or at least what you don’t want. But it takes a well-crafted plan to make your idea a reality, and that means you need a designer.

Do your research before you reach out to a designer. Study what your most successful competition is doing and get feedback from staff and customers. Observe your own space. Watch how the customers act and how staff navigate to see what works and what doesn’t.

Once you know what you like and need, start compiling a mood board, a collection of images, that you can take to a designer. (It doesn’t have to be an actual board; it can just be a folder of photos on your electronic desktop.)

Use your network to find a designer who can translate your wish for, say, a brighter space into just the right combination of woodwork, textiles, windows, and lighting. If the work requires significant changes to layout and building structure, consider a full-service architecture firm who will work with engineers and designers who specialize in interiors, lighting, acoustics, and even graphics for all your logo and signage needs.

“Give guests a reason to explore your space.”

In addition to functionality and flow consider a backdrop where customers can take photos, a beautiful restroom, accessibility for guests with mobility issues, and unique design elements that will give guests a reason to explore your space. The POS company Toast also advises keeping two things in mind when creating your design: don’t forget to upgrade the exterior as well as the interior, and don’t change too much or you run the risk of alienating existing customers.

A properly executed design will outline your renovation step-by-step, ensure that everything fits and works as it’s meant to, and help you stay on time and budget.

The Build

When it comes to the actual build, you will need a general contractor to oversee the work. That person will connect with all the different trades, such as plumbing, electrical, and HVAC, and will also ensure everyone on site follows safety procedures.

You may need to shut down during construction, which means factoring the loss of revenue into your budget as well.

And don’t forget the permits and approvals because your local government sure won’t. Get them in place as soon as possible in case of delays. Just a few things that may require permits include:

  • Adding on to your existing building
  • Installing electrical wiring
  • Moving sinks and other changes to plumbing
  • Updating your HVAC system
  • Creating or enlarging a patio
  • Removing walls
  • Signage

Construction often means destruction first. Inevitably, mistakes will happen, and unfortunate discoveries will be made, whether it’s a rodent infestation, leaky pipe, or wiring that’s not up to code. Again, this will add to your costs.

But when the work is done, you will have a beautiful new space ready to welcome your customers and start making money. And that makes every penny spent more than worthwhile.