Just do it again

25 September 2015

Alena Tikhova

Dodo Pizza partner

Alena Tikhova

We were stuck. We couldn’t even inch forward and didn’t know what to do. And, to tell you the truth, it was a disaster. Our promise was to open the first Dodo Pizza store in Oxford in October. Our investors, employees, and customers (and some Oxford residents, too) were expecting us to keep that promise. And we did our best not to let them down. But in July, after a few months of hard work, we still didn’t have a location for the store.

In theory, the search for a location is a straightforward process, especially when you have such a great tool as our smart spreadsheet that helps evaluate every possible space. What’s the deal? You make a list of all the locations that are for rent in town. You choose the best ones. You negotiate with the landlords. And finally you make a deal with one of them. Bingo!

In reality, it’s not that simple because things change constantly. New information comes and alters your understanding of the situation. Your vision of the best place evolves too. Other entrepreneurs compete with you for locations and spoil your game. Landlords come up with rules and conditions that make their spaces much less appealing. Weeks, even months go by—and you’re still standing where you started.

At some point, you’ll definitely reach the pinnacle of desperation. It may look like you’ve done everything you could, and you don’t know what else you can do. But if you’re stuck, the best you can do is just keep trying to move yourself in any direction you can.

If you don’t see any other options, start over and do the same thing that you’ve already done—again. You’ll be surprised to find that sometimes making almost the same steps over again may lead you to an entirely different point. Eventually, you’ll find your spot. Like we found the Red House.

It didn’t even appear on our first short list of the best locations in Oxford. We started searching for a variety of options on the Internet and in local newspapers, but mostly just among the “for rent” or “for lease” signs in the streets. And after a few weeks of searching, we thought that the best option we had was the Highland Court trade center.


That location had the highest scores (both investment and commercial) on our magic spreadsheet. It meant that we could spend less money renovating the space and make profit more easily. It was a rare, almost ideal combination. But the deal just didn’t work out for us.

The landlord wanted us to secure a full amount of what would end up being 10 years of payments. If we decided to close the pizzeria or simply move it to another location, we still had to pay the landlord rent until this 10-year rental period ended. Wow, what a lucrative deal! Not for us, unfortunately.

Then we started to think about Cash Time, the former office of AT&T, which was not far from a trade center with a fitness club and a furniture store. It had the second highest commercial score (79,9), and a satisfactory investment score (70,8). It could have become our home in Oxford. But the landlord finally decided to rent out the whole building to one tenant. Bad luck again.

The third option was a former frozen yogurt store, also located in the western part of town. Our smart spreadsheet thought that it was about the same as one other space—the former England Dan’s steakhouse. But in this case, we overruled. The frozen yogurt setup looked much more compelling, mostly because it was surrounded by coffee houses and trendy outlets.

So we signed the letter of intent with the landlord—having made the first step towards signing a lease agreement. While working on the details of the deal, we started to doubt our decision, because the frozen yogurt place was a long drive to campus and the city center. The monthly rent was high too ($3,170). At the same time, we decided to narrow our focus and start with a delivery only in Oxford. The space was too big for that.

It was time for us to look east. Our team had another option on the opposite side of town—two spaces at an AutoZone trade center. But both were far from perfect. One didn't have windows facing the street, and because of that, it received the lowest scores on our spreadsheet. Another one was even bigger than the frozen yogurt joint. At one point, there was a potential co-renter who was interested in sharing the space and the rent, which could have been an option for us. Didn’t happen.

And that was it. We had five options on our short list—and none of them worked for us.

What could we do? We even began to talk about moving to another town. Then we took a deep breath and started over again. Maybe we missed something? And it turned out that we did.

Frantically, we went through ads on Craigslist and found one space we overlooked. It was the Red House. Its location was almost perfect—it was a stand-alone building clearly seen from Jackson Ave East, one of the main roads in town. A 5-minute walk from the Square (bingo for both delivery and carry-out). A 5-minute walk from campus (again, bingo for both delivery and carry-out).

The Red House got a commercial score of 88 points, the highest so far—even higher than Highland Court. It was a beautiful, tiny house, perfectly located, with the lowest rent and an amazing landlord, Dennis, who owned a recording studio in California. Dennis was the only landlord talking to our team directly without getting a real estate agent involved in the process. Having mutual trust and understanding with a landlord is more valuable than lots of other benefits.

We had a feeling that we nailed it. We said “Yes.” The landlord said “Yes.” We went to City Hall to check whether the Red house was located in a zone appropriate for business. They said “Yes.”

Finally, we signed the lease agreement after almost three months of constant searching, negotiations, and even one signed letter of intent with the frozen yogurt place. Life couldn’t have been better. Who would have thought that our location adventures had just begun?

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