Operations, Sales & Marketing, V7I1

Lot Locations, Logistics

(Photo courtesy of Charles Hutchins)

When Kloter Farms, a provider of outdoor structures and handcrafted furniture in Ellington, Connecticut, was looking for a place to sell sheds in 1980, the company found a good location on the family’s farm.

“It was an empty lot on grandpa’s farm,” says Jason Kloter, who handles sales of custom building projects and is the son of founder Keith Kloter. “We bounced around one or two other locations close to where we were, but it had a lot of practicality. It was a good location on a good street, and we did lots of improvements—bring up the grade, bring a lot of fill-in.”

In 2017, Charles Hutchins, president and CEO of Shed ‘N Carport Pro in Radcliffe, Kentucky, was looking for a new lot location. His top two factors for selecting the spot were it had to be in a high-traffic area with high visibility. 

“I, fortunately, accomplished both,” he says. “The other important factor was to have a lot with room to expand. I have expanded my lot in the last two years and it has been great. Having plenty of room for your delivery vehicles to maneuver is also a huge plus.”

Both Kloter Farms and Shed ‘N Carport Pro successfully selected sales lot locations, working with the local zoning boards, and creating lot displays that attract customers. So, how can a builder/dealer looking to set up a retail shed lot achieve their success? 

LOT SELECTION FACTORS

Hutchins stresses the importance of investigating potential locations when choosing a shed sales lot. 

He says to look at several factors, including whether or not growth is happening in the area of the community the builder/dealer is looking, if business in the area is thriving or declining, and looking to see how many vacant businesses are in the area.

Kloter’s recommendations for selecting a shed sales lot follow along with how the business chose its lot in 1980: “I would say location, traffic, and affordability.”

ZONING BOARDS

One element in choosing a location that Hutchins mentions is figuring out whether or not the local planning and zoning board will allow shed sales in the area.

“When I set up my recent location, I had to get engineered drawings and submit them to planning and zoning for approval,” he shares. “In fact, even before the property was purchased, I had to make sure that it was zoned properly to operate my type of business. This went pretty smooth overall with the exception of my shed-style office passing inspection. That posed a challenge but it all worked out in the end.”

“Having a town or a municipality that is willing to embrace and flex based upon the reality of a shed business is huge,” Kloter says. “That’s something you should probably look into before even starting. 

“This process is all about learning what your setbacks are and where can you put your inventory and how do they even look at inventory? The closest thing that we found in our town that matched an existing business was auto dealerships where your inventory is kind of on display, but zoning departments know how to deal with parking lots. They don’t always know how to deal with whatever makes up a shed lot.”

So how can a builder or dealer work with a local zoning board to avoid conflicts when it comes to layout and placement?

Hutchins recommends meeting with the zoning board well in advance and getting in writing everything that needs to be done to comply with the local rules. 

“Have a ‘hat in hand’ attitude when dealing with a zoning board to make the process smoother,” he suggests. “I have found that zoning boards will treat you like you treat them. Kill them with kindness!”

“My experience in working with numerous building projects on lots of different things is that they want to see a general, well-thought-out layout before they can even give you good input,” shares Kloter. “Some sort of a drawing of traffic flow, being mindful of whatever is existing, such as wetlands; if there are setbacks, it’s their numbers.”

Kloter recommends figuring out how to take the business model of a shed lot and fit it into local zoning regulations by discovering what facets of the shed industry zoning boards don’t understand. 

“Again, I would say RV sales, auto dealerships, those are the businesses that most resemble our model,” he says.

Working with the board and looking ahead to what the sales lot could become can also potentially head off any future challenges.

“Back when we originally started the business, the zoning board let us get rolling out of a shed,” shares Kloter. “As soon as we started working, they realized that things took off and now we needed a place for employees to go to the bathroom on-site. That was a problem. 

“There was a gas station next door, and we had a working arrangement with the owners of the gas station. They allowed us to use their bathrooms. But as we grew, that sort of arrangement just didn’t fly. Eventually, we wound up buying the gas station. Many towns are going to require a permanent building with bathrooms.

“Working out of a shed with a Porta Potty might work out in the country somewhere, but many locales, it’s not going to fly.” 

But what if a builder/dealer puts a plan forward and the zoning board rejects it?

“From that point, determine why it was rejected and see if you can work with it,” Kloter says. “There are some pieces of property that once you throw in all the zoning regs, they won’t work for a shed lot and you have to embrace that. 

“Learn what the rules are and then lay out your lot. Don’t just go after a variance because it’s what you want to do. You have to prove that there’s not a better way to do it, and sometimes towns don’t offer variances; they hardly ever approve them. Other towns are very flexible. 

“Talking to other businesses and learning to play by the rules, that’s what’s needed more so today it seems.”

Hutchins agrees that if a plan gets rejected, find out why. 

“The rejection may be due to something minor that you can tweak to make it work out,” he says. “If it’s something major, you will need to weigh out all of your options. You may have to let a location go and find another one if the process becomes too costly and complex.”

LOT LAYOUT

Besides laying out a shed lot that meets the approval of a local zoning board, the lot also has to be set up to garner the most sales possible.

Hutchins displays a variety of sheds, garages, and carports at his location to attract as many potential customers as possible. 

“I truly believe that having a nice variety of products will attract more customers and increase sales,” he says. “For example, on many occasions I’ve had customers who only intended to stop by and purchase a shed also order a playset for their kids.” 

Regarding sheds, Hutchins says he offers many siding options, such as vinyl, metal, painted Smartside, and insulated steel panel sheds.

“I normally try to assign certain areas of my lot to buildings of similar sidings to make it easy for the customer to look around and decide on what they prefer,” he shares.

Another strategy Hutchins uses is to display his best-selling sheds in a highly visible location on the lot that is easy for customers to access. 

“I’m also a true believer in using signage and displaying the prices on each shed,” he says. “In addition, I put my business cards and brochures inside the displays. Make it as simple and easy on your customers as you can.”

“Our sales lot transformed when we decided that we were not going to sell our displays,” Kloter says. “Otherwise, your sales lot has to be laid out so every display is easily accessible so as soon as it’s sold, you can deliver to the customer. 

“We have a dedicated portion of our sales lot—we call the top lot—where we have 20 or 30 different things that we only switch out once a year. It’s highly landscaped, and they’re specifically designed with colors, options, styles.”

He says the specific lot designs make it efficient and easy for salespeople. However, Kloter Farms’ sales force has to commit to not sell the display sheds in that part of the lot.

“When you’re new in business, it’s hard to make that commitment when somebody comes in and wants to buy not to take their money,” Kloter admits. “But this year was a perfect example. I think it served us better than any year previously. I went by so many shed lots that their display was decimated because there was never any time for stock; there was never time to replenish and all of a sudden there was nothing on the shelf. 

“And if there’s one thing you need in any business if you want to sell something you need it on the shelf.

“When a customer came, our display was 100 percent. So every building was on display—all the shapes, all the styles, all the colors.”

Kloter says it’s impossible to create that level of a display, the design feature on their lot, if a dealer is constantly moving things in and out of it.

“It allows you to pack your stuff in a lot tighter,” he shares. “That’s why we have poured sidewalks winding in between what we call pods. Each pod has probably between four and eight shades in it, and every year we redo those pods. 

“We’ve got the same template to work with but we can change different sizes, different styles, different colors, and keep things always looking fresh.”

FINAL THOUGHTS

Kloter’s best piece of advice for setting up shed sales lots circles back to working with local zoning boards.

“Don’t get frustrated,” he says. “Listen when they tell you something won’t work. Ask them for a suggestion—what will work?

“I find that quickly people get frustrated and aggravated, and they think it’s bureaucracy and they’re angry and it just it blows up the process. You can work with them if you respect them and listen. 

“I’m a project manager on our two- and three-car garages, and so I coach a lot of customers on working with zoning. As soon as you’re angry, there’s not much chance of finding a path forward.”

Hutchins’s final advice for choosing and setting a shed lot is the same as what he said at the beginning of the article: Look for high-traffic, highly visible locations with ample room. 

“I would add to look for a situation where the person who is going to be selling the sheds is 100 percent dedicated and is looking for additional income,” he says. “I recommend offering a nice variety of sheds to attract more customers.”

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