That nervous pull in the pit of your stomach. That feeling of will they/won’t they. That heart-skip when their name pops up on your phone. I’m talking, of course, of the absolute torture of waiting to hear whether or not your commercial rental application has been approved.
It’s a horrific waiting game — you find a place you think is perfect, you start to visualise your business there and, without meaning to, you get emotionally invested, setting yourself up for heartbreak if the spot goes to someone else.
The old butcher shop, with its 60s brown tiles and a cavernous cool room, didn’t feel like it would be in high demand.
But as I’ve said before, there’s something special about this place.
Despite going into the application process feeling confident, we found ourselves wilting over the following two weeks as a nervous wait took over. When we eventually did get the keys, we would discover that we beat out 12 other applications in the process.
Here’s a rundown on how we managed to secure the commercial lease of our dreams.
Get daily business news.
The latest stories, funding information, and expert advice. Free to sign up.
Commercial leases in the time of COVID-19
I don’t need to tell you that COVID-19 has changed the game for commercial real estate.
Here in Melbourne, there’s a concerning number of empty shopfronts, sometimes along the city’s most popular strips. Each time I pass yet another commercial “For Lease” sign, I pause and think of what little dream might have ended there.
The funny thing about commercial real estate is that every agency seems to operate by its own rules. Some agents just want the space filled and will go with first come, first served. Other times, the agent and owners will choose the application that suits them best. It all comes down to how much interest the property has and how long it’s been empty.
After years of negotiated rental reductions and haggling over contracts, landlords and agents are leaning much more towards being cautious about who they hand over to the keys to. Your best bet when it comes to a popular property? Working out how to stand out from the pack and present yourself and your business in a way that is irresistible.
The stages of a rental application
For Two Franks, there were several stages we went through on our journey to get the keys that every application should roughly follow.
1. The opportunity
When we first saw the “For Lease” sign up at 202 Reynard Street, within hours we had reached out to the agent and registered our interest. Don’t wait. Jump on the chance straight away, particularly if you’re unsure how long the property has been listed for.
2. Onsite walk-through
We then organised an onsite inspection, where we had a walk through with the agent and got to ask questions about the property. We took this opportunity to enthusiastically express how much we wanted the spot to be ours.
3. Application form
Following the inspection, the agent sent through the official application form, which was a formal way of registering our interest in the property and required information from our side like experience, trade references and examples of cash flow.
4. Landlord terms
Next, the agent came back to us with the terms the landlord wanted to offer for the property, including monthly rent, lease duration and annual rent increase percentages.
5. Respond and negotiate
Once we received the landlord’s terms, we read through them carefully. To ensure we could do what we had planned with the space, we explained our ideas for the fit out and checked for the landlord’s permission.
We also took this opportunity to negotiate a few weeks to be rent free, as we would be working on the property without bringing in any income. There was a bit of back and forth between the two parties here, but we managed to reach a happy medium.
6. Getting the keys
Once both parties were happy, we were asked for a lease commencement date, signed the paperwork and received the keys.
That very first evening we had the keys in our hands, we all met at the shop with a bottle of champagne to toast our new adventure (an unmissable step in any new business).
Stand out from the crowd
With so much interest in the property, how did we stand out and get the lease?
Firstly, we were enthusiastic from the get-go. We shared our excitement with the agent and let that filter through to the landlord. We made it very clear just how much we wanted this property and how we would care for it.
Next, we helped the landlord visualise our ideas by sending through a presentation that helped transform our words into a well thought out plan.
This presentation included a backstory on who we are and our connection to the butcher shop, the name we had in mind for the cafe, our previous experience, stages of growth for the business, a design mood board, prospective suppliers, opening hours and possible floor plans.
This showed that we were invested, we were prepared, we had vision and we had respect for the landlord’s property. It is the single most important inclusion that helped us secure the space.
Finally, we stayed on top of the application. Near-daily phone calls (without overreaching) with the agent, just to check how the application was progressing and whether they required anything else from our side, showcased that we were responsible and beyond keen to get the keys.
It must be fate
A few weeks later, I popped into a new cafe that opened not far from me. I had been watching the conversion of a hairdresser’s salon for months and dropped in the very minute their coffee machine was first turned on.
The owner was standing behind the machine, pulling coffees, and with Two Franks on my mind, I felt a camaraderie between us.
I wished him congratulations and we chatted about his shop as I asked how the whole process had gone for him.
“I’m getting ready to open a cafe,” I shared.
When I told him where, his head popped up. “Are you one of the sisters?” he asked.
It turned out that my new local barista had been contacted by the real estate agent for 202 Reynard Street, as she’d helped him on some other business leases.
“I’ve got the perfect spot for you,” she had said.
At that time, in the middle of preparing to launch his new cafe, he told her he would call back. But when he did, two weeks later, the property had already gone — to us!
Sometimes it’s who you know. Sometimes it’s just good timing. But sometimes, you’ve got to take the opportunity head on and give it everything you have so it doesn’t pass you by.
Chryssie Swarbrick is a writer, small-business-juggler and mum of two. She is currently documenting her adventures in opening a cafe, Two Franks, opposite her childhood home.