Dabbling in Java and Oils

Marrying art and lunch is a novel idea, but there's no reason why this gallery owner shouldn't pull it off -- if he brushes up on business basics

By Karen E. Klein

Q: I'm hoping you can provide me with some direction. After owning an art gallery for four years, I am seriously considering adding a coffee shop, but I have no idea where to start. -- K.L., Delray Beach, Fla.


There are successful models that combine coffee shops and bookstores, so it's possible that a coffee shop could become a successful part of your art gallery -- but only if you have the foot traffic to support it, experts say.

Art galleries -- unless they are in busy malls or shopping centers -- don't tend to attract a huge amount of foot traffic. Keep track for a few weeks to determine how many people walk through your gallery on a typical day, and at what time most are likely to arive. Also measure, if you can, how many people walk by the front door. These are potential coffee-shop customers, even if they wouldn't otherwise come into your gallery.

Do you have any experience operating a restaurant or coffee shop? This is the first and most important question for you, says Art Manask, a restaurant consultant with Manask & Associates. If you don't have any background in the notoriously tricky restaurant business, you may want to bring in an independent consultant to help you answer the key questions that Manask identifies, below: • What is the nearby competition for your coffee shop - if any? If there is little or no competition and you have a good amount of foot traffic, your idea has a much better chance of success than it would if you had few passing customers and an existing coffee shop across the street.

• Do you have the necessary experience to design, build, and operate a coffee shop profitably? If not, would the potential profit justify hiring help?

• Why do you want to add the coffee shop? Is it mainly to increase foot traffic to your gallery, to add a second revenue stream or to have a place to comfortably and conveniently meet with your customers?

• If you build the coffee shop and it is not successful, are you prepared to sustain its continued operation, even if it is operating at a loss?

• Does your lease even permit such an addition? Do your city's zoning requirements allow such an addition?

• Do you have sufficient square footage to add a coffee shop, including public bathrooms, parking, and other amenities that will be required by code?

• Do you have the necessary capital resources for the build-out? These costs will include construction, permits, licenses, startup, preopening costs, and operating capital.

If your answers to these questions are positive, your consultant should be able to advise you on whether to go ahead and assist you in implementing your plan. You can find more information at the National Restaurant Assn., at www.restaurant.org, which features a list of restaurant consultants. Good luck!

Have a question about your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at smartanswers@businessweek.com, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 45th Floor, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally.

Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who specializes in covering covered entrepreneurship and small-business issues.

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