Amusement Lease Space vs. Buying

Perhaps one of the biggest decisions facing the new fun business entrepreneur is the question of amusement lease space vs buying land and building your fun center location from scratch. Should you lease space? or look to buy some land and build from scratch? And once you've made that decision, the question is where! No matter how long you've been in this business or just starting out, you've heard the golden rule when it comes to real estate--location, location, location--but is it really that important?

For some businesses, the classic advice "location, location, location" is right on the mark -- location can mean the difference between feast or famine. But for other enterprises, including a children's play center, location may be much less important than finding affordable rental space. The reason for this is that unlike other retail ventures, these facilities are "destinations". People will not typically drive by your fun center facility and come in to play for a couple of hours - it is a planned event. So in many cases, unlike the Flower Shop that needs to be in the stripe mall to attract drive-by and walk-in sales, your project can drive traffic to your location through good marketing.

However, there are always exceptions to the above. For example, your business goals may be to provide a much needed 'child-minding' service for shoppers of the local mall. That agenda would dictate that in order to offer that service, you need to be in the mall. However in most 'traditional' FEC's and Children's Entertainment Centers the business model is based on attracting visitors to play and stay as a family group over an extended period of time.

Amusement Lease Space & Facility Layout

As with everything you design, build, add and include in your final facility plans, the long term return on that decision is paramount in making the decision to include it - can you drive a return on that investment?

The same applies to your location. What kind of a facility will best help you drive a return on your overall investment? Forget about the dimensions/size of the building for a moment and focus on the physical 'aspects' of the building - what should that look like? Typically, most of these facilities are some form of warehouse or industrial type space. The reasons are usually two-fold, 1) in most cases warehouse space will be cheaper / square foot then high traffic retail space and 2) the space itself is usually more accommodating with ceiling height, interior layout and parking.

A general rule of thumb for interior layout is an open, welcoming entry/exit area with good lighting and enough space (including some seating) to accommodate weekend line-ups for your birthday party's. Additionally, handi-capped access and even lockers in some cases add positive 'guest-impressions'.

To maximize your activity mix think ceiling height - the higher the better. Soft Contained Playgrounds (softplay) are custom designed and a good design can maximize your floor space by using the "volume" of your space. Instead of eating up 2,000 square feet of floor space with a two-level design in a facility with 12 foot ceilings, you could get the same child-capacity in a 3 or 4 level playground with 1,200 square feet of space with 16+ foot ceilings.

Additionally, the added playability received from a 3 or 4 level playground is going to dramatically add to your long term return on that playground investment. As children grow from 4 to 11 years old, their needs and expectations for play will change and it is difficult to meet those needs with a 2 level playground. This is especially true if you are in a community and dependent upon repeat visits each year to survive. Strengthen your playability factor easily by adding height to your playground.

In addition to contained play, other activities may also benefit from higher ceilings; rock climbing, bouncy castle and some of those newer bungee-jumpers And, if you can swing it with your landlord, adding staff / lunch rooms and office / storage space on an upstairs mezzanine area may help conserve valuable floor space as well.

Almost all startup amusement centers start out in leased (rented) premises, and most use leased space throughout the life of the business. By leasing rather than buying, you avoid tying up valuable working capital, and it's easier to move to new quarters if your space needs change.

Lease Your Fun Center Location or Buy?

You should compare the benefits of leasing versus buying your property from a cash standpoint, as well as the more obvious needs standpoint, such as long term space requirements and expansion possibilities.

Here are some other monetary benefits of leasing:

  • Your credit rating will not be quite as critical for leasing as it would be for buying. So again, for startups, this might be a sticking point.
  • Your monthly lease payment is tax deductible because it's a business expense.
  • You may be free from paying for building maintenance.

Here are some non-monetary benefits of leasing:

  • Freedom to sublet and move to another location if you find the need to.
  • No hassle of selling before you can move to another location.
  • No loss from owning a building in a bad real estate market.
  • No assignment of personnel to oversee property issues that the owner should oversee.

Buying also has its benefits. It all depends on your situation and the type of business you re in. Here are some of the monetary benefits of buying:

  • Interest on the mortgage loan is tax deductible.
  • You can take annual depreciation deductions on your taxes.
  • In the long run, you will probably come out ahead because you won't be facing increases in rent.
  • You will benefit financially if the real estate market is good when you sell.
  • You may be able to lease out a portion of the building if you determine that you have excess space.
  • If you need to make substantial changes to the building to accommodate your business, those changes are owned by you and not your landlord.

Non-monetary benefits of buying include:

  • You can make any changes you want to the property.
  • The hours of your business can be whatever you want them to be.
  • You are free to stay in the same location as long as you wish.

While there are benefits to both options, for startups there appear to be more benefits to leasing than buying. Cash flow is, of course, an issue and buying takes a larger portion of your hard earned cash up front.

Cash Flow Analysis

If you can't make a decision based on these pluses and minuses, you can (and probably should) do a cash flow analysis to see which option makes more sense from a cash standpoint. Before you can do this, however, you have to have all of the necessary information for making your comparison. This includes information like the full cost of purchasing, the terms of the lease, the depreciated value of the property at the time you would want to move, an estimate of the property's value at that time, estimates of maintenance costs, and your tax rates.

fun center business lease versus buying your locationTo do the cash flow analysis, complete cash flow budgets that include all of the expenses you would incur for either buying or leasing over a set period of time. For the lease analysis, you will need to determine your net cash outlay, which is the amount you end up spending on the lease once you have subtracted the tax savings you receive from it. (Remember your lease payment is considered a business expense.)

In order to compare apples to apples from a cash flow standpoint, you also have to take into consideration the change in the value of today s dollar versus a dollar five years from now. This are known as the discount factor and can be calculated using most spreadsheet applications.

You will also have to know the amount of your interest deduction that you will get on your business s taxes. You can arrive at this number by multiplying the interest rate of the loan by each month's preceding balance. Now for the tricky part ... remember above where I mentioned estimating the value of the property when you would be selling it? This is the number that will ultimately determine who wins in the battle of the benefits of buying versus leasing.

One of the benefits you hope to count on is the longer you stay in the building, the better off you will be because you will be gaining more and more equity. However, do you know how long you will actually be there? Do you know what the real estate market is going to do in that time period? Not unless you have a crystal ball.

So, study the current market, as well as trends and predictions for as far into the future as you can get. Keep in mind that the farther out the prediction, the less reliable it will be. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can, and then make your best estimate. You know your business and you should have a good idea of where it is headed. If you know you want to be in an area for the foreseen future (say 10 or more years), the market is strong, and you have identified a building that will suit your needs for that timeframe then go for it. Ten years of equity can be substantial.

If you can get a good deal on the property (at or below market value) then it certainly makes sense to buy if you will be there for ten years. If you know the building is priced at or above the fair market value, or if you think five years may be more the length of time you will be there, or your ability as a start-up to acquire the necessary added capital is limited, then think about offering to lease your space.

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