Own the Ground You Build On

I registered my car today, which involved an emissions test from my local state inspection station. For the past few years this station has occupied a high-traffic corner in town. Business was booming. Then, several months ago, they moved to a much less desirable location. A few months later, their old building was plowed under to make way for the construction of a large, national, retail drugstore.

So what happened?

They got forced out by a company with deep pockets and an even deeper roster of attorneys.

I asked the owner how it went down. The short version is that while he did in fact have a 10-year lease agreement with an option to buy the land, his landlord cashed out and left him high and dry. He got nothing — except a 30-day eviction notice. Now, I am not a lawyer. I can’t speak to legalities involved. I also know I am getting only one side of the story from a frustrated business owner.

But that is all of little consequence to my point. What is important is that this poor fellow built his house upon the sand, so to speak. Then the rains came in and washed his house away: since moving, sales are down by a third.

He didn’t own the ground he built on.

While this is certainly a crucial element to a brick and mortar store, it also applies to online businesses as well. Many digital entrepreneurs build their businesses on the backs of other virtual giants such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and eBay.

True, it may be extremely difficult — if not impossible — to succeed in today’s business landscape without them. These giants offer a lot of powerful, affordable services that make running a business easier and more efficient. But the reality is they own the “land” upon which your business stands. And with that ownership comes the power to do whatever they want with their land any time they choose, and with little-to-no notice.

Years ago, I worked as a designer for one of the largest online logo design firms. One time I was talking with the owner about our advertising budget and strategy. He offhandedly remarked that if Google ever decided to blacklist us (we ranked high on page one), we’d be bankrupt within a month. Fortunately for us, that never happened.

But it could have. And without notice.

My advice, whether you open a traditional, physical store or an online business, is try to own the ground you build on. Where possible, let social media and other digital giants be appendages and channels of convenience to your business — not the backbone.

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