Experts say entrepreneurs need standout business plans to succeed in commercial real estate market

Compared to a decade ago, experts say, today’s entrepreneurs seeking to scoop up commercial real estate in the greater Watertown area need to jump through many more hoops to be successful.

To help entrepreneurs and investors eyeing commercial real estate here, Exit More Real Estate of Watertown hosted a public event for the first time Wednesday at the Hilton Garden Inn called Business Venture in the North Country. Bankers and real estate brokers gathered to provide investors information needed to get their business plans off the ground, said Mary C. Adair, owner and broker for Exit More.

Often, she said, entrepreneurs looking at the Watertown area for the first time pursue plans without a full grasp of the resources at their disposal. Finding available commercial buildings to lease, for example, can be one of the toughest challenges. While many businesses are listed with brokers, fewer than 10 percent of buyers go to real estate offices because they don’t see for sale signs on many listed commercial properties.

“Properties are on the Internet, but it’s not like trying to search for a two-bedroom home. Getting connected with someone who’s out there selling a business can be very daunting,”Mrs. Adair said.

There is, nevertheless, a ripe commercial real estate market now in Watertown, Mrs. Adair said, and a large pool of potential investors. About two-thirds of military members at Fort Drum decide to retire in the community, she said, “and a good portion of them are looking for something to do. There are also a lot of Canadian and foreign investors looking to come here.”

One of the main aspects of starting a business is developing quality business plans that lenders are seeking, said F. Eric Constance, regional director for the Small Business Development Center in Watertown. The center, which counsels entrepreneurs seeking to start businesses, is recommended as the first stop for new investors in the community to form business plans.

“Businesses need to have their plans in good shape,” Mr. Constance said. “They often need their own capital to invest in the project.”

Banks that issue loans to small business clients usually require them to be backed by guarantees from the U.S. Small Business Administration, Mr. Constance said, which now closely reviews business plans. Compared to a decade ago, he said, the loan review process done by banks and the SBA has become more stringent. Credit ratings and business plans that show there is demand for products and services are needed.

As an entrepreneur, “you now have to be even more prepared than you ever had to be,” he said. “You can’t just walk up, throw your feet on the desk and expect to get a loan like you used to. They want to see research and projections.”

The most successful entrepreneurs, Mr. Constance said, are generally those who have developed specific business plans that clearly identify their target market.

“If you’re a restaurant competing with corporate franchises, you have to find a niche market you’re good at that can compete with a cross-section of their market,” he said. “You can’t compete with big markets, but if you can find one thing they’re doing, and do it better, you can be successful.”

-Ted Booker, Watertown Daily Times staff writer