Shared Shop Space

      A craftsman considers a shop-sharing arrangement, and colleagues offer tips and cautions. July 19, 2006

Question
I've been working full time in my 16x24 garage for the past year. After building a full kitchen in it (insane!), I need to move to a larger space. I have jobs lined up for the next 6 months if I build them all myself. I want to grow my business and I think I have enough in the pipeline to do it.

A friend is currently sharing a shop in downtown Toronto with his mentor. The mentor is leaving and taking all the tools with him. I have a pretty nice collection of tools - cabinet saw, planer, jointer, bandsaw and drill press. The friend has asked me if I want to share the space with him.

I'm short on cash at the moment - mostly because I can't get the jobs out the door fast enough. The rent is good and would be adjusted for my equipment. The terms are flexible. He is a stand up guy. But there are several strange clauses:

1) The mentor lived in an apartment that is accessible only through the shop - that will have to be rented out.
2) There are two "occasionals" who pay minimal rent to use the equipment on the weekends, etc (a ex-cabinet shop PM and a sprayer).

My concerns are a) insurance, b) my tools getting used by people who I don't know, and c) if this is a good strategy to grow the business. I wouldn't get the space till June 1, so it isn't urgent. I have two more kitchen jobs before then (I'm going to rent a storage locker nearby). Downtown shop space is currently pretty hard to come by.

Ultimately, the end goal for my business is a 6 man custom kitchen and architectural millwork shop. I know this place will not support that kind of manpower - I think I'd have to move out of the city to get enough space to do that cost effectively. My thinking is - focus on building relationships in the downtown area while I grow my book, then build/buy a space 1 hour out of the city, where labour/taxes/property is cheaper.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor J:
I have thought about subletting shop space myself a couple of times. It seems most on this forum think it's a bad idea, and I value their advice. And it sounds like you will have three people potentially using your equipment, and another passing through daily. My feeling is this is a good deal for everybody involved except you! If you do decide to go this route, you should negotiate so that you pay little or no rent, as there is no shop without your equipment.

I was in a similar situation last year. I outgrew my last shop and worse, my landlord asked me to leave for insurance reasons. I had been there for quite a few years, so they gave me a year to find a place and I just started looking to see what was available. Within about four months of looking I found a place via Craigslist which was not only several hundred sq. ft. bigger, but also much more suited to being a shop. 10' ceilings, three phase power, etc.. and the rent was only about $100 more a month than my previous shop. The catch was my last shop was in the city and now I am 15-20 minutes outside the city.

The moral of the story? If you have the time, determination, and patience there is a lot of space out there, and you just might find something more suited to what you need and where you want to go with your business. My advice would be to start looking in places you would expect to find cheap space. Not necessarily in the papers, but drive around "the wrong side of the tracks" and look for rent signs. Maybe drive around industrial areas a little outside the city. And definitely keep an eye on Craigslit for your area. Since you're not in a rush to move, you have a very good chance of finding something.



From the original questioner:
Thanks - good points about finding another space. Anyone else think I'm crazy for considering this? Am I too focused on keeping my overhead low?


From contributor D:
I think it is a bad, bad, bad idea. I have a 2000 sq. ft shop. I run it myself with one other cabinet man and a helper. Organization seems to always be a problem, things get misplaced, tools get out of alignment, cabinets or milled parts get nicked. I canít imagine what would happen if I let just anyone use my equipment and/or come in and out of my shop at will. Perhaps you should focus on finding a shop that you can afford and then you can be more in control. May cost a little more, but worth it.


From contributor H:
You rent the entire shop yourself. Hire your friend (he won't be your friend anymore) and everyone else stays out. Your apprentice friend has not acquired any tools or machinery of his own while under his mentor's training? Why would the mentor not pass on or sell his machinery to him? Look around for your own place or make this place solely yours. You will never be at ease or free with this setup as you explained it.


From contributor W:
Amen! I completely agree. The whole idea is giving me an incredibly "oogie" feeling (as my 16 year old would call it). Run the other way. And I'll also say that Craigslist is a great resource.


From contributor R:
I see you're located in Ontario also. Same here. I am in the same boat. My shop is 24x16 with my finishing area and lumber storage area approximately the same size. I manage to build some amazingly large kitchens in my shop and actually prefer to do multiples instead of one at a time. This is part time for me now, but I am soon to take the plunge. Right now I build everything myself - doors, drawers and the whole 9 yards. My space is tight but I get by. All my machines other than my General table saw and my 10' stroke sander (yeah, I have a 10' stroke sander in my little shop) are on casters and it's surprising how I can make tons of room when moving stuff around. If you can make due with the smaller space, you will probably make more money for the time being.

I once envisioned a 4-6 man shop but now just want to stick to myself and possibly my brother. The two of us can pound out quite a bit and there aren't all those extra expenses that go along with it. Also, with keeping the small shop, my overhead is next to nothing. Heating and hydro is only $250 per month in the winter! And I purchase my lumber when I need it and don't stockpile. In the future, when I start full time, I am going to start buying doors and drawers and just building boxes and face frames. I may even get all my interiors cut on someone's CNC. Would make my small space that much easier to work in.

I own a 20' x 102" cargo trailer and I use it for my finished storage, once they're done, and storage for lumber in the process... works great for me!



From contributor U
I share a shop. It works great in San Francisco where rents can get high. There is a communal woodshop and 4 people each have their own private space. We split the rent and utilities and I don't sweat about having to pay 2-3 times (or more) what I pay for an equal sized shop of my own. Plus, the others are mostly sculptors and use their spaces primarily for storage. Sharing is fine with decent people. Most of my tools are worth less than my savings in rent every month!


From contributor S:
Make your own place. Sounds like there will be distractions that you don't want. This is hard business and you need to focus on your clients. Don't want to be tugging at others for petty stuff. You are about to take a big step. Ensure that you work your numbers out with a plan. That way you can determine the size of place you need. Don't grow yourself thin. In choosing a place, watch your transport bills to and from your clients and suppliers/vendors. Don't be too keen on increasing headcounts too soon. Watch the numbers. And you are very correct - watch your expenses closely... very closely. Moving from a small place self-owned to paying a lease is a big step. Different kettle of fish. You will learn on the way. Keep your head up and your feet on the ground. And go for it. Best of luck. I 'm not too far away and took the plunge recently.

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