Inside Self-Storage Magazine 07/2004: Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY)

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Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY)

By Fred Grauer

How many times have you heard the comment, “Boy, I hope they don’t put that thing in my neighborhood”? Car washes, storage facilities, pet crematoriums, C-stores and gas stations seem to get a bad rap, along with adult book stores and used car lots. The question is, is it deserved or not?

I don’t know a lot about some of these businesses, but I do have a good working knowledge of business in general, as well as pretty decent common sense. I believe the thing that made this country so terrific—and continues to beckon so many to our shores—is the chance to create so much out of so little. The United States is the world leader in small business. Our financial strength and complete freedom to “be what we can be,” is unequalled.

Look around your neighborhood and you will see hundreds of entrepreneurs investing in their communities, providing opportunities, goods and services from which we all benefit. So with all this bustling of activity and acknowledgement, why is it people say “not in my back yard”? I contend this sentiment is a result of a few things. First, most of these businesses are seemingly less sophisticated, less expensive to start, and provide work for many entry-level employees. Second, most are owned and managed by entrepreneurs with varying levels of refinement. Finally, many of the sites chosen for these business are in areas where real estate values are lower—they don’t attract those businesses you do want in your back yard.

If this is accurate, we need to enable our budding entrepreneurs and existing business owners to further invest, grow and provide the diversity that refreshes and stimulates our communities and economy. A really simple solution that would open the flood gates and kindle investment would be to modify the process of site approval. Tear down the doors, eliminate zoning and planning boards, and let the strong survive! But then I guarantee “not in my back yard” would be replaced by something far more unpleasant. So then, where do we start?

Instruct the Masses

Education is the foundation of successful business. Therefore, before we begin, we must learn to educate our citizens on the worthiness of our enterprises. In the car-wash business, lack of “stepping up to the plate”— working with neighborhood groups, city representatives and other professionals—spells instant disaster. Recently, I was privileged to watch our government process first-hand.

The planning-board meeting I attended was supposed to be a slam dunk. (By the way, if you ever are told that, be prepared for the worst. There is no such thing as a slam dunk when it comes to public process.) All appeared to be normal—another dead giveaway that trouble was brewing. As the meeting opened and everyone had an opportunity to testify, it soon became apparent that not enough time was spent getting all constituents comfortable with the coming of a first-class car wash. The result? Years of planning and a great deal of cost got tabled rather than passed. The good news is the owner has another shot at convincing the public a firstrate car wash is good for the neighborhood.

What should have been done? It appeared all the preparations were made properly, and it should have been a done deal. The issues that turned the tables against the owner were:

  • The effect on adjacent residential property values.
  • The site’s potential for acting as a gathering place for juveniles.
  • The perception the site could have been used for a more acceptable business.
  • Safety.
  • The belief the building would be a blight on the scenic attributes of the neighborhood.

All these objections are valid, but only because we missed some important preselling and educational opportunities. And most important, these perceptions were only subjective opinion.

Business success is based on facts. In our case, had there been a clear understanding of the issues, a factual case could have been presented. Realtors, chambers of commerce, appraisers, and public agencies such as the police and fire departments all need to be polled and, in most cases, make accurate factual presentations regarding safety. Economic justification should never be placed in the hands of citizens or process boards. It is an issue for the investor and his stakeholders.

For those of us looking to place a car-wash, self-storage or other similar business into a community, remember this: Unless you are a doctor, banker, lawyer, insurance company or some other perceived non-threat to a community, your offer will most likely cause contention. Being forewarned is part of the success formula.

Now you know what you have to do: You have to educate, demonstrate and participate; and when you’ve done it once, do it again. You must interview your neighbors. They need to know you don’t have two heads, you care about them, and you are willing to be a positive and active participant in their communities. All our community leaders and those responsible for the safety and welfare of our towns want to know is you will bring and create value. In a car wash, you will not only use and improve a site, you will provide employment, tax revenues and a safe place to wash vehicles, as well as benefit the environment.

Let’s hope that if we do our job correctly, the term NIMBY will vanish from our vocabulary, our wonderful country will remain an entrepreneur’s Mecca, and we will welcome these great businesses in our back yards with pride and enthusiasm.

Fred Grauer is the vice president, distributor network, for MarkVII Equipment LLC, a carwash equipment manufacturer in Arvada, Colo. He has made a life-long career of designing, selling, building and operating car washes. He can be reached at fgrauer@mark7inc.com.

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