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How to buy a bar

How to buy a bar

Several nuggets of advice about progressing from bar management to outright ownership from a bar proprietor

On what people should look for when buying a bar… 

"Based on my own experience, people should look out for where your bar is located. If it's in a family area or a neighborhood spot, which is where we went, the influx or reduction of residents in the area is key to your business growth. 

"We didn't do as much research as we thought we had. We looked at the numbers and figured that we would be able to match that and just grow it to an unlimited potential - not knowing that the whole area was going to fizzle out and turn into something different.

On how to research locations…

"When we opened up our bar we used a few things. I used a lot of different iPhone apps, with Zillow being a residential market counter where you can look at the quality of areas you are going into. 

"There are several different traffic patterns. We narrowed it down to a couple different bars. 

"We went out in that area a couple nights each week and did some research on what was going on and what we could learn from our competition. 

"But there's really no amount you cannot do; you can't over-prep for this. The more you do, the better it is."

On the hidden costs of remodeling premises… 

"Be true to what you really want to do and don't settle for what is out there. There are several different trains of thought depending on what you really want to do. 

"I have several friends who have bought new bars and remodeled from the ground up. And going through the permit phase and everything else is a lot harder thing than you would think. 

"The age of the building is something that is massively underestimated. When we opened up ours we were able to use all the permits and licenses this bar had and do it at a much cheaper rate and just do a basic overhaul that doesn't include any permits or anything else that a remodel would. 

"This is kind of a starter business for us, so we could get a couple of lessons out of the way before we go into something of a much bigger commitment."

On raising funding…

"Over the 15 years I was with my last employer I'd been putting a lot of extra money into my 401k. When we were beginning here I was able to cash out my 401k and pretty much buy this straight out. 

"We have hardly any loans or anything else. We were able to do everything cash in hand, which is a huge thing going into slow times. 

"Not having any extra loan payments or anything is a deep, deep thing." 

On the transition to new ownership…

"That is something we were fortunate with. They only had a few employees, and when the previous owner told them he was selling they all quit, so we were able to staff with our own people from day one. 

"Actually, they quit the weekend before he sold so we were able to bring our staff and kind of goof off and train on his dime, on their system, so it helped a lot. 

"We were able to run his bar the last weekend and just do our thing, and it was a fun thing - but it was an easy transition because there wasn't one."

Things Dustin would change if he went through the process again… 

"If I were to go through this again I would probably change a couple of things." 

"I was under the gun when I was first looking at these because I was doing job interviews at the same time as looking for a bar and I was kind of put in a position where I either took a job or bought a bar." 

"So I kind of bought one of the first I had looked at a couple of times instead of do a little research and maybe asking for a better price or something else - just based on my personal dilemmas."

What about mixing business with pleasure?

"I've told almost everyone who has asked me about buying a bar about the importance of separating your business from your friends. One of the things that most people do is invite friends in and make sure they have a good time and don't pay for anything or pay cheap." 

"One of the biggest problems is when you are copping $1k a week ensuring your friends or family don't have to pay for their drinks. The way I view it, it should be the exact opposite." 

"Your friends are the ones who will help you support yourself. If they come in for a good time they're going to do it either way." 

"There's no need for them to drink for free so you go out of business."

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Debbie Williams

About the author

Debbie is a freelance writer for all titles in the Dynamis stable including, and as well as other industry publications.

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