A Guide to Multi Location Business Management
What you need to know about managing multiple business locations.
Please note that this article is intended for educational purposes only and should not be deemed to be or used as legal, employment, or health & safety advice. For guidance or advice specific to your business, consult with a qualified professional.
It’s becoming increasingly common for businesses to operate out of multiple locations. This poses a new set of challenges, especially for SMEs. Fortunately, there are also new solutions, often driven by technology e.g. multilocation management software. Using these tools helps managers to focus on areas where they add value, instead of being swamped by administration.
What is multilocation management?
At a basic level, multilocation management refers to managing businesses that operate out of multiple locations. In the real world, the practicalities of multilocation management depend very much on context.
For example, managing a business split across multiple fixed locations is different from managing a business split across multiple temporary locations. And this is different when the multiple locations include fixed and temporary locations (e.g. a warehouse and pop-up shops or mobile food trucks.
Businesses may find that they stumble into the need for multilocation management without consciously realising it. For example, any business that uses mobile or remote employees (or workers) is effectively managing multiple business locations. For completeness, using freelancers is different as they have a contract for service not a contract of employment; this means that they do not need to be managed.
A simple guide to management across multiple locations
The key to effective management across multiple locations is to do thorough preparation to set yourself up for success. The more effectively you do this, the more smoothly you can expect your multilocation operations to run. Here are the key questions to consider.
Why are you opening a new location?
Before you choose a new location, think carefully about why you wish to do so. In particular, be very careful about opening a new location to address failings in the old one. If your current location isn’t suitable for your needs, either update it or move. Once it’s running successfully, then you can think about opening a new location.
Even if you already have a successful location, think carefully about committing to a new one. It may be more pragmatic to operate pop-up or mobile locations. These can gain you extra visibility and custom with minimal overheads.
If your transition to multilocation operations is driven by remote work, decide early on what remote means for you. For example, are you really prepared to employ anyone anywhere in the UK? Alternatively, would you prefer (or need) someone to be relatively local? If the latter, how local do they need to be?
What level of independence will you give each site?
All businesses need a certain level of cohesiveness across both their premises and their workforce. However, businesses vary greatly in the level of independence they can offer each location.
In particular, think about the level of financial independence of each location. For example, will each location use the same bank account and purchasing facilities, or have its own? If they need inventory, will it be ordered and stored centrally and distributed as necessary? Alternatively, will each location take care of its own supply chain?
As a rule of thumb, the more centralised your operations management is, the easier it can be for you to leverage benefits such as bulk discounts. On the other hand, the more decentralised it is, the more flexible it can be. This may be useful if you later decide to split off the location (e.g. franchise it). In general, most businesses want a balance of centralisation and flexibility.
What are the implications for staffing?
Opening an additional location does not necessarily require extra staff. For example, reduce the hours you operate at your current location, then redeploy your existing team to the new location.
In most cases, you need at least one extra pair of hands. It’s important to think carefully before you take on that person (or people). In particular, think about whether their hours are likely to increase or decrease over time. If you’re not sure about this, maybe give them a fixed-term contract until you do have clarity. Alternatively, use agency staff or freelancers.
How will you ensure sufficient management oversight?
It’s not enough just to take on more pairs of hands. You need to manage them effectively. Decide what this means for your organisational structure. For example, is one person going to manage all locations on their own? If not, will you need a manager at each location or would a supervisor be fine?
What infrastructure will you need?
Once you’ve set out what you need to achieve, research what you’ll need to make it happen. The good news is that technology is now very much on your side. In particular, there are numerous excellent communication tools making easy and seamless collaboration across sites.
The two that stand out are the cloud and voice over internet protocol (VoIP or internet telephony). Thanks to these technologies, people can access the same resources in the same way from anywhere. These days, this generally includes off-grid locations. Simply ensure that you have mobile internet access.
What’s more, using these technologies can often help to reduce costs for businesses. For example, using VoIP can be significantly more affordable than using landlines and far more economical than mobiles.
What is your process for continuous improvement?
All businesses need to have a process for analysing their performance and continually improving it. This is more important and more complex for businesses operating across multiple sites.
The reason it’s more important is that you need to be sure that each site is earning its keep. It’s more complex because it can be difficult to identify which pros and cons relate to the site itself and which to how it is run. The length of time a site has been in operation can also be a factor. For example, it often takes some time to win new customers.
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