There are several space and building components to consider when searching for warehouse space. It’s best before starting your search to make a list of components that are required for your business use, and another list of optional but desired items. Let’s start with the basics.
Zoning and Use
Before search for the right spot, you need to know where your business is allowed to operate. Many first time leasers are frustrated in having to repeat the search process after being denied a business license at a particular address. Each property around Atlanta has a specific zoning, which describes what uses are allowed. If the property is in the limits of a city, you must check with the city for that zoning and associated ordinance (i.e. a property in the City of Norcross is controlled by Norcross, not Gwinnett County). Otherwise the county regulates the property. See the links page for Atlanta area city and county websites.
Industrial zonings are usually classified at M1/LI (light industrial) or M2 (heavy industrial). Most industrial warehouse users and manufacturers can operate under M1 or LI zoning. And most industrial properties fall under those zonings. Heavy industrial properties are less prevalent and are specifically for uses considered more potentially bothersome to the community (salvage yards, heavy equipment, trash, toxic, etc). When the use is in doubt, go ask the appropriate official in the planning and development office (and get it in writing if possible).
- Warehouse/Manufacturing Space: This is an obvious factor. How much area do you need to position your equipment, processes, and inventory? Do you need some room to expand in the immediate future? If you have an existing operation, you can easily gauge your need for more or less area. Be sure to leave room for loading and maneuvering in the space.
2. Warehouse Ceiling Height: Smart tenants make the most of their space by going up. We define ceiling height by the distance from the floor to the bottom of the lowest ceiling obstruction (support beams, pipes, etc; isolated items like heaters). While some new distribution buildings have 22-24 feet of clearance, most distribution buildings built in the past 30 years have 18+ foot ceilings. Older or smaller metal buildings may have sloped support beams, varying from ~14 feet at the sidewall to ~16+ at the center peak. The higher the ceilings, the more you can benefit from racking.
Warehouse racking is extremely common and can be very cost effective. There are companies that specialize in racking design and sales. But many smaller businesses buy used racking and set it up themselves. Remember that many Atlanta area municipalities require permitting of racking systems if they are above a certain height and weight. Depending on the racks and what’s on them, you may have to consider floor concrete thickness, obstruction of any sprinkler system, and accessibility for any fire personnel. But don’t let that scare you; for most business it’s not that complicated.
3. Office: Many business owners focus on the operations and forget about their office. You’ll be spending a lot of time running things in the office, and so will your staff. It pays to plan things. Again, there are professionals that just do office planning. But most small businesses know what they need. Building new office space can cost $40+ per square foot. Some landlords will do it for a new tenant, but it will show up on the rental rate. Leasing a space “as-is” will get the best rate and more term flexibility. But, most landlords plan on at least offering new paint and carpet on move-in.
Consider using cubicles and temporary partitions to create more workspace in open floor plans. And check that the restrooms are sufficient (and ADA compliant if needed).
4. Outside Storage and Parking: You and your neighbors won’t be happy if you don’t have enough parking or a proper storage area for materials. Many spaces only allow a certain number of parking spaces per tenant. If you need extra spaces, sometime you can also park in the truck court.
Many counties like Gwinnett require fencing for outside storage. And Dekalb restricts parking to paved and designated areas. Multi-tenant industrial buildings usually don’t provide enough room for outside storage. So if you plan to keep materials outside and park a large number of fleet or service vehicles, it may pay to start your search with stand-alone properties.
C. Docks and Drive-in Doors
Your normal business usage will dictate what you need. The larger the space, the more overhead doors are likely, some with both docks and drive-ins. There also mid-height docks we call van-loading doors, but they’re not as plentiful). Docks give you easy loading and unloading for truck shipments. They give the best loading platform for bigger shipments, and give you extra storage in your parked trailer. Look for extras like dock levelers and condition of the bumpers. And check out the truck court to make sure those big rigs can maneuver to your unit. Drive-in doors are usually best for contractors and service businesses. Grade-level doors are best for driving in because they hold more weight, and can be accessed from multiple angles. Another option is adding a ramp (concrete or metal) to a dock high door. Adding a ramp to a dock door can cost $7000-$9,000+. Some landlords will do it, but it may impact the rental rate.
1. Electrical Power: Most modern manufacturing or warehouse facilities have at a minimum 200+ amp, 240 volt, 3-phase power. If you don’t know that that means, then you probably don’t need heavy power. If you do have manufacturing processes and heavy equipment, then power is a definite consideration. Some services can be upgraded, but at a substantial cost inside and outside the space. If you have specific power needs, it’s best to get those requirements from the equipment manufacturer. Hiring a commercial electrician to review potential setup is advised, so you can factor any upgrade costs into lease negotiation.
2. Natural Gas: Some baking or heating operations call for extra large gas service. Gas providers will upgrade service to many small spaces at little or no cost (they just change the meter). Running supply lines inside the space are a cost consideration, so it pays to review the layout with your equipment installer. Extremely large users may need to consult with their utility engineering department.
3. Water/Sewer: Water is usually not a factor, but sewage and environmental containment is a consideration for many uses. Certain by-products of food production and petroleum require treatment before sewer disposal. Others must be removed by a contracted environmental service. Floor drains, grease traps, oil separators, and other installed fixtures can be costly.
4. Data: Phone and basic data (DSL, cable) services are widely available now. If you have a datacenter use, proximity to fiber optics can be confirmed with AT&T. They have been willing to run the fiber to buildings (not inside) for free in the past, depending on the distance from existing lines.