And the Search Begins! Finding the "Perfect" Facility

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By John Brannon, Club Director, Carolina Union VBC

Carolina Union Volleyball Club has been around since 2002. We began operating out of high schools as a purely regional level club that finished the season at the beginning of April. By 2009, all of this had changed. We joined forces with another club and began operating out of a multi-sport facility. We took our first teams to USAV Nationals that year, and began to send teams to AAU Nationals the following year. Things were moving in a positive direction!But early on last club season we began to notice a change in the direction of our relationship with this facility. We had to cut our number of travel teams from 15 to 12 because of a lack of court space, we would have three or four teams practicing on two side courts (one basketball court) while other courts sat empty for hours on end. Local programming was the focus for the facility owners rather than elite level volleyball. All of that meant that we weren't serving as many young athletes as we wanted, and the athletes we were serving were often frustrated because of what they saw going on around them. So in April, the decision was made that our club would have to find a new home, or move back to high schools and churches for the foreseeable future.

We immediately began to look into options and started off by having conversations with potential investors. Then we began working with an industrial broker to find empty and convertible warehouse spaces. We also created a start-up and operating budget, and began putting a business plan together. In the process, everyone received a real life education in starting up a business.

[As an aside, in a previous post, Delaware Juniors Club Director Steve Lenderman mentioned the challenge of putting together a business plan, and he was absolutely correct. I would encourage anyone interested in this to do some research and be willing to pay the $200-$300 for good business plan software. It was a phenomenal assist for me and the best investment that I've made for this fledgling business so far!]

As we worked through the months of May and June, we saw a few places we liked, but nothing that jumped out at us as a viable option. Charlotte is built like a wagon wheel, and in the past we had been operating out of both the south east corner and the southern end of the city. The southeast part of Charlotte had the advantage of numerous existing warehouse spaces, but the disadvantage of being very difficult to get to after 4:00 in the afternoon. In addition, these spaces were significantly more expensive than those in the Southwest part of Charlotte. The southern part of the city was the ideal spot, but there was no existing warehouse space and as we did more research and spoke with investors, building a facility looked more and more like a 3-5 year plan (it is still in our big plans!).

At this point, we went back to the drawing board. We knew that we could always operate out of schools if we had to, but that also represented a significant setback; it would limit our growth potential because most schools are booked up with basketball during the winter months. It would also limit our ability to unify the whole club under one training system, hamper our athletes who wanted additional private training, as well as our young coaches who wanted to make coaching more of a full time job, reduce our ability to run extra clinics and training sessions for our players and the community. Most importantly, (as one of our athletes pointed out to me in this process) 4) it would put a huge dent in the "family" atmosphere we try to create amongst our teams and families. The last of those points has always been a staple of our club and one of the things we value most.

In late July, my broker called me up and said, "I know this isn't your ideal location, but I want you to come take a look at this space." It was toward the Southwest side, but it was off of a major highway right near restaurants and shopping centers so I figured it couldn't hurt to go look. I happened to drive there from the southern part of the city during rush hour (about 5:30 pm) and had no trouble getting there at all, because most of the traffic was headed the other way. This checked off concern number one, ease of access for the majority of our athletes. The warehouse park was three turns and less than a minute off of the major highway, which was great, and right behind a Costco, a Hilton, a Chili's, and a number of restaurants (something for parents to do!).

I also noticed that in the front of the warehouse park there was a police outpost, which checked off concern number two, safety! Our space was in the back of the well-lit park (check), which meant that there was plenty of parking (check) and limited traffic (check). When I entered the building, the columns were 40x40 (check), the ceiling was 26 feet high at the peak and 24 feet clear from column to column (check), and it had an existing and well kept bathroom (check, having to install bathrooms can range anywhere from $100k to $300k). In addition, despite being 95 degrees outside, the temperature inside was relatively mild (check, as the $150k bill that comes with putting in HVAC is out of our reach at this point). This 16,000 sq. ft. space would allow us to put three full courts with ten feet of serving space (BIG check), a half court that we could utilize for full team training (check), and an area for fitness training (check).

As I was standing in the warehouse, I remembered a favorite question of a friend: "Are you going to let the perfect be the enemy of the very good?". . .

To be continued next week... stay tuned!


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