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Feb 1, 2016

Is Bigger Really Better? Leasing the Right Size and Shape of Commercial Space

by Dale Willerton and Jeff Grandfield

So often, tenants come to The Lease Coach stating that they are not making any money because their rent is too high. Sometimes, this is a true statement but, more often than not, the tenant has simply leased too many square feet.

We remember consulting to a client leasing 5000 square feet of space who couldn’t afford to pay the rent. When we checked with neighbouring tenants, it turned out our client was actually paying less per square foot than anyone else. It wasn’t the rent per square foot that was killing his business but the amount of area he had been talked into leasing by the landlord’s leasing representative. We regularly see this scenario: leasing representatives and real estate agents typically receive a commission from the landlord for signed lease deals (the incentive increases with a tenant signing for a longer term, agreeing to pay a higher rent or leasing more space); however, the unknowing tenant often signs the lease agreement and becomes legally bound to the terms. Additionally, in most cases, a tenant will also be paying operating costs or common area maintenance (CAM) fees based on a square footage basis.

Occasionally, we deal with the reverse of this scenario. A tenant told us his space was too small. If we could expand the business, he could generate more revenue. We negotiated for this tenant to lease the adjacent space (which meant relocating the neighbouring tenant) and he achieved his goal. Landlords generally prefer to work with a tenant who wants to expand versus one who needs to downsize.

It has been our experience that the main reason commercial tenants end up leasing the wrong amount of square footage is due to availability…or lack thereof. If you need about 1,800 square feet for your business but the only two spaces remaining available for lease are smaller and larger, you will have a dilemma. A smaller space often has less frontage as well. If you are running a retail operation, this results in giving you less storefront exposure.

When choosing between locations that are modestly too big or too small, commercial tenants should almost always decide which space is in the better location. With adjacent and very comparable units, we would normally advise the tenant to be more conservative and lease the smaller location. Tenants who tell us their location is too small are usually profiting but want to expand to increase their sales. Whereas tenants who tell us their location is too big often want to downsize to reduce rent payments as a means of improving their bottom line.

Consider also the functional shape of the premises for your business. In one situation, the landlord was expanding his strip mall, claiming that only one CRU (commercial retail unit) was left. Unfortunately, this unit housed a large utility room in the back – making that area unusable for almost any tenant. Since the expansion portion of the project was only in the construction phase, we suspected the landlord still had time to move other interested tenants around and we suggested to the tenant that we walk away from the deal as a negotiating strategy. As expected, within a few days the landlord reconsidered his position and predictably came up with a much better location for the tenant.

When it comes to leasing commercial space, choose wisely. If you have too large of a space, you may not only be paying too much rent, but you may not have enough inventory to fill it (therefore making your store appear emptier and less enticing to customers). If you have too small of a space, you may be squeezed in, and maneuvering around may become difficult.

For a copy of our free CD, Leasing Do’s & Don’ts for Commercial Tenants, please e-mail your request to

Dale Willerton and Jeff Grandfield - The Lease Coach are Commercial Lease Consultants who work exclusively for tenants. Dale and Jeff are professional speakers and co-authors of Negotiating Commercial Leases & Renewals For Dummies (Wiley, 2013). Got a leasing question? Need help with your new lease or renewal? Call 1-800-738-9202, e-mail or visit