The other day I arrived early for a meeting in Lower Manhattan and needed a quiet spot to park myself for a few minutes. For those who know New York, finding a quiet spot can be more difficult than you realize. So I pulled out my trusty handheld computer (otherwise known as my cell phone) and pulled up Yelp. I searched for highly rated coffee shops within 400 feet of my current location and noticed a small dot on the map at a mid-block location. It was certainly not something that I would have inadvertently stumbled upon by mistake – especially while wearing heels. But there I was, only a few hundred feet away from an adorable coffee shop which I found within 30 seconds of pulling out my phone.

I know businesses have a love/hate affair with review sites like Yelp. In fact, Yelp is roundly criticized by most of the merchants we talk to. Most prefer Google (also a good option) or even Tripadvisor. But what I say to small businesses is that there is no option anymore. Customers use these sites to find businesses and if you aren’t listed, you don’t exist. This is especially true for communities that are off the beaten path. We are doing some work in Upstate New York at the moment and the lovely Village where we are working is right off a highway that see nearly 20,000 average daily vehicles. Most of those passing by are furiously looking at their phones or GPS devices to determine whether stopping there for a quick bite or an hour of shopping (there are nearly 1/2 a dozen antique stores downtown) is worth it. But unfortunately, only about 50% of local businesses have claimed their on-line profile. That in turn affects the Google algorithm that highlights downtown on the map with a light orange color, which they only highlight when there is a sufficient concentration of businesses in a certain area that allow them to label it as a “business district”.

But let’s go back to the mid-block coffee shop that I found using Yelp. On that morning, as I walked down the street towards the coffee shop, I couldn’t help but noticed it from a distance. It had all the elements basically right – the visible blade sign (white letters on a black background), a sandwich board with specials, an awning and a small bench for seating (I would have preferred a small cafe table, but don’t ask about the regulatory hurdles a business has to jump through to put a single cafe table and two chairs in front of their storefront). This place checked off nearly every element of the visual cue “playlist” that we frequently talk about at LOA. But don’t just take my work for it. As I was looking at the Yelp reviews I was struck by the reviewer who led her review with “Love the signs outside. I was visiting a friend at google and the sign caught my eye. I came back the next day to try some coffee.”

And that, my friends, is how to make an off-the-beaten-path location work for a business.