Ken Hawk's rechargeable-batteries mail-order business had outgrown its tiny location in a former grocery store in Silicon Valley. Given the high price of real estate in the area, Hawk wanted to relocate farther afield. He also wanted to keep as many of his 28 employees as possible, in order to be able to "hit the ground running" at his new site. "Who knew how many of them would go with me?" he says. "I was afraid I would lose half."

It turns out Hawk had nothing to fear. When 1-800-Batteries (now called iGo) relocated to Reno, Nev., in June 1997, an impressive 24 of his 28 employees eventually made the move, a fact he considers a vote of confidence in his company. (As of spring 1999, the company had approximately 100 employees.) In its new location, Hawk says, iGo's rent is half the price per square foot that it was in Silicon Valley, and the business pays no inventory tax. Hawk moved his company without losing its best, highly trained people by continuously motivating his staff and by:

  • Keeping communication open. Hawk was very honest with his staff members. He informed them of the move as soon as he started planning for it -- six months before it happened. When he had narrowed the possible locations down to two, he asked his employees for their opinions. "People advised us against telling employees about the moving plans, for fear they'd start looking for new jobs," Hawk says. "But I didn't think it was fair not to tell."
  • Maintaining a sense of excitement. Hawk drew up a bulletin board with the layout of the new, larger building superimposed on top of the original site. As people committed to moving with the company, Hawk posted their photos on the bulletin board. "It was kind of corny, but it helped get the momentum going," he says. He also offered a moving bonus and up to $850 in moving expenses to each employee -- even to those he could easily replace. His theory: In a small, close-knit company, people's friendships with one another form an important motivation to relocate.
  • Seeking economic development help. Hawk credits the state of Nevada, and in particular the local economic development agency, with making the move as smooth as possible. The state promised immediate residency for employees so that they could take classes at state universities at lower tuition rates. It also helped employees' spouses find jobs. "All but one spouse had a job when we moved here," says Hawk. "And she had to wait only because she's a nurse and had to get certified."