Top Six Ways to Start a Store on a Budget

Store on a BudgetLots of people say they’d like to try their hand at retailing, “if only…” That’s as in “If only I could afford a great location,” “If only I could find a good supplier,” “If only I knew what to do first.” There are plenty of “if only’s” — real and imagined — as barriers to getting started in retail. But there also are plenty of ways to get around them and start that retailing dream of yours off and running without having a huge budget.

Resources for getting into the business have always been around: seminars, reference books, Small Business Administration advisers, etc. Now the Internet makes it easier than ever to find out how others have done it, with plenty of examples for you to review. Below are our top six ways to kick-start your way into retail, even if you don’t have a ton of money to burn through.

1. Find a seasonal space to test a location.

You’ve no doubt seen temporary stores pop up at shopping malls and strip malls, selling everything from calendars to Halloween supplies to Christmas decorations. The rent on such a space can be a real bargain, especially in a down economy. This is a great place to not only gauge the site’s retail traffic, but to hone your skills as a retailer.

2. Buy used merchandising items.

This includes “meat and potatoes” fixtures and supplies like shelves, racks, slatwall, clothes hangers and sign holders. As much as we’d like you to buy new stuff from our store fixture catalog, there’s no need to spend a lot of dough if you’re not really sure you’ll be in business a year from your grand opening. There’s a huge market for used retail merchandising products. Try eBay and other online sites if you don’t have time to hunt all over town. Keep your eyes open for stores that are liquidating and need to get rid of things in a hurry. A Commercial Realtor might be able to help you in this regard, but also check the legal notices in local newspapers.

3. Buy closeout merchandise.

Depending on what you plan to sell, you can find closeout merchandise in the strangest places. We know of one small retailer who bought hundreds of USB-powered fans from China to use in an invention he was trying to perfect. However, the winds of fate blew his career in a different direction and now his garage is filled with boxes of those small, lifeless fans. He’s trying to unload them through and local free classifieds. Again, keep an eye out for items that you might pick up for pennies on the dollar.

4. Hire temporary help.

In this economy, there’s no shortage of good employees looking for work. If you’re considering high school or college students looking for experience, also consider older workers. Many baby boomers are finding that full-time retirement is not their style and are looking for opportunities to put their years of career knowledge to work for someone like you. Better yet, try to get a mix of ages so the wisdom of the old can be absorbed by the eagerness of the new. Sure, you might lose some of them when the new semester starts or a corporate job beckons, but they will at least have helped to give your own retail career a boost. And you can always hire more.

5. Hire a store designer.

I know, I know. You’re thinking that this is just a shameless plug for our own store design team, right? Whether you get help from us or somebody else, investing in an experienced retail store designer can save you a ton of money down the line by pointing out common “rookie” mistakes and creating a store layout that can grow with your business. Department store staff often moonlight as designers as well. They’re always looking for more creative outlets and they won’t charge you as much as their own bosses pay them. Other good sources of design assistance are art school grad students who are hungry for an opportunity to demonstrate their skills in a real world context.

6. Consider the Small Business Administration.

They are a great source of advice and assistance for the aspiring retailer. Visit their website for lots of success stories, tips and resources in your area.

Being a successful retailer doesn’t take a huge budget, just well-budgeted use of your time. Follow the tips above when you embark on your retail adventure and you’ll be off to a great start. Bon voyage!

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