Opening a General Retail Store

Opening a retail store can be a challenge, but following our guides and asking questions will get you to where you need to be. It will take a lot of work to open your store, but dedication and research will pay off in the end.

Determine Your Type of Store

Maybe you’ve harbored a dream of opening a specific type of retail store – if so, this decision may be an easy one for you. Or, if you’ve decided that owning and operating a store would be a profitable and enjoyable business venture, this may require a bit more brainstorming.

Take a look at the types of stores in the around where you’d like to operate your business. Are you noticing any gaps that your potential store could fill? Innovative ideas are often the most successful, and if you can offer a solution to a problem, you may be well on your way to success. Other times, merely filling a void in a particular area may be your key to success. Follow your gut.

Find the Right Location

The three biggest factors in finding the best store location are:

  • Visibility
  • Accessibility
  • Affordability

When opening a retail store, Visibility is key because first and foremost, your customers need to know that your store exists! You’ll save a substantial number of advertising dollars if customers can find out about your store just by walking or driving by it.


Additionally, make sure to choose your store location in an area where customers can easily access your store. Having good Accessibility may mean finding a site with either a parking lot, near public transportation or one with heavy foot traffic. Keep in mind the demographic of the area and that certain areas are busier during the workweek vs. weekends.


Affordability is also important, for both you and for your customers. You will be the one paying the rent each month, so make sure the price is within your budget. If you will be selling higher priced items, it may mean renting a store space in a more upscale area where the residents can afford your merchandise. We recommend having enough cash on hand for at least six months of the lease, ideally one year, instead of relying on expected profits.


Structure Your Business and Acquire Capital

Like any venture, there are several options to choose from in regards to running your business. While going into business on your own offers you unlimited creative freedom, it is also the most difficult to finance. No matter what business structure you choose, you will likely need to take out a loan. Depending on your credit, it may be harder to finance the entire loan yourself. Asking for help from family and friends may also be an option if going the bank route is not for you.


Another option is to take on a business partner. A business partner shares the business risk, access more funds, and help take on the legal responsibilities. Your partner may be a friend or just a person who is a good fit business wise. Take the time to have a legal document drawn up in case one partner wants out of the business later down the road. Drawing up a partnership agreement together also helps to establish the responsibilities of each partner.


Once you have established your business structure, you may realize that between everyone involved, you have enough capital to get off the ground. Or, you may not, which is where bank loans or investors come into play. If you believe in your idea, chances are, so will others! Write a business plan and determine how much capital you’ll need to borrow. Bank loans have set repayment dates with interest, as opposed to investors, who are buying stock in your company. If your business is successful, you’ll be able to pay back the bank loan within the first few years, and all subsequent profits are yours to reap. Investors don’t ask you to pay them back, but they do receive dividends of your future profits.

Be Aware of Legal Requirements and Regulations

States and cities have regulations that business owners, especially new ones, must adhere. Doing some research on what your specific area requires will save you time and hassle in the long run. Make sure to apply for the proper licenses and permits prior to announcing your opening date. Little details, such as ensuring that there isn’t another business with your name already trademarked, can make or break your success.

Design Your Store

Once you’ve found the right retail location, ensured enough capital, and tied up any loose ends, it’s time to get started on the fun part – designing your store! If you were lucky enough to find a space that previously housed a retail store, you might have the bare bones fixtures already in place.


Decide on your store’s aesthetic – will you use reclaimed pieces for a more vintage look or are sleek chrome fixtures more your style? Remember that quality fixtures will in turn make your merchandise appear to be higher quality too.

Merchandise the Space

Merchandising is the final piece to the puzzle of putting together your store. After designing the space, and buying the merchandise, you’ll begin to see your store come together.


It’s easy to get carried away with purchasing for your store. However, overbuying is often a rookie mistake. Certain retail products have a much shorter shelf life than others; so buying in small quantities to test the water can be a smarter allocation of funds. You can always go back to the vendor and buy more, but most suppliers don’t accept returns.


One of the keys of effective merchandising is a strong layout. You want your store to be inviting to customers and also easy for them to navigate. A good rule of thumb with merchandising your store is to place higher priced items in the back of the store and lower priced items near the entrance and the cash registers. Having expensive and essential items in the back forces customers to walk all the way through your store to find the things that they need, increasing the amount of time spent in your shop, which increases the likelihood of them making a purchase. Having expensive items away from the door also decreases the risk of theft.


Use window areas to your advantage; it’s essentially free advertising space. We mentioned before; it’s highly beneficial for your store to be in an area with foot traffic. A highly visible location allows customers to see your window displays, become intrigued, and walk into your store. The window is a great place to display new merchandise, best sellers, or hot seasonal items. Add some signage and creative props to give your store an individual flair and stand out from your competition.

Staff Your Store

When it comes to staffing your small business, it’s best to start small. Keep in mind the size of your store and how much working capital you have. Be prepared that certain shifts, especially opening and closing, will likely involve you running the store on your own. Putting in many long hours is an instance where having a business partner involved in the day to day operations with you could be very helpful. Once you begin hiring employees, paying them becomes a priority, so ensuring that you have the cash flow to make this happen is the first step.


If you are going to hire employees, make sure you obtain the proper workers compensation insurance, post the required notices (worker’s rights, labor laws, etc.), and set up tax withholding records. Keeping good records with the IRS is essential for remaining in business. Be sure to set up Federal Income Tax Withholding, Federal Wage and Tax Statements, and State Income Tax Withholding (depending on what state you are in, this may not be necessary). Ensure your employees meet US employment eligibility by having them fill out an I-9 form within their first few days of being hired. Hiring full-time employees also requires you give benefits, such as insurance and 401K options, so it may be best to begin with part-time employees until your business is up and running.

Sales and Promotions

Sales and promotions help draw customers into your store. Consider a Grand Opening sale to get the surrounding area excited about your new store. Custom banners and posters will help spread the word and create buzz.


Now that your store is up and running, you’ll have to find creative ways to promote your business and draw in customers. Social media, email, window displays, word of mouth, and promotional signage are just some of the ways you can communicate with customers to keep them in the loop.


We’re Here to Help

Opening a new store is an exciting time for an entrepreneur, and yet you will be faced with many new challenges as you move ahead towards your goal. Specialty Store Services can help. With over 30 years in the retail industry, we have the knowledge and experience to help make your dreams a reality. Don’t be shy, please give us a call at 888-441-4440 or send us an E-Mail, we’d love to hear from you.