Whether you’re an aspiring shopkeeper dreaming of opening your first store or a long-time shopkeeper preparing to expand, move, or open a second location—this post is for you! There are so many details that go into opening a retail store. I’m here to share all the lessons I’ve learned and some lessons from the Savvy Shopkeeper community.
What Shopkeepers Wish They’d Known Before Opening
One of my most popular free resources is a comprehensive checklist of 100 items you’ll need to open your store. It’s incredibly useful, and I wish someone had given it to my sister and me before opening our retail location!
Today, though, I want to share ten lessons that can’t be summed up in a checklist. Let’s dive in.
#1. Build confidence in yourself and your business by setting boundaries.
An unfortunate truth of opening a business is that you MUST be prepared to say no.
With all of the responsibilities you’re taking on (such as managing people and inventory, working with vendors, and serving customers), you have to be equipped to set boundaries.
Boundaries are there to protect you so you can take care of yourself and your mental health. They help you make time for your family, friends, and self-care. Without boundaries, you’ll find running a business quickly becomes saying “yes” to everyone and everything—and always saying “no” to yourself.
Listen to episode 10 of the Savvy Shopkeeper Retail Podcast to learn more about setting boundaries.
#2. Identify your risk and debt tolerance BEFORE opening your store.
Each shopkeeper has a unique point of view on risk and debt. Some will say to start small, while others will say go big. Some prefer not to have any credit cards or debt at all.
This is a really personal decision, and only you can decide what works best for your business. Listen to episode 113 to learn more about different funding options for retail businesses.
#3. Retail is a roller coaster ride.
Most businesses do not have consistent income each month. Since income can fluctuate month to month, you must manage your cash and your cash flow. Listen to episode 111 to learn more about slow seasons in a retail business.
#4. Your buying skills will improve over time.
Whether you’re buying at market or finding a great arrangement of vendors, you will get better at buying and curating over time. Some shopkeepers are naturally good at this. For the rest of us, we learn and improve as we go along.
One thing I often hear from retail store owners is how important it is to find unique items. With so many online wholesale platforms to choose from these days, it’s hard to know where to start OR where to find items that not everyone is buying at market.
I recently published a blog post* about Bzaar. This online wholesale platform allows you to buy from international vendors seamlessly. Their vendors are all from Southeast Asia and India.
Bzaar is offering Savvy Shopkeepers FREE shipping and 5% off your first order. Use the coupon codes SHIPFREE and SAVVY5 to get these offers on your first order!
#5. Start-up costs can be a lot more than you expect.
Opening a store is a lot like a home renovation project because costs can balloon quickly. Many shopkeepers will tell you to plan for DOUBLE what you anticipate.
Whether it’s the buildout, renovations, or inventory buying, aspiring retailers often underestimate how much they will spend. Do your best to be prepared!
#6. Margins, margins, margins.
Many retailers wish they had known how to price products and why pricing is so important. Retailers—especially new retailers—often don’t realize how much of the sale price of an item goes back into buying more products. That’s your margin! Listen to episode 44, The Retail Profit Pie, to learn more about calculating your margin.
Constant discounting can be fun for customers but damaging to your business. You need to protect your margins so you can profit. If you want to learn more about cutting retail expenses, check out episode 62.
#7. Exhaustion and burnout are real.
We all experience exhaustion as we prep for opening our stores. With all of the details to manage, the crazy hours, and the grand opening to plan, shopkeepers often find themselves wiped out the moment their business is official.
It’s really important that you ask for help. Whether your family can pitch in or you hire some temporary support for the opening, don’t try to do it all alone. Listen to episode 82 for more information about hiring help.
#8. Location can matter.
Why do I say it “can” matter? A great main street location with lots of foot traffic, thriving and vibrant storefronts, ongoing events, a supportive community, and plentiful parking—yep, that will make a big difference in your success!
On the flip side, I’ve seen shopkeepers in the most unassuming, off-the-beaten-path locations do an incredible job of finding their people (aka marketing) and getting them to shop at their stores regardless of their unpopular location.
So yes, often, location DOES matter. But I never want to be the person who says you can’t do something!
#9. You’re managing people and personalities, whether you hire or not.
Vendors, consignors, employees, and customers all have their own personalities. You’ll be dealing with people every day at your store, so you have to get good at it!
As an introvert, learning to manage all those people meant recognizing how often I wanted to be at our store. My sweet spot is two to three days a week. Any more than that, and I find myself drained. Long weekend market events also require extra time to recover from.
I genuinely enjoy working with people, but I’ve had to learn what my boundaries are and how to keep myself in a healthy headspace.
#10. Setting up systems and processes early is invaluable.
Inventory management and bookkeeping are the two systems I recommend setting up from the start, closely followed by store procedures. If you’re in The Shopkeepers Lab or Master Shopkeepers, you know I talk about this all the time!
So there you have it—ten things that brick-and-mortar retailers wish they knew before opening. These lessons came from either myself or shopkeepers in our community. I hope you’ll take these lessons to heart and learn from our experiences, mistakes, naivety, and ignorance.
- Free checklist: 100 Things You’ll Need to Open a Brick-and-Mortar Store
- Ep. 10: Setting Boundaries While Maintaining or Growing a Profitable Retail Business
- Ep. 113: Nine Retail Business Funding Options
- Ep. 111: Slow Seasons Don’t Define Your Business
- Blog Post: Bzaar Makes International Wholesale Buying Seamless for Retailers*
- Ep. 44: The Retail Profit Pie
- Ep. 62: Ten Tips for Cutting Your Retail Expenses
- Ep. 82: How to Hire
- Ep. 20: Why Inventory Management is So Important
- Ep. 77: Yes, You Need a Bookkeeper
- Join The Shopkeepers Lab
- Get on the waitlist for Master Shopkeepers
- [06:10] #1. Build confidence in yourself and your business by setting boundaries.
- [06:59] #2. Identify your risk and debt tolerance BEFORE opening your store.
- [08:07] #3. Retail is a roller coaster ride.
- [09:00] #4. Your buying skills will improve over time.
- [13:33] #5. Start-up costs can be a lot more than you expect.
- [14:46] #6. Margins, margins, margins.
- [16:00] #7. Exhaustion and burnout are real.
- [16:48] #8. Location can matter.
- [17:54] #9. You’re managing people and personalities, whether you hire or not.
- [19:23] #10. Setting up systems and processes early is invaluable.
*Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links or codes, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase after you use the coupon code. I make recommendations because I feel they are helpful and useful to shopkeepers, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links or codes. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals as a retailer.