There are many things to consider when you are looking to open your own retail business. Certainly you need to be able to find a spot and then market your business. While there are many things in addition, below is a small list of things that many times slip through the cracks and can cause some headaches.
Signs, Logistics and Marketing Decisions to Consider When Opening New Retail Space
- Use a strong commercial realtor.
I recently asked a real estate broker client of mine why I should use him to help me with rent an apartment I own when there are so many websites that allow me to just post my offering. His answer was a very good one (and one that earned him the business). He said “professionals use professionals”, they don’t just look for real estate signs. Yes, using him was going to cost me about 8% of my first year rent on the apartment, however I am convinced that because I used him, we actually got a better tenant, had him screened properly by someone with experience, and got a higher rent than I thought we would get. All of which makes this one-time fee more than worth it. In negotiating a lease for your new business, make sure you go with a professional who with probably just a little of her knowledge can wind up saving you money overall and may even save you from making a big mistake with the space you are considering.
- Make Sure you have all of your licenses in order
You sign your lease and start your build out and the next thing you know you have stop-work orders on your door. Make sure you look to your local government to make sure you have not only any building permits, but also and business licenses that you need. You can’t even open a business banking account without state and local approval in most cases so make sure you look for this first.
- Make your retail window graphics do more than just state your hours of business
So are getting your build out done and you are trying to market your business. Sure you need to have a web presence and work on local SEO and the like. However, you are still a retail location and people are walking and driving by your retail store all the time. Spend the time, effort and a little extra money creating an eye-catching window graphic that tells a story about your business and is a conversation started with potential customers as they enter your store. Custom window graphics are not overly expensive, but that does not mean you want to go cheap. In most cases, it is a one-time expense that will continue to pay off for you over the lifetime of your business in that location. We are based in Chicago and you really can’t walk down any retail street without seeing some really creative Chicago window graphics. Make sure to work with a company (such as ChicagoSigns.com) that will help you take some of the ideas you have and make them into eye catching window graphics.
- Check with local laws and ordinances regarding signage.
As with the business licenses above, many local governments require that you apply for sign permits before installing and custom signage. In particular anything that hangs over a walkway you likely will need some sort of sign permit. One nice thing on this is that MOST cities allow you to start to implement a sign once you apply for the permit so you normally don’t have to wait weeks for the permit to go through the entire system. Liability here is potentially large if something was to happen so it is best to follow the advice of the custom sign company you work with.
- Have your financial house in order
It sounds simple, but many companies do not even have their bank accounts set up before they open their doors. Mixing your personal finance with the business even when you are “just starting up” is a really bad idea. Take the time and pay the needed expense to get your business bank accounts as well as how you will accept money (credit cards, Quickpay, Paypal ect) ready on day 1. This sometimes can get a little confusing, but there are payment companies out there that will gladly walk you through the process for free in exchange for being your processor so take advantage of that! Also, regarding choosing your bank, make sure to interview at least 3 banks to find out how they can help you grow your business if you were to choose them. Are they a small community bank that might even be able to use your services? Or are they a large commercial bank that you feel more comfortable with because of their stability? Either way you should make sure to ask questions about fees and benefits of working with them as a bank. Remember, they are looking to earn your business just as you are looking to earn your customers so interview them like your clients interview you.
- Throw an open house and invite local community leaders
You have your location built out and ready to open your doors. Use your local chamber of commerce to help you invite other local businesses to your location to see your location, learn more about your products and services, and to check out the custom designs both internally as well as your window designs. You will meet many great people, some of which you might need their services. Most importantly you will likely become the go to person in your space for the attendees and that can mean referrals. Make sure you follow up with all attendees after the open house and try to meet important influencers after in a face to face meeting. You will find this investment in some appetizers and drinks to pay big dividends as it gets you immediately into the local business community.
Have any other tips that you would like to share regarding opening your new retail business? Feel free to share them below.
Michael Kupfer has been an entrepreneur and small business owner for most of his professional career. He has owned businesses as diverse as a technology consulting firm to an online fitness store to a wallpaper manufacturing business. Currently he is CEO of Black Diamond Solutions, a Chicago based IT firm, the Head Ninja at NinjaPaper.com, which creates custom designed DIY wallpaper for both home and commercial use, and the founder of ChicagoSigns.com which creates custom signs in Chicago for businesses. He lives in Chicago and has offices for his businesses in the West Loop Neighborhood.