How to Open a Retail Apparel Store Without Money

Opening up a retail store may seem like an expensive project, but there is a way to do this without money. The cheapest and easiest way to open a consignment store. You don't get the full amount of what you sell an item for, but this is offset by the way you obtain the merchandise. It is also the easiest way to get around vendor credit when you are first starting out. Later, after you are established, you can work to get new clothing into your store.

Locate a retail space. To find the location, you must be willing to consider all options.

One idea is to work with store owners who might provide complementary products or services. You can take up a small corner of a store in exchange for working at the shop.

Another idea is to find a landlord willing to offset the first month's rent in exchange for your help in rebuilding a rundown storefront or long-empty property.

Yet another idea is to open a retail apparel store out of your garage or front room.

Before opening a store in your residence, check with your local zoning office to make sure it is allowed. You may also need special permits for remodeling.

Build the fixtures and displays. One of the easiest ways to create the look you want for the lowest price is to build the fixtures and displays yourself or with the help of neighbors or friends. You put together a freestanding frame with 2-by-4's and paint left over from other projects. Hang clothes on these frames with plastic hangers that come with the consignment clothes.

Start gathering apparel to sell. The easiest way to do this is to visit local garage sales and offer to take the apparel that does not sell. That clothing will usually go to the Salvation Army or into the garbage. You can find some of your beginning inventory this way.

Clean up what you gather, figure out the size of each item and find a temporary dry place to store the clothing.

Continue to gather items as you move to the next step.

Sell items on eBay to generate money for sign material. After you have some items to sell, sign on with eBay and sell off some of your inventory. Don't sell all the clothing - just enough to purchase sign material for your store. If you sell enough items, purchase a small classified ad for the next step.

Start taking in consignment items. Here is where you will get the bulk of your merchandise.

Create a sign for the storefront, and if you earned enough money from eBay, take out a small classified ad in a local newspaper or online service, stating that you are accepting consignment clothing for your new store.

Have consignment contracts printed out from your home printer and give them people who are consigning clothing. Keep these on file in case of disagreements.

You can get a copy of this contract from other consignment stores or use the templates found at the Web sites listed in the resource section. These contracts will set in writing the amount the consignee (you) and the consignor (the supplier of the apparel) will get from the sale of the item, as well as what happens if the item does not sell. It also states the time limit for the item to be sold before it is pulled from the rack. Some contracts have the option for the store to purchase the items outright after the time limit, while others simply allow the item to be returned unsold.

Contact your local and state authorities for permits and licenses. Retail sales will require tax ID numbers from the state department of revenue, occupancy permits from local zoning offices and registration for tax permits from county authorities.

You will also need to register your business name with the state department of commerce. Most of the state requirements can be taken care of online. You can get more information about local licenses and permits with a visit to the county and city offices.

Write a press release. This will provide free advertising when your store is covered by the media. Make sure to list what you sell, how you came to sell it, your hours, and what types of apparel you are accepting. Also mention how you can help others get rid of their unwanted items and make money. This release will get you a good supply of merchandise and support.

You can also try to get a live radio spot if you can find a station willing to cover your store. This attention will be especially good for opening day.

Open the store.

Make sure you have all licenses and permits in place before this day comes.

Also make sure you have a backup plan for generating income during the first year, so you don't rely solely on the business' success.


  • Do not attempt this without having at least a part-time job to support yourself while starting out.

    Check with the IRS for information about self-employment and tax regulations at the federal level.

    Have all permits and licenses in place before selling anything to the public.