No trip to the mall would be half as much fun without a stop at the quintessential novelty shop. From goofs to gags and from raunchy to racy, you’d be hard-pressed to find tasteful trinkets in such shops, which is exactly why they’re always so crowded. If you’ve visited Spencer’s (see link below) or another chain of novelty stores, you know what it’s like to spend time in one, so you’re the ideal candidate for this type of business—no joke.
Head for the mall and stand-alone novelty boutiques to scope out their operations. Pay attention to the proximity of products that are of a sexual nature, as they tend to be close to the cash register area to deter underage kids from rifling through inappropriate material. Make a list of manufacturers' names listed on the products you would like to see on your shelves. Take photos if you can do it without attracting attention.
Use the Internet to research the company names you gathered in Step #1. Request the following from each source: a wholesale catalog, current wholesale/suggested retail price lists, information on quantity buys and a credit application so you can get on their books immediately. Ask for the name of a sales representative assigned to your territory, so they know who you are when you place your first order.
Compose a business plan and a budget. Estimate the cost of "fixturing" (find a link below for one source) a bare store. Compute projected overhead—utilities, phone, Internet connection, salaries and benefits for staff. Calculate the amount you need to spend on stock. Double the total you came up with for a realistic assessment of what you’ll need in year one. Find a lending institution or venture capitalist willing to give you seed money. If you're a woman, check out the link at the bottom of this article for female business owners.
Sign one-year a lease for the store that offers you the best deal in terms of traffic, rent and other amenities. Apply for licenses, permits, tax ID numbers and other documentation required by your state and community. Contact VISA, MasterCard, Discover, AmEx and other credit-card companies to establish accounts with them. Affiliate with a bank-verification service to avoid getting stuck with bad checks.
Maximize the unique nature of your shop by putting together an offbeat marketing program that attracts the audience you seek. Meet with neighborhood merchants to discuss co-op ads and reciprocity programs that cross-sell from store to store. Order permanent and temporary signage. Consider a frequent-shopper program.
Install a security system so that product doesn’t slip past employees and out the door. Obtain Department of Health guidelines to cover any intimate apparel you may stock and make certain your store return policies reflect those DOH hygiene-related guidelines so there's no confusion about what can be returned and what can't.
Hire clerks who love the idea of working at a novelty store. Involve staff when you order new merchandise, since their opinions will likely be as good as yours. Always remember that there’s a lot to be said about good will engendered when asking for buying and merchandising advice from folks who work for you.
Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.