If you have a flair for fashion or even just a good eye for cloth, an online fabric store could be an inexpensive way to start your own business. Depending on your interests, you can sell to consumers like hobbyist seamsters, to retailers or to a combination of the two. How much inventory you decide to stock will be your biggest startup cost.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
To start an online fabric store, you'll need a website, a way to buy cloth wholesale and a method for accepting online payments. The startup cost can range between $500 to $10,000 depending on whether or not you're stocking your own inventory.
Online Retail Fabric Store
An online retail fabric store works the same way as most other consumer websites. Your customers would likely consist of sewing hobbyists, fashion designers and interior decorators. You would upload pictures of the fabric and include a description and price. Customers would select the fabric they want and purchase it from your website.
The tricky part has to do with inventory. One possibility is that you would buy the fabric in bulk from manufacturers or wholesale fabric suppliers, store it and then cut it to size as needed before sending it to the customer yourself. Another possibility is that you could purchase it from a manufacturer or distributor after someone makes a purchase from you.
Online Fabric Directory Service
If you don't have much space or money to stock inventory, an online fabric directory service may be a good way to get into business. You create a website where manufacturers can offer their fabric for sale and where retailers can purchase it. You could charge a fee for each sale or offer the service on a subscription basis, where buyers and sellers each pay to create an account. If you can buy them cheaply, you could sell fabric remnants to hobbyists as a way of making initial customers.
With some advanced features, you could offer additional services to your customers, like a virtual warehouse, inventory control and shipping tracking center. Both retailers and manufacturers would save money using your service, as they wouldn't have to pay middlemen. Manufacturers could pay for the service out of their marketing budget.
Opening an Online Fabric Shop
To sell fabric online, you will want to create a website and a domain name. Even if you plan to sell fabric using another platform like eBay or Etsy, your own website will serve as your virtual storefront, brochure and business card. To sell from your own website, you will need to use a service that allows you to process credit card purchases. PayPal is one way to go. Shopify, which will also host your website and give you templates to set it up quickly, is another option.
Research other fabric websites and make notes. Look at what you like and what you don't like and also look for ways to differentiate your business from theirs. Take lots of high-quality photos of the fabric you are planning to sell and describe it vividly so it is not only appealing to the customers but so the customers will know exactly what they are getting when they make a purchase.
If you are selling fabric from your home and keeping inventory, you will need a place to store the bolts where they won't be damaged or gather dust, a place to cut them and, of course, a fabric cutter. You'll also need boxes and packing materials for shipping. Research how much it costs to send parcels to various locations from where you are so you can factor in shipping in your sales.
Marketing Your Fabric Store
The adage "build it and they will come" absolutely does not apply to online stores. You will need to get the word out yourself. Online ads are one way to go, but when you're starting out and not yet making sales, consider doing the marketing yourself.
If you sew yourself, consider doing YouTube videos to show people tips while mentioning that they can get the same fabrics from your website. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are also good options for displaying new fabric arrivals and offering content that is appealing to your customer base.
Just because you're selling online, that's no reason to limit your marketing to the internet. Go to local craft shows and consider getting your own booth to display your fabrics. Print some business cards and introduce yourself to local tailors and seamsters. A face-to-face handshake and a smile can be worth a thousand online likes.
And just because you're not brick-and-mortar does not mean you can skip the traditional business set-up steps like selecting a structure, registering your business and paying the appropriate taxes. Make sure you're keeping your books organized and accurate.