A general store business provides customers with the convenience of finding a range of different kinds of products all under one roof. If you’re considering starting your own general store, be sure to do your research and create a solid business strategy to ensure you meet your customers’ needs and turn a profit.
Consider Your Business Model and Legal Structure
What kind of business will you run? Will your general store be catering to an underserved rural community that is not located near other retail stores, or are you creating a nostalgic shopping experience for tourists and people from the big city? Consider your customers, location and business model together to ensure they align.
Your legal structure is also related to your business model. Many small businesses set up as an LLC or S corp, which each have their advantages. It’s wise to incorporate your business to protect your personal assets. Visit the U.S. Small Business Administration website to learn about the different business structures and research which is right for your needs.
You also have the option of purchasing a general store franchise, such as 7-Eleven, Save-a-Lot or Circle K. This provides small business owners with fewer risks since the business model has been tested in different areas and comes with brand recognition and customer loyalty. Franchises also provide guidance for running your general store, and your product costs are often lower. However, the initial startup costs can be as high as several hundred thousand dollars to a million dollars. Keep in mind that franchises also have monthly royalty fees.
Write a General Store Business Plan
A business plan can help you secure funding from investors and banks and enables you to establish your business strategy. Your business plan should include an executive summary, company overview, industry and competitive analysis, customer analysis, operations plan, marketing plan and financial projections.
You’ll also need to figure out your capital requirements, which will include rent, inventory, licensing and permits, staffing and franchise fees if applicable.
Get the Right Licensing and Regulation
There are specific business licenses you will need to acquire depending on your state, city and county regulations. Visit the U.S. Small Business Administration website to see the different kinds of licenses you will require based on what you sell and where you are located. You’ll also need to visit your local licensing office to get the specific paperwork you will need to operate legally in your area.
Figure Out Your Products and Supplies
Deciding what you will sell in your general store business is a vital task and needs to be considered strategically. Consider your business model, location, customer needs, product shelf life, product diversity and profit margins. It can be overwhelming thinking about everything you need, so start by narrowing down product lines. These may include tools, hardware, kitchen supplies, food, beverages, stationery, medicine, clothing, toys and household items.
Establish relationships with vendors who supply the product lines and items you’re looking to sell in your general store. Take into consideration their wholesale prices, return policies, marketing support, co-op funds, credits and payment terms when deciding which vendor to use. Depending on what you sell, you may be able to find both local and overseas vendors and suppliers.
In order to display your products, you will need to purchase shelving and displays. Depending on the kind of food you offer, you may require cold storage and refrigerated display cases. Consider how you will make the sale to customers and what kind of POS system you will need. Depending on your store's needs, you can opt for a simple cash register. If you want to improve productivity at checkout while tracking sales and inventory, you can also choose a complex POS system like ShopKeep, Square for Retail or Bepoz.
Find the Right Location
The location of your store is paramount to your success. Consider how much foot traffic you get, proximity to other retail locations and competitors and your operating expenses. You will also want to consider having additional sales channels for your business besides your brick-and-mortar location. Look into an online store, phone orders and partnering with mobile app companies that deliver products to customers.
While it's important to ensure your location is convenient, it's also critical to consider how to get customers into your store. Be sure to open during hours when your customers shop, which can include late evenings, early mornings or weekends.
Focus on Customer Service
One of the pillars of the retail business is the customer experience. It’s important to hire the right staff for your general store business who understand the importance of catering to your customers. In a general store, employees need to be familiar with a wide range of product lines so they can expertly answer customer questions and make sales.
If your customers care about shopping local, consider partnering with local farmers to sell their produce or local small businesses to sell their housewares and clothes. If your customers value low prices above all else, partner with wholesalers to get bulk discounts and pass the savings on to your customers
- Resources for Entrepreneurs: Starting a General Store
- U.S. Small Business Administration: Pick Your Business Location
- U.S. Small Business Administration: Choose a Business Structure
- Franchise Business Review: The Pros and Cons of Buying a Franchise: Is it Right for You?
- Franchise 7-Eleven: Initial Franchising Costs with 7-Eleven
- Software Advice: Convenience Store POS Systems
Anam Ahmed is a Toronto-based writer and editor with over a decade of experience helping small businesses and entrepreneurs reach new heights. She has experience ghostwriting and editing business books, especially those in the "For Dummies" series, in addition to writing and editing web content for the brand. Anam works as a marketing strategist and copywriter, collaborating with everyone from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups, lifestyle bloggers to professional athletes. As a small business owner herself, she is well-versed in what it takes to run and market a small business. Anam earned an M.A. from the University of Toronto and a B.A.H. from Queen's University. Learn more at www.anamahmed.ca.