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So You Want to Open a Shop?

If you’ve been thinking about setting up your own shop, now's the time to take the next step.

So You Want to Open a Shop?

design & fashion

The age of faceless, impersonal brands is on its way out; customers are looking for a human, one-on-one relationship with the people or brands they decide to spend money with - and that means individual operators finally have a chance to compete. The power of the seller, and what can be accomplished by someone starting out on their own, has shifted significantly in recent years.

With an increasingly broad and bespoke range of tools and technologies that cover every element of running your own shop: from sourcing products to communicating with customers, processing transactions and shipping and fulfilling orders, there’s plenty of support to assist you on your journey into the retail space. Here are some top tips to keep in mind, when kicking things off on your own. 

(Photo: Courtesy of Karima Maruan, The World's Best Shops)

What route should you follow? If you are a maker or creator of a product (from ceramics to digital art), you’re ultimately selling something that you have created yourself. Rather than selling through an intermediary (i.e., finding another shop or outlet to stock your products), cut out the middleman and sell directly to your customers as you build a brand around yourself and your products. Or let’s say you’ve got an eye for quality and an intimate knowledge of a specific sector. If you also have the technical skills needed to improve upon pre-existing items, then you might be able to make a living as a reseller. This consists of finding and buying second-hand items at a relatively low price, applying the necessary care and attention to turn them into something of higher value, and selling them on at a higher price. That higher price part is key if you want to make any cash.

For those who have a specific service-based area of expertise (for instance, a carpenter, upholsterer or barber), create your shop around that core service. You’ll need an appropriately sized, kitted-out space, and aim to create an inviting environment that will lure in customers. You might also sell your own products, or other brands, as an additional revenue stream.     

How can you set yourself apart? Let’s be real, whatever it is you’re thinking of selling, there are probably a fair few people and businesses already doing the same thing, with competitors sometimes even existing in the same neighbourhood. Differentiation, then - however you manage it - is critical. Anyone starting down the path of becoming a seller needs to land on a point (or several points) of difference and make sure it’s central to everything they do. And a quick reality check: selling at a reasonable price and offering good quality are fundamental. So how are you going to set yourself apart?

Maybe your mission and values run counter to the accepted or common norms in your sector. It could be that your products are created in such a specific way that you end up selling them in limited drops. Maybe it’s simply the way you bring your customers in on what you’re building. Either way, our unique value proposition is one key challenge to nail. From there, your brand identity should follow. 

Who are your customers? What’s the best way to define your customer base? By creating a customer persona (a fictional profile created to represent a particular target customer), this will help you understand who you’re trying to sell to. Begin by touching on demographic details (age, gender, income, etc.), and then move into more soul-searching questions like passions, concerns, challenges and motivations. The more you flesh things out - and we’re talking about drawing out the person and even giving them a name - the more useful the process will be.

This is an important clarifying step for a small business, and with it, you'll be able to make educated decisions on topics from how to attract and support customers to making better calls on content, product design and communication methods. Personalization, after all, is key. The closer you can get to your customer, the more value you can add. 

(Photo: Courtesy of Johnny C.Y. Lam, The World's Best Shops)

Whatever step you are at in the journey of setting up your own retail space, get inspired and explore more from a new generation of founders and entrepreneurs who are revolutionizing brick and mortar retail with innovative sales strategies and hybrid shop designs that leave nothing to chance.

Curated by Courier magazineThe World’s Best Shops is a guide to the best of modern shops, featuring profiles of some of the world’s most diverse and inspiring retail spaces, briefings on big retail trends and opportunities, and more than 70 pages of practical advice and tips for anyone who’s ever dreamed of setting up their own shop.