Start a retail business

Ten top tips for starting a retail business


To build a successful retail start-up you'll need to develop a good set of business skills including:

  • self-motivation
  • ability to work long hours
  • good negotiating skills
  • excellent customer service
  • an understanding of your products and sector

Here are ten top tips on how to start a retail business and successfully navigate the early days of trading:

1. Know your market - understanding your marketplace, your potential customers' expectations, trends in your sector and wider economic shifts are all extremely important when starting a retail business. This can help you to decide whether to sell, what to sell, where to sell and for how much. There is a surprising amount of information available. For more information see market research and market reports or contact the Business Information Centre at Invest Northern Ireland on Tel 0800 141 4422.

2. Get the basics right - working hard on your business plan will help you to establish your retail business in the right way, access finance on good terms and set goals and targets against which you can monitor your performance. We have detailed guidance on getting the basics right when starting a business:

3. Find the right premises - understanding your market can help you to target the best location to set up your business. Balancing footfall against rental rates can be a difficult choice, but there are plenty of options for retail space in Northern Ireland - decide where to set up your retail business.

4. Find the right suppliers - suppliers offer good payment terms and credit facilities to stable businesses with a good track record. This is not something a start-up retailer can usually demonstrate. However you may be able to source your goods from different places enabling you to shop around for better terms. See choosing the right suppliers for your business and negotiating supplier contracts. Using overseas suppliers can be challenging for a start up retailer, but this can also give you an important competitive advantage. See working with international suppliers.

5. Understand selling and the law - retailing comes with a unique set of legal responsibilities when dealing with customers, for example around pricing information. These rules can vary depending on where you sell goods to customers - see preparing to sell.

6. Get the right staff - finding and managing staff can be a challenge for a start-up retail businesses - see recruiting staff.

7. Smart promotion - everything you do says something about your retail business; the name you choose, the brand you design, the location of your premises, the look and feel of your merchandising, the way you interact with customers. As a start-up retailer you may struggle to find money to promote your business through traditional methods, so think smart, eg is social media an efficient way to spread your message to a wide audience? See how to market your retail business.

8. Start networking - establishing your reputation with your peer group and local influencers is vital for a start-up business - introduce yourself and your business ethos by attending (or creating) local networking events, and get involved with business support organisations. See networking for staff development.

9. Think online - even if you're concentrating on 'bricks and mortar' retail it's hard to ignore the potential benefits of an online presence. You could try something as simple as driving customer interest with a simple catalogue-style website up to a full e-commerce site selling directly to customers. See advantages and disadvantages of online retailing.

10. Find the right support - there are plenty of organisations offering start-up support for potential retailers in Northern Ireland. This ranges from one-to-one tailored advice to financial support - see retail start-up support.