12-Step Checklist for Opening a Retail Store

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Find the perfect location with ample parking for your business. 

Any one or combination of the following situations can prevent customers from finding you: A hidden stand-alone building that no one can see, not enough traffic, enough traffic but travelling at a speed too fast to see you, a shopping center or strip mall location without a great anchor store, or a location within a town or small city center having the same daily traffic. When you think you have found your location, get in your car and stake out the place during different times of day throughout the week and make note of the foot and vehicle traffic patterns. When you have found the place, call the city to ask if your type of store will work within the zoning laws. Purchase any necessary permits. Inquire about signage (your most important advertisement) regulations and signage permits. 

Sign the rental agreement or lease only when you are positive that the location will work for you. 

Some people hire an attorney for this. No matter what you do, remember that in this economy many landlords are flexible on many of the terms. A security deposit is usually necessary and/or the last month’s rent in addition to the first month’s rent in advance.

Choose a name if you have not already done so. 

Call and follow through with your state office regarding registering your chosen name, receiving an E.I.N. (Employer Identification Number) for tax purposes, licensing if necessary and any state permits needed especially if you are selling food whether it be your own or prepackaged.

Decide on your hours of operation and (once open) stick to them so that your customers do not get confused. 

Once you have been open for a while you will better know what days/hours work best and then you can make the change.

Have your merchandise ready and priced.

All of your fixtures, cash register, computer, merchandise services (credit card machine) alarms and other security measures need to be ready to go. Used fixtures found online or in stores are one of the best ways to save on start up costs. Have building improvements completed if necessary.

Open a business checking account and include a debit card. 

It is always best to keep your personal finances separate from your business finances for easier record keeping and much less confusion for yourself and for the Profit and Loss statement required by the I.R.S.

Get your name out there with a website, free online ads, business cards, brochures, and newspaper publicity announcements (which are often free). 

Put up your “coming soon”… sign and have your main sign ready to go up on opening day. Advertise and prepare for your grand opening.

If you want to know how to get your products in store, get in-store signage and store policies in place.

Have all utilities hooked up or switched to your name if necessary. 

Have lawn maintenance and/or snow plowing in place if necessary. Fill up the oil tank if needed. Purchase business insurance to protect your assets and/or in the case of liability claims. Usually the owner will carry property insurance which you are not responsible for unless there is a triple net involved (NNN). This would be outlined in your lease agreement.

Keep an adequate supply of ink and paper for your register and credit card machine as well as pricing tape and ink for your pricing gun. 

Familiarize yourself with all machines and keep notes handy of anything you may be apt to forget. Make note of prices of any untagged merchandise. It is very easy to forget even simple things when you are busy or distracted. Always have plenty of register change as many people still pay in cash. Have plenty of bags and packing material if needed. Purchase small baskets to make shopping easier for your customers if appropriate for your store.

If immediately hiring employees you will probably want to contact an accountant regarding wages, payroll taxes, workers compensation and unemployment claims.

Remember, your customer is your paycheck now so be nice to them. Have fun and make a fortune!

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