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seminar rooms / small business advice / temporary office space

How to start a retail business from home

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This blog is the third in a series about home-based profitable businesses that you can start without having to carry large inventories or to have a full-time presence in a physical office or storefront.

It is often mentioned that small businesses employ more people than all large businesses combined. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play a major role in the Canadian economy. Industry Canada says that 99% of businesses in Canada have fewer than 500 employees and they employ 64% of workers in the private sector. A great deal of those businesses are retail based. In the USA, the retail industry provides a way of life for the more than 24 million people who earn their livelihood from it.

Regardless of the type of retail business you want to start, you cannot ignore the power and reach of the Internet. Each type of retailing has strengths and weaknesses, so you must decide which approaches you want to use in your business.

The face of retail has changed, or more so evolved, because of the Internet. Many retailers have shifted from expanding their brick and mortar stores and are capitalizing on the popularity of online shopping. In some cases, they offer products in their online store that they do not carry in their brick-and-mortar stores. This allows the retailer not to have to hold inventory on some items that can be drop-shipped by the manufacturer or distributor straight to the customer.

Specialty retailing is often the best way for smaller players to get a foot in the door. While power retailers like Wal-Mart or Target tend to sell general-needs products, specialty retailers tend to sell products that appeal to the specific wants of a market segment. Consumers looking for a broader selection of choices will look at specialty retailers to find the specific product they are looking for. Specialty retailers have carved out their niche online and are often found more easily on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) for their specific product or product lines. Good SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and direct links from the manufacturers who make and promote the product (and do not want to compete with retailers who sell their products by doing direct sales) is also important. This can be seen with Amazon.com, who never had a retail outlet and started selling books online, but quickly grew to sell almost everything imaginable (including now their TV and movie-streaming service).

Being known for selling, servicing and having parts for specialty products or lines of products can make an online business very lucrative and profitable, especially if you do not carry large inventories. You can get the product from your source in a short time and get them to your customers with a short turnaround time. In the case of larger items, the manufacturer or distributor will drop-ship the items with your branded labeling.

So what are some of the specialty markets you could sell in an online store? To figure this out, you may want to look at your own hobbies and interests, as well as how many others share those interests. Is that hobby or interest being properly serviced by a single source? Maybe you could be that single source who sells those products from a variety of manufacturers and importers.

Even if you do not want to provide an eCommerce platform for those sought-after products, many online retailers offer affiliate and associate programs that allow you to list a product on your site with a signature link to their site, that pays you to promote and refer customers to their site. For instance if you write a blog about classic cars and finding parts for them, you could sign up with various websites that sell the parts or custom kits that your audience is looking for. When the site sells the product (based on the branded link on your website), they will give you a small fee for sending them the business. The more followers that you have and that trust your recommendations, the more potential income you can make.

If you are trying to sell products or services that are more hands-on or require an in-person demonstration (beyond what you can achieve with online videos), you might consider conducting in-person seminars to groups of people that want to learn and have hands-on experience with the product. This is especially true with selling conversion kits or providing training on a product that is not available from the manufacturer or creator. Holding seminars and training sessions can also be a great small business in themselves. It is quite easy and reasonable to rent training and seminar rooms at a professional office business centre without having to be a client of the centre. Your training and/or seminar event could even be teaching other entrepreneurs how to start a retail business from home.

There are other retail options that you can run from your home and online, that only require retail space on a short-term basis. Pop-up stores are currently very popular and not that expensive to get started. You can rent non-leased retail space on a short term basis while the landlord looks for a full-time tenant for the space. This can be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. It’s like renting temporary office space for a few months while you look for a permanent solution – or while your offices are being renovated.

While popular with large brands looking to promote a special or new product or service, pop-up stores can also allow a small brand to showcase products and services to consumers who want a hands-on experience. These types of shops can also be a great way to clear old inventor or have a sale on seasonal items such as Christmas decorations and ornaments.

Not exactly pop-up shops, mall kiosk stores can also be an entry into retail while running a business from home. Many shopping malls and outdoor markets offer rental carts and kiosks throughout the year. Others make available table space and temporary display areas at varying times of the year. These can often be seen when a mall is promoting home-renovation season (various doors, windows and restoration companies will put up a temporary display). But it can also be seen at Christmas where specialty gift and craft outlets will sell products in the middle of the walkways of a mall. For example, if your business is a model railroad company, a mall might even pay you to set up a Christmas-themed model railroad track.

About Ian Payton

Responsibilities: Social Media Coordination and content creation for companies like the Toronto International Bicycle Show. Outside of work for primary clients,work was done for smaller clients like branches of the Royal Canadian Legion designing and revitalizing web sites. Conceptualizing strategies for online and offline marketing as well as promotional activities for other companies.

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