How to set up and manage an independent retail business

The UK is known as a nation of shopkeepers, and the retail sector is the largest employer in the UK. The retail sector makes up 11% of total UK economic output, employing 4.4 million people.

As the economy recovered from the 2011 recession, cities and town saw new shops opening, both chains and independent outlets, and the numbers continue to rise each year.

Whatever kind of business you are opening, whether it’s a coffee shop, a butcher or a clothing store, doing your groundwork will make setting up and managing your business easier and bode well for a stable future. Here are the key areas that make up a retail business and suggestions for managing each element well:

Finding and keeping the right premises

There are many considerations to make when finding the right premises for your retail business. Footfall is a primary consideration for retail, and it is best to visit the area at different times of the day to see how many people pass by.

Consider how deliveries will be received, how easily staff can commute to work, public transport links, parking and proximity to competitors. For example, if you are opening a furniture shop think about how customers will transport their items home and whether you can receive deliveries of large items. Or if you move to a location out of town, your overheads might be cheaper but are there enough outlets of interest around you to make it worth the trip for your customers?

On a financial and level, you will need to consider insurance, planning restrictions, building improvements and business rates for your business.

Find a guide to renting and buying premises on the GOV.UK website.

Building supplier relationships

Supplier relationships are vital for small retail businesses, because it is these people who make your product offering unique from chains.

Building up a network of suppliers will help you stock your shop with items that your customers can’t find elsewhere. Approach them early, set out your objectives and above all, pay them promptly. You may find as you work together they’ll come to you with new products first and even ask you for advice on new lines based on what sells.

Hiring the right staff

A team with good product knowledge is the cornerstone of an independent shop. Why? They make your business different because they offer a personal touch. So finding the right staff is vital.

As the business becomes established good quality staff can help shape its growth, encouraging loyalty among customers so they want to make a return visit and offering their own insights to help you expand or improve.

Marketing – getting the word out there

The advantage of the digital revolution is that it makes it much more accessible for smaller businesses to promote and market themselves.

Use social media to build buzz before your opening and then to continue attracting customers new and old back to your business. Twitter and Facebook are particularly good for brick and mortar retail businesses, but you might want to get handy with Instagram for high-quality, spontaneous shots of the food in your bakery, your handmade jewellery or your beautiful stationery. YouTube is also good for ‘how-to’ videos and 360-degree tours of your store.

Read the five principles of retail to help guide your marketing activities, or our guide to boosting your retail business.

Setting up your accounts

Retail is a numbers game, which is why we have already talked about the importance of footfall and a competitive advantage.

Successful retail businesses are the ones who keep an eye on the finances. The way you  do this is by putting in place the right tools and processes from the beginning; this means you can enjoy the creative aspects of their business too. There are a few easy steps to set up your accounts, and a few easier ways to organise yourself too:

Managing your cashflow helps you make better business decisions. You’ll be able to see what is going in and out, helping you judge when to replenish stock and staff your shop accordingly. You’ll also be able to see when you can invest in new equipment or if certain promotions or product lines are increasing revenue.

Offering card payments make it easy for customers to shop with you, so do set this up early. Cash, card payments and mobile payments offer customers choice and flexibility.

Make admin a breeze by getting into the right habits to record everything that happens in your shop. Supplier payments, incoming money, staff wages, timesheets, rates and tax are all items you’ll need to track. If you get into a system early on it will take minutes each day rather than building up over the month.

Choose the right bank account for your business; it is really helpful to talk to a bank manager about this. You’ll need an account than can handle incoming money, cash deposits after closing time, supplier payments and on-the-go internet banking. Your bank may also be able to give you advice about setting up your business and any start-up finance that may be available.

To manage the whirlwind of retail you need secure and accessible, cloud-based online accounting software, as you are on your feet most of the day rather than at a desk. Sage One is accessible from a mobile app, so you can get on with running your business.

Sage One is the ideal accounting software for retail businesses, as it helps you keep on top of your finances alongside your day to day activities. Connect with your bank account to manage incoming payments, cash deposits and costs as well as reducing the amount of admin you need to do.

Should you require it, there are also powerful reporting tools and the ability to collaborate with an accountant.

We offer 24/7 support with all of our products too, because we know you need to access support once your shop is closed for the day.

Sign up for a free trial or find out more about Sage One.