Being an Independent Retailer

Independent Retailer
••• Getty Images

An independent retailer is one who builds his/her business from the ground up. From the business planning stage to opening day, the independent retail owner does it all. He/she may hire consultants, staff, and others to assist in the business endeavor. The opportunities are endless. 

Some of the best stories in small business are from this niche world of family-owned retail. There is even a holiday every March celebrating mom and pop retailers and American Express regularly supports the independent local retailer with its marketing. Truly, the backbone of the US economy comes from independent retailers. 

There are no restrictions on who, how or where an entrepreneur should set up his/her business. The freedom to do what one wants to do is the biggest advantage in this form of business. It can be extremely fulfilling. However, due to the easy entry, many of these retail business fail in the early years. The biggest reason is a lack of a business plan

Remaining Independent Allows You to Be Nimble

Being independent is not related to size. In other words, you can be an independent retailer and have multiple even hundreds of stores. One of the benefits of remaining independent is decision-making. Since you are not accountable to shareholders, you can be more nimble. Often times, shareholders want big returns and many corporate retailers have been bankrupted, not because of their margins, but because of the demands of the investors. Being independent, you retain total control in this area. 

Because of the ease and flexibility of getting started, there can be a lot of competition in a particular area for a certain type of customer. Every business decision rests on the owner(s). There is no branding, no preset guidelines and a great deal of risk in this business model. As an independent retailer myself, I spent many nights wondering how we were going to make payroll. I learned (not fast enough) that cash flow was the key to running a retail store. Knowing your retail math and buying metrics are important as well. A great book to check out is The Retail Business Kit for Dummies. 

Explore Resources for Independent Retailers

As an independent, you can certainly feel on your own. But one of the best places to find support, coaching, and advice is within trade associations. Almost every type of retail has an association made up of like-minded retail stores.

For example, The National Shoe Retailers Association has over 1,000 members stores - all independents. These associations hold meetings, provide resources and often times, do store to store comparative analysis that helps you measure your store's performance against others in your same category. This is a huge help for independents as the only benchmark you have is yourself. 

Being Independent Is Tougher Than It Looks

I often get asked to "have lunch" with someone so they can pick my brain. The person is thinking about opening his or her own store and since I did it successfully, they want my advice. Before I will meet with anyone, I have them read the book The E-Myth by Michael Gerber. If after reading the book, they still want to move forward, I will connect. This book brilliantly lays out why most small businesses fail so quickly. It is a great read for anyone considering opening their own retail store. 

Many of the stores I consult with are started by "non-retailers." By this, I mean people who do not have experience working in or running a retail store. Often times they at least have experience working in a store, but it is a whole different world when owning it than managing it. These people have the dream of owning their own business and retail is one of the easiest ways to start.

The problem is that these people are driven by a passion for a product or service and lack the business knowledge to run a business. I'm amazed how many of them are even surviving. I direct them to this website right away as a resource packed with helpful articles and tips. But the truth is, they need help. We all do.

Find a Mentor Locally to Share Their Experience

Being independent sounds glamorous, but truly it is not. Yes, you are your own boss But you are also the one who lies awake in bed at night worrying about how you are going to make payroll this week for your employees. If you start a business, don't be independent in practice, just in legal structure. Follow the advice here and network yourself with fellow retailers.

Find a mentor locally who will share his or her experiences with you for the price of a lunch. I owned my own four-store chain for several years. I loved every minute of it. However, even with all of my years of retail experience (20 years) working for others, I still found myself a little overwhelmed at times. Even I found a mentor and used the trade associations to survive. And you should too.