An independent retailer is one who builds their business without help from an established brand. For example, if you open your own Subway Restaurant, you would not be considered an independent retailer, but rather a franchise business. If you start your own line of jewelry and register as a business in your state, you're considered an independent.
With 30.2 million small businesses in the U.S., the role of independent retailers cannot be overstated. They provide employment, a sense of community, and contribute to global trade. From business-planning stages to opening day, an independent retailer does it all. They often hire consultants, staff, and others to assist in the business endeavor. Family often plays a huge role, as well. In a study presented by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, researchers found nearly one in five entrepreneurs co-owned (or co-managed) their business with their family members.
The freedom to do what one wants with a business can be purposeful, profitable, and fun; but keep in mind that many independent retailers fail in the first seven years, often from lack of a researched business plan.
Remaining Independent Allows You to Be Nimble
One of the benefits of remaining independent is in decision-making. Since you're 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.
Explore Resources for Independent Retailers
As an independent retailer, having a support system to bounce ideas off of can be helpful when making important business decisions. 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 member stores, all independents. These associations hold meetings, provide resources, and oftentimes, do a store-to-store comparative analysis that can help measure your store's performance against others in your same category. This can be a huge help for independent retailers as the only benchmark you have is yourself.
Being Independent Is Difficult
While independence offers freedom and flexibility, it also means that every business decision rests on the owner. There is no established branding, guidelines, or support, which means you are the one who does the market research and builds the business plan, then raises money, budgets, builds new sales relationships, and decodes—all before the retail storefront even opens.
Many people who start businesses fail, despite their passion for a certain product or service, because they lack business fundamentals and refuse to seek help. Another challenge is cash flow, which is crucial to running a retail store. In fact, according to SCORE, a lack of cash flow is the number one reason businesses fail. Knowing your retail math and buying metrics are important.
It takes many years to build an independent retail business into a local favorite or an empire. It's essential that you be patient with yourself, your colleagues, and your business strategies.
Find a Local Mentor to Share Their Experience
As a business owner, you're your own boss and you set your own hours—but you'll also be the only one kept awake at night worrying about the longevity of the business, or if you're going to make payroll this week, or how you're going to sell the products in which you've invested.
These are questions that every independent retailer asks at some point in their journey. Finding a mentor to dialogue with about these feelings and experiences can make a huge difference to your morale, strategy, and outcomes as a business owner. Even independent retailers with 20 years of experience find themselves overwhelmed at times.
Don't be afraid to ask for the guidance of others. Starting and operating a business is a difficult, humbling adventure made easier and more enjoyable by the people you share it with. A great work ethic will take your business a long way, but you will only succeed if you have colleagues and mentors by your side.