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A No-Nonsense Checklist for Setting Up Shop

➽ I’ve spent a year creating a budget and forecasting sales for a retail shop. Now I’m ready to make it a reality. What should I know about determining my location and launching my dream?

➽ Start by talking to people who have successfully done what you want to do. Chances are that you have a favorite store or two where you’ve gotten to know the owners. If not, pick one, introduce yourself and ask for advice.

After a layoff from a major department store, Tierra Destiny Reid opened an Atlanta-area consignment store. Today, after selling that business, she helps others open shops as founder of The Retail Campus.

Her advice on finding a perfect location: Pound the pavement. “Visit areas where you’d ideally like to be. Talk details with current tenants to get an honest perspective on real foot traffic, not the basic demographics of drive-by stats,” Reid says. “How many people are really walking by and walking in, not simply driving by?”

When negotiating rent, lock in a long-term rate that has a short-term clause, Reid advises. Don’t sign a lease for low rent for only a year to play it safe, she says, “Because if you do well and want to stay, your landlord can significantly raise your rent, which may drive you out. Instead, lock in a low rate for three to five years and reduce your risk by insisting on an opt-out clause.” Reid says rent should be about 10 percent of potential gross sales.

Sweat the details on killer signage that customers will notice from a distance, using the biggest allowed by local zoning. “See if you can hang a grand-opening banner and ground signs for more visibility,” Reid says. “Create vibrant window displays that’ll attract passersby.”

Offer loyalty rewards programs. Reach out to local vendors and charities to participate in in-store events, Reid says. They’ll market to their base, which can attract new customers to your turf.

Ask for customer contact information to send regular e-newsletters. “Don’t just offer discounts and deals, but also include tips, tools and resources that will interest and serve your audience,” says Marquesa Pettway, who teaches entrepreneurs how to attract  clients.

Hire wisely. If your budget allows, use an experienced human resources veteran on an as-needed basis to handle hiring. Then save time by meeting only with the top three to five candidates.

Because your employees must represent your vision and deliver consistently on customer service, training is essential. “Create a mission statement and operations guidelines for all employees to sign. Hire initially on a 30- to 60-day trial period. Once you’re up and running, create an internship-apprenticeship program and hire from those ranks,” Reid says.

Offer sales incentives to encourage your team to compete to reach goals. “Commission is an option, but a clothing store might offer free necklaces or shirts for the month to whoever hits the sales goal,” Reid says. “For others, public recognition—employee rock star of the month—also motivates.”

Finally, tap organizations that help startups. Check with your mayor or town supervisor’s office on small-business development to find the best resources. In addition, SCORE, a national organization, assists entrepreneurs with every facet of startup and operations, including free coaching and low-cost seminars. You can find your local chapter at SCORE.org.

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