How to Start a Liquor Store
Whether for a special event, or just to wind down after a long week, Americans have always enjoyed their wine and spirits. While there are a lot of details that go into owning a liquor store, many find it to be a very rewarding career. You have an opportunity to interact with customers and sales representatives regularly and ensure you’ve made their day a little brighter.
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Learn how to start your own Liquor Store and whether it is the right fit for you.
Start a liquor store by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Liquor Store
- Form your Liquor Store into a Legal Entity
- Register your Liquor Store for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Liquor Store
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Liquor Store
- Get Liquor Store Insurance
- Define your Liquor Store Brand
- Create your Liquor Store Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your liquor store. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
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STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening a liquor store?
The capital required for start-up costs vary depending upon a number of factors. Location, staffing costs, beginning inventory, and licensing fees are all defining factors in how much you’ll need for your initial investment. BevMax requires that their investors have a minimum of $150,000 in liquid capital to properly open a franchise location. Entrepreneurs have reported start-up costs as high as $1 million for opening larger establishments.
What are the ongoing expenses for a liquor store?
A majority of your earnings will go back into re-stocking the store’s shelves. Investing in accounting software from the get-go will assist you in developing an efficient system for keeping up with your inventory.
Your second largest ongoing expense is payroll costs. You’ll also have annual licenses to renew, as well as insurance costs, which can be high in this line of work. A good portion of your monthly budget should go towards ongoing marketing campaigns, hopefully ensuring a steady flow of patrons.
Who is the target market?
As a rule, your preferred customer is anyone, over the age of 21, who enjoys a tasty beverage and prefers to do business with smaller, local establishments over the large retailer. Before investing in your retail space, conduct research to determine the competition in the areas you’re considering. What types of products do they sell and how successful is their business? What are the likes and dislikes of consumers in the area? This will help you determine if there’s a specific niche you should be targeting and what to stock the shelves with.
How does a liquor store make money?
Liquor stores make money through the sale of each beverage. Some are sold by the bottle, while others are sold in greater quantity, as determined by the distributors.
How much can you charge customers?
Pricing varies from product to product and is defined by the size, type of alcohol, and distributor prices.
How much profit can a liquor store make?
According to a recent Forbes study, liquor stores are among the top five least profitable businesses, taking home a profit of 1.7%. Owners who are able to run their own business take home an average salary of $21,000 - $51,000, depending upon size, location, and sales. At 1.7%, a store that has total sales of $500,000 realizes an annual profit of $8,500.
How can you make your business more profitable?
The following are a few strategies you can implement to ensure a more profitable liquor store business:
- Offer classes, where you teach customers about specific products. Mixology classes are also a great way to pass your knowledge on to your customers.
- Weekend cocktail samples give customers an opportunity to try something they might not otherwise consider. By offering these tastings on a weekend, you increase your chances of selling the product you’re promoting. Speak with the liquor distributors about these events. They can offer drink recipe suggestions and many will send out a representative to help with the tasting.
- Start a wine or beer club.
- Sell additional items that pair well with the products you sell. If wine is a speciality item, offer various cheese, crackers, wine glasses, etc.
- Smaller liquor stores who have an attached bar and/or restaurant have also realized greater profits.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Liquor Store Name Generator
If you operate a sole proprietorship, you might want to operate under a business name other than your own name. Visit our DBA guide to learn more.
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
The most common business structure types are the sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation.
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your liquor store is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
You can form an LLC yourself and pay only the minimal state LLC costs or hire one of the Best LLC Services for a small, additional fee.
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
Learn how to get an EIN in our What is an EIN guide or find your existing EIN using our EIN lookup guide.
Small Business Taxes
Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).
You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:
- LLC Taxes
- Sole Proprietorship vs LLC
- LLC vs Corporation
- LLC vs S Corp
- How to Start an S Corp
- S Corp vs C Corp
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Open net 30 accounts
Net 30 accounts are used to establish and build business credit as well as increase business cash flow. With a net 30 account, businesses buy goods and repay the full balance within a 30-day term.
NetMany net 30 credit vendors report to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.
Recommended: Read our best net 30 vendors, guide and start building business credit.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from Divvy and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
You will need to obtain a liquor license from the appropriate state agency. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most states also require retail businesses to obtain a seller’s permit. A seller’s permit enables states to record and collect taxes from goods (and sometimes service) sales.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
In addition, certain local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply. For more information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
Recommended: Learn what business insurance for your Liquor Store will cost.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
Recommended: Get a logo using Truic's free logo Generator no email or sign up required, or use a Premium Logo Maker.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a liquor store
When you’re ready to open your doors, advertise your grand opening in local newspapers, television, and radio ads. For opening night, offer taste-testing of various items and specials on select items. Just make sure your offerings are small to ensure no one leaves the establishment tipsy. Make sure you and your staff are knowledgeable on the items you offer and be ready to answer questions from your customers.
For many, alcohol is an integral part of every holiday. Hold regular, exclusive events to lure customers in. Teach them how to make a signature cocktail, related to the holiday theme, and offer discounts on items featured in the event.
An online presence is critical to the success of every business nowadays. Maintain an informative and user-friendly website that offers answers to your patron’s most burning questions. Post about the newest specials on social media accounts such as Facebook, Google +, and Twitter and ask patrons to sign up for your email newsletter and blog. This is a great way to keep your customers informed, as well as to educate them on the intricacies of beer, wine, and spirits. By doing so, you establish yourself as a leader in the industry - someone your customers look to for guidance and support. Additionally, be sure your business is listed on Yelp and all directories specific to your area.
Who doesn’t love free stuff? Offering free t-shirts and cozies to customers who spend over a certain amount is also a great marketing tool. The patron walks away satisfied over their newest acquisition and you gain the advantage of free marketing wherever they go.
How to keep customers coming back
It will be difficult for you to compete in price with the larger establishments. If you can keep your pricing relatively close to your competitors, however, many customers won’t mind paying a little more to support a local business. The key will be how they’re treated when there. Provide exceptional customer service at all times and ensure your staff is up-to-date on the latest news and trends.
If you’re able to accurately identify your patron’s needs, you’ll develop a loyal following and ensure you invest in the most desired inventory. Have a suggestion box and ask customers for their input. While you cannot offer incentive for doing so, it’s no uncommon for companies to ask their customers to write a review on one of the online directories and social media platforms.
Still unsure about what kind of business you want to start? Check out the latest Small Business Trends to help inspire you.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
Recommended: Get started today using our recommended website builder or check out our review of the Best Website Builders.
Other popular website builders are: WordPress, WIX, Weebly, Squarespace, and Shopify.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2023 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
Start a Liquor Store in your State
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
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Is this Business Right For You?
An individual who enjoys the subtle differences from one beverage to the next and is on a continuous quest for more knowledge makes a great candidate. Due to the competitive nature of the liquor industry, owners must possess a deep understanding of the mechanics of running a business and be prepared to be an integral part of the day-to-day activities of running the establishment.
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What happens during a typical day at a liquor store?
As the owner, you’ll want to be a visible part of the establishment at all times. Patrons will look to you for advice on a specific beverage, based on their personal preferences and/or event needs. In addition, you will be creating ongoing relationships with your various vendors and sales reps.
As the face of the business, there are a number of behind-the-scenes tasks you’ll need to accomplish daily. Maintaining accurate inventory, protecting your cash flow, and predicting SKU level/product demand requires careful and constant attention. Privately owned liquor stores typically realize a greater profit when structured as an owner-operator establishment. y
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful liquor store?
Strong business acumen is absolutely critical for starting and running a liquor store. Attention to detail, a knowledge of marketing and sales, accounting, operations, customer service, and human resources are all a requirement to ensure your business is even able to open its doors, much less realize long-term success. Since you’ll likely own and operate the establishment yourself, strong interpersonal skills will also prove beneficial.
What is the growth potential for a liquor store?
There is very little ability to negotiate with distributors over pricing, as they have the monopoly on their alcohol brand. This makes competitive pricing between retailers difficult and results in a fairly low profit margin. The only way to secure significant price cuts is by investing in the purchase of large bulk orders, which presents its own set of challenges. It requires deeper pockets and additional space for storage. It’s also important that you understand consumer demand for bulk items, ensuring a timely return on investment.
To combat some of these issues, owners with a significant amount of cash flow find success by either opening a large, warehouse store, or by investing in more than one location. Franchising opportunities such as Wine & Spirits or BevMax offer entrepreneurs inside knowledge and assistance in helping an owner’s vision become a reality.
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Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a liquor store?
The following are some insider tips from individuals who have found success in this highly competitive industry:
- Hire a knowledgeable attorney. The laws governing the handling and sale of alcohol can be quite complex. A lawyer can assist you in deciphering the language and ensuring no detail is missed.
- Location, location, location. Your goal should be to open your market in an area that isn’t already saturated with competition. But, the location’s importance goes beyond that. Depending upon where you live, there could be local laws restricting the sale of liquor near churches, schools, libraries, and hospitals.
- Open your liquor store near a grocery store that doesn’t sell liquor. Consumers like the efficiency of running multiple errands at once. If your shop is near the grocery store, they’re more likely to stop in.
- Set your business up as an owner-operator establishment. Due to high payroll and inventory costs, this is the most effective way to ensure a profit.
- Before signing on the dotted line on a building, consider contacting your local chamber of commerce. They can offer valuable insight into the demographic you’ll be serving and, in turn, how your business should be structured.
- Maintain a balanced inventory at all times.
How and when to build a team
Per our insider tips, you’ll likely want to manage your liquor store yourself. The hours are long and the work is hard, however, so you will want to build a quality staff to assist you during the busy times. Due to the nature of the business, your team should consist of individuals over the age of 21. The more knowledgeable staff you have, the better customer service your store will provide. Many liquor store owners hire employees who have been of legal age for some time and had the opportunity to build knowledge on your store’s various offerings.
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