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Americans across the country are realizing the benefits of spending time outdoors. It’s a time to escape from everyday life, clear the mind, and get a little exercise in the process. Like many hobbies, most outdoor activities require special clothing and/or gear. As part of a new consciousness, many consumers are choosing to spend their money at small, locally owned businesses, as opposed to the larger retail chains.
Who is this business right for?
Consumers who have taken the time to visit your store are enthusiastic about their newfound hobby. They want to share this excitement and learn as much as they can. Therefore, entrepreneurs who share their passion for the outdoors are best suited for this business endeavor. While not expected to be an expert on every outdoor activity, outdoor store owners should have a basic understanding of them, as well as the gear associated with each.
What happens during a typical day at an outdoor store?
In the retail business, there are a number of tasks that will keep you busy from one day to the next. Some of your duties include:
- Keeping up with inventory and place orders for items you’re running low on
- Rotating/rearranging in-store and window displays
- Interacting with customers and assist them in identifying which items best suit their needs
- Spending time with customers, offering advice and allowing them to share what they’ve learned and experienced thus far
- Researching the latest trends, try out new products, and share your knowledge with customers
- Attending local outdoor activities
As with every business, there are a number of administrative duties you’ll be tasked with. As the store grows and you’re able to build a trusted team, many of these responsibilities can shift to the store manager.
What is the target market?
Your customer base will individuals ranging from the novice outdoorsmen, eager to learn everything about their new hobby, to experienced individuals. You have a unique opportunity to build a relationship with each of these classes of people. It is also important to converse with and listen to your customers, as you will be able to gain a better understand of activities that you are not as knowledgeable about, and you will also be able to survey the needs and wants of your customers.
How does an outdoor store make money?
A retail business generates money from the sale of each item. Many outdoor stores offer additional services, such as equipment rentals, which serve as an additional source of revenue and an effective marketing tool.
What is the growth potential for an outdoor store?
A recent study revealed that over 140 million U.S. citizens incorporate outdoor activities into their daily schedule, spending almost $646 billion annually. As consumers recognize the health and social benefits to outdoor recreation, it’s shifted from being a luxury to a “must have.” This offers entrepreneurs significant growth opportunity, particularly in regions with an abundance of outdoor activities to choose from.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful outdoor store?
Leaders in the retail industry agree that there are three critical skills you must possess to run a successful outdoor store. First, you must have strong interpersonal skills. Your days will be spent interacting with people, offering advice and, more often than not, learning from their experiences. This leads us to the next skill, which is that you must be modest enough to realize that there’s always more to learn. Lastly, it’s critical, particularly in this industry, that you be astute enough to surround yourself with people whose strengths are different from yours. This allows for an educational, give-and-take environment.
What are the costs involved in opening an outdoor store?
Your first task is to decide on a location. Try to pick an affordable space with ample foot traffic and parking. The business’ short and long-term goals should play a factor, as should the condition and setup of the space. Balance is key - you want something you can grow into, but your space should not feel empty while you’re building your inventory. While rent and deposit costs vary by region, plan on budgeting for $4,000 - $5,000 to secure a location.
Once you’ve found a place to call “home,” you can start designing and filling the space. Include these items in your budget:
- Construction costs for customizing the store - $3,000 to $8,000
- Fixtures - purchase racks, shelves, mannequins, counter/checkout area, and lighting. This will account for approximately $3,500. Many of these items can be purchased used, reducing your overall budget.
- Clothing hangers - up to $1,000
- Inventory - this number varies depending upon the specifics of your store and the retailers you choose to work with.
- Computer, accessories, internet, and phone system - $1,000
- POS software, customized to fit the needs of your retail business - $1,000 - $3,500
- Website - $1,500 - $3,500, depending upon your specific needs
- Marketing materials - exterior and interior signs, logo design, business cards, coupon design/printing - store owners have reported spending close to $9,000 on these materials.
- Grand opening event - this is a great way to introduce the business to your community. $1,500
- Insurance - cost will vary depending upon the specifics of your business
What are the steps to start an outdoor store?
Once you're ready to start your outdoor store, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your outdoor store is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your outdoor store keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- 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.
- 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.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- 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.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers. Save 15% when you create a business website with Weebly.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I 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.
What are some insider tips for jump starting an outdoor store?
Entrepreneurs who’ve found success in this industry offer the following advice:
- Consider your demographic when setting store hours. If part of your client base goes hunting at 4am during turkey season, make sure you’re open. You never know what last minute supplies they might need.
- Make sure your staff is knowledgeable and friendly. If they don’t know the answer, they shouldn’t be afraid to say, “I’m not sure, but let me find out.”
- Stock your inventory with a mixture of items that can be purchased at the larger retail chains and gear that can’t be purchased within a certain radius.
- Your logo can make or break you in this industry. Hire a professional.
- Unless you have a significant amount of experience, take a basic business course at your local college or utilize your county’s small business resources.
How to promote & market an outdoor store
Prior to devising a marketing strategy, research your target demographic. Get to know their outdoor needs and market specific products. Outdoor Retailer is a trade show specifically designed for outdoor specialty retailers. This is a unique opportunity to test out the latest products and to network with distributors and sales reps. These connections stand to offer valuable insight into who you should be marketing to, and how to do so.
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How to keep customers coming back
Consumers have a number of larger retail stores to choose from, so it’s critical that you ensure your business stands out from the competition. Pricing and customer service are your two most powerful tools for retaining customers. Make sure you price competitively, without selling yourself short. Offer unique products and be as knowledgeable as possible on each outdoor activity you cater to. Make sure each customer has a memorable experience each time they visit.
How and when to build a team
Carefully select your team members. Delivering stellar customer service and educating each individual that enters your store should be of the highest priority to your employees. Your dream team should be diverse in their knowledge of various outdoor activities and willing to go above and beyond to find the answers they don’t already have.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate an outdoor store. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
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.
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
Certificate of Occupancy
An outdoor store is usually run out of a storefront. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a storefront:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to an outdoor store.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a storefront:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for you business’ location to ensure your outdoor store will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
Pricing varies from product to product. Items are purchased at cost and marked up to ensure a reasonable return on your investment. If you’re inexperienced in pricing merchandise, ask your manufacturer for assistance.
What are the ongoing expenses for an outdoor store?
There are a number of factors that will influence your ongoing expenses. The size of the space you occupy, how much inventory you order each month, and the number of employees will all factor into your monthly budget. Retail shop owners advise budgeting for between $6,000 and $21,000 per month.
How much profit can an outdoor store make?
Owners typically report earning little to no profit the first one to three years (standard for most startup businesses). With the right business plan in place, however, several have reported a profit of up to $64,000 going into their third year. To ensure profitability, keep up with the latest outdoor trends and invest in inventory with a higher profit margin whenever possible.
How can you make your business more profitable?
To increase your shop’s annual profit, consider implementing some of these strategies:
- Research any special events that are held in your area targeting specific activities/hobbies.
- Approach event coordinators and offer to volunteer, sponsor, or vend at the events.
- Host classes geared towards various activities such as how to tie fishing flies or how to properly use cutting edge hunting calls. Make sure you make yourself available to every skill level.
- Host “field trips.” Such trips can include hiking, fishing, or hunting trips. These can be educational and social events, offering customers a chance to bond with people of similar interest. Approach your retailers to see if they’d be willing to send a representative to the event.