Preparing to open your shop: the key stages
Congratulations on your decision to open a shop selling sustainable products! It’s a great thing to do: it’s a response to the challenges which are currently facing us and it will help to save the planet.
Let’s be honest (and I’m talking from personal experience as the joint manager of an organic/zero-waste grocery shop, Du Bonheur en Bocal), there’s a big difference between the initial dream and the reality, as you can probably imagine.
There’s plenty to do, problems to solve, unhappy people to deal with and things you forget to do as you prepare for the opening. And that’s the reason for this article: to try to make you think about the key stages of the process so you don’t forget anything and make smooth, steady progress.
In this article, among other things, we’ll discuss business plans, banks, marketing and communications, your product range, your premises and more.
Let’s take a look at what’s involved in opening a sustainable shop!
Identify your shop’s concept
The business plan and financial forecasts
One of the first things you need to do to prepare to open your sustainable shop is to write your business plan.
This document includes a lot of information, such as:
- a description of your project: the product range, positioning, location, etc.
- market research: who your competitors are, what makes you different, etc.
- the catchment area and your future customer base.
- your action plan and your timeline.
- the founding team members, their background and skills.
- financial information about your project.
For many people, writing a business plan can be frightening. That’s why you can get help with it: from your network, from friends or contacts who have already started a business or from a consultant.
A business plan is usually combined with a financial forecast, which will detail the main financial information of your business over the first three years: turnover, gross margin, gross operating surplus, etc.
Some entrepreneurs have told me that they find this exercise a bit futile: “it’s all guesswork, how am I supposed to know if I’ll reach this turnover?”.
However, working on your business plan gives you the following two advantages:
- it forces you to ask the right questions, even if they’re painful (and you’d rather not have to ask them!),
- it’s a vital step when it comes to convincing people to fund your project, particularly banks.
Work with the right experts
It’s a good idea to contact the following experts:
- an accountant (who can also help you to draw up your business plan),
- a professional liability insurer so that you can insure your business,
- a bank manager, even if you don’t need to take out a loan, because you’re sure to need a business bank account and means of payment (bank card, cheque book),
- a lawyer who specialises in drafting partnership agreements, if you decide to work with a business partner.
Focus on the legal and financial aspects
There is no legal obligation to use a chartered accountant; if you have the necessary skills, this will save you the additional expense.
But let’s be clear: accountants can really help you with your business.
Among other things, your accountant will help you to:
- choose the right legal status for your business,
- draw up the articles of association for your company,
- consolidate your business plan and financial forecasts,
- deal with the necessary tax and administrative implications and make the right financial choices, based on your individual circumstances.
If you’re planning to hire employees, be aware that some accounting firms have a department which deals with the following HR issues:
- declaring employees to the relevant authorities,
- drawing up employment contracts,
- preparing pay slips,
- sorting out social security contributions and other administrative requirements.
In my experience as an entrepreneur, if you choose a competent and helpful accountant, you’ll save a lot of time, avoid making mistakes and make faster progress!
Find and prepare your premises
A shop without premises is a bit like a book without pages, it doesn’t exist! Excluding online shops, of course :)
The next step, which should be done as you write your business plan, is to start looking for premises. Again, in my experience, it’s better to start looking as early as possible, especially in areas where professional premises are scarce.
As an example, before opening my own organic/zero-waste grocery shop, we visited 6 different premises and it took more than a year to find the right one!
What premises should you choose?
Your premises should reflect the needs of your business. It should be:
- the right size,
- in the right location,
- at an affordable price,
- in the right location,
- in a usable condition,
- and in the right location!
- You get it: location, location, location!
Pay attention to the size too:
- if it’s too small, you won’t have enough space to store all your products, something which could lead to unhappy customers,
- if it’s too big, you may have to spend more than you want to on your initial stock, which could be a risky financial move.
What do you need to focus on?
As with any property purchase or rental, I strongly advise you to visit the premises several times, ideally with friends or people with relevant skills (a builder or a surveyor, for example).
This will allow you to get a good feel for the place so you can work out whether you feel comfortable there. Try to imagine the future, as if your business was already open. Ask yourself the following question: “would I feel comfortable in this space and does it really suit my business?”.
You should also check that there aren’t any hidden issues (even if it means asking the estate agent a lot of questions!) which could lead to unforeseen expenses for renovations or repairs. You don’t want to have to deal with anything like that at the last minute, a few weeks before your opening!
Lastly, if you’re renting your premises, remember to negotiate with the landlord; see if it’s possible to avoid paying rent for 1 or 2 months at the beginning of the lease. This is a fairly common practice, as you pay your rent as soon as you receive the keys. But you won’t have any turnover during the first few weeks and will therefore be paying rent at a loss.
Build your team
Have you decided to work with other people? In that case, this part of the article is for you :)
When it comes to starting your own business, there are two main ways to work in a team:
- becoming a partner by investing in the business,
- hiring employees.
How should you decide whether to work with a business partner?
The first option available to you is to find a business partner to help you with your plans to open a shop.
This is a major decision. Remember that becoming business partners with a friend is generally not a good idea (although some businesses founded by friends work very well, the majority don’t!). A friendship which works well may not work at all in a professional setting.
Having a business partner offers several benefits:
- he or she can complement the rest of the team’s skills,
- you’ll have someone to share everything with: the ups and downs, ideas, plans, the initial investment, etc.
- you can achieve much more than you could on your own.
Before you decide to work with a business partner, it’s a good idea to spend a few days discussing the project in its entirety and the expectations and needs of each partner on a variety of practical points: work-life balance, pay, types of tasks to be performed, etc.
Some advice about your future employees
Should you hire an employee to help you in your shop? Of course, this is an important question to ask yourself and you’ll find plenty of answers in this article on Kami Store’s blog, which contains a list of 5 key steps on how to effectively hire and welcome an employee to your company.
The key points to remember:
- employing someone has its own challenges: paying a salary and employer contributions, managing your team, managing absences (holidays, illness, etc.),
- but it also offers many advantages: being able to share tasks, benefiting from other skills, being able to offer longer opening hours, etc.
If you need to hire an employee, I advise you to do so a few weeks before the opening (if your budget allows it) to:
- ensure your employee can familiarise him or herself with the shop and the product range,
- teach him or her to use the till and other tools which will need to be used on a daily basis,
- teach him or her to work with you by helping you with the final preparations!
Getting funding for your business
The project is moving forward, now you need to find the money to fund it! This is another important (or even critical) step in launching your shop.
Indeed, many entrepreneurs struggle with funding and are forced either to abandon their project or to reconsider their plans.
However, there are many options available to you.
Americans talk about “love money”: loans from people who love you, starting with your family and then your friends.
The few thousand euros lent by your parents to build up your share capital may make all the difference and help your business to see the light of day!
You can continue in a similar way by starting a crowdfunding campaign. Many platforms have emerged in recent years.
- Miimosa.com for projects related to agriculture and food (for example, if you’re opening an organic food shop),
- Ulule.com which doesn’t target any specific field and has the advantage of being given B Corp certification, which proves its ethical credentials,
- along with Credit.fr, October.eu, Kengo.bzh (if you’re in Brittany!), WiSeed, Bolero (if you’re in Belgium) and lots of others!
It should be noted that crowdfunding campaigns require a lot of preparation, time and effort. Don’t believe the myth that it’s easy money: it’s an illusion!
Crowdfunding falls into two main categories: donations with rewards and interest-bearing loans.
In the first case, you’ll need to think of gifts which you can give to the people who fund you (most of whom will be individuals) to thank them for their money, while not losing any money yourself :) In most cases, 80% of donors will be people you already know or who are in your immediate network. This kind of crowdfunding campaign involves asking for donations from your friends, neighbours, colleagues, etc. The platform only allows 20% of your donors to come from outside your extended network.
In the second case, a campaign with interest-bearing loans, you’ll have to pay back the money you’ve been lent, with interest! And this time, unlike a donation campaign, up to 80% of your lenders can come from outside your network and, indeed, from anywhere in the world! This type of campaign attracts small individual investors who want to invest part of their savings in a project which reflects their personal values, while also benefiting from an attractive interest rate.
In any case, you should really consider a crowdfunding campaign as a key part of your marketing/communication strategy.
You’ll probably have to apply for a loan from a traditional bank to supplement your initial investment. But you can also apply for funding from alternative banks, such as La Nef in France and Triodos in Belgium, to ensure that your bank shares your values (and those of your shop).
Plan your shop’s communication strategy
If you can, plan the following elements of your communication strategy, so that they’re ready before the opening:
- your website,
- your Facebook and Instagram accounts,
- your flyers and business cards,
- your posters to announce the opening,
- any other useful communication tools for your shop.
Similarly, I also strongly advise you to start developing your community several months before your opening.
The last steps before opening your shop
The last two months before the opening of your shop will be intense and unrelenting!
Here’s a list of things to remember.
Create your company and open your accounts
First of all, it may seem obvious, but don’t forget to tell your accountant well in advance so that he or she can start setting up your business. Creating a company with share capital can take several weeks, for example.
You should already have had discussions with your bank manager: now it’s time to open your business bank account and finalise your bank loan.
You should also sign your commercial lease and take out your professional insurance policies.
You’ll need to take these steps at the same time: your landlord will probably ask you for proof of your business registration before you can sign the lease.
A few final details to think about:
- organising the installation of the Internet and/or a telephone line if you need one in the shop,
- have your till delivered and learn how to use it by making test purchases yourself or asking your family to do so,
- check that everything in the shop is working properly: fridges, ventilation, the automatic door at the entrance, etc. Take out maintenance contracts with professionals in your town for all the equipment you need for your business.
Fit out and decorate the premises
Your shop probably needs a lick of paint, some furniture for displaying products, a unit for the till, etc.
Fitting out and decorating your shop can take several weeks. It’s a good idea to book the professionals you need to complete this work 2 to 3 months in advance and ensure that the work is finished at least 1 month before the opening.
Prepare your initial stock
Your shop should be fully stocked on the opening day (and several days before!) to avoid opening with partly empty shelves.
I recommend planning your list of orders to place with suppliers and wholesalers so that the orders arrive 1 to 2 weeks before the opening (except for fresh products).
Kami Store can be of real help to you. We offer a wide range of environmentally friendly and sustainable products, with the following advantages which set us apart from other platforms:
- free delivery on orders over €300,
- no minimum order,
- pay the same price as you would when ordering directly from the supplier,
- a wide range of sustainable products,
- a simplified ordering process.
The final steps in your communication strategy before the big day
At the very end, you need to provide an update on your website and plan posts for social media for the first few weeks because at first, when your shop opens, you won’t have time.
If you’ve followed all these steps, you should be well on your way to successfully opening your shop! We wish you all the best with your plans; feel free to get in touch with our team with any questions or comments, especially about your product range!