Neil Thompson says it’s important to get all your planning in order and make sure you have enough funding to cover you for the first few months until you start to bring in money.
“You need to work out exactly how much everything is going to cost before you even start. Once you’ve got your estimates done, then you’ll know if you need more capital, and that’s the time to ask the bank for a loan – not when you’re six months in and have run out of cash – the bank will not rate your business acumen if you do it that way. But if you go in there with proper projections then you’ll have more credibility in their eyes.
“So many times I’ve seen people with a lump sum of money from redundancy pay that they’ve ploughed into the business and then they run out half way through. The planning process makes you think about the business. It opens your eyes to what it’s really going to involve.
Teresa Andrew had been teaching NVQ business studies before she started her butchers, which she says gave her a brilliant grounding because she used all the skills she’d been teaching on the course.
Dawn Burden also put herself on a business course before starting. “I thought it was important to get as much information as possible. The thing about starting a business is, if you look at everything as one big project it becomes really daunting. But if you take things one step at a time you start to get things organised.
“Take everything as a learning curve. It’s fine to make mistakes but it’s not ok to make the same mistake twice. There’s no harm in being an amateur – we got advice from everyone – there’s so much help out there if you’re not too proud to ask for it.”
You should also try to get the right systems and staff in place from early on as it can save you a lot of time and money. Julie Goodwin says the hardest thing she found getting to grips with was bookkeeping. “After a couple of years I took on a bookkeeper and she’s worth every penny,” she says. “That kind of thing was never my forte and now I don’t to worry about paying invoices or anything like that.”
Burden says she made the same mistake of not getting in a bookkeeper early enough, but it also took her a while to make the most of her till system. “We would have saved a lot of time and money if I had had a few more lessons in how the EPOS system can help run things.”
Competing with online retailers or the major supermarkets can be a struggle but you should remember what it is that you can offer your customers that they can’t.
“Retail is changing rapidly,” says Burden, who has recently launched a website to go along with her store in Bath. “Keeping on top of that is really important. Talk to your customers all the time – ask what they like and what they don’t. Loyalty cards in the supermarkets are one thing but you can’t beat personal service.”
Teresa Andrew says being a small independent retailer can allow you to react much more quickly to what your customers want than the supermarkets do. “If we have a freak heat wave I can have barbeque products prepared and in the window in a couple of days. The supermarkets can’t respond that quickly.”
So keeping ahead of the game is crucial if you want to survive as an independent retailer. The little touches can make all the difference. Julie Goodwin recently started charging for plastic bags in an effort to help the environment. The scheme has proved successful and is getting people talking about the shop.
“You can’t sit still,” says Goodwin. “The supermarkets are only a year or so behind us so you have to be constantly looking out. You have to actively seek out new products and think ‘what’s going to be the next big thing’.”