10 Tips on opening a retail shop | Urbanic


In the course of having Urbanic over these last 8 years I’ve had many people come to me for advice in starting their own business. I’m guessing there are more of you like this out there, so I’ve come up with 10 quick tips that hopefully will be helpful if opening a shop is something that you’re considering.

The  identity of your business will be apparent in the product that you choose for the shop and the way you display it. Your edit will be key here! The best shops are the curated ones which provide the customer with a shopping ‘experience’.  There is nothing worse than going into a shop that is all over the place with confusing product categories and placement.  It’s best to keep your business model and concepts unique to who you are and what you are passionate about.  Challenge yourself to come up with original ideas instead of copying the work of what is already out there. Keep your offerings on point with your business model and if it helps you get started, create a mood board and mission statement in addition to your business plan!

It is extremely important to know you are targeting.  Awareness of who you want to target is a good thing but it’s best to make sure you know where these people are  –  and this takes research!  If your business style is edgy, you need to know where these like-minded people are shopping.  If your taste in product is on the more expensive side, then it’s imperative to do you research about household incomes and financial demographics in your area. Documenting who your target customer is will be a crucial part of your business plan.

Once you know who your target customer is and have found out where they shop, you’ll want to make sure that you choose your location with all things in mind. You’ll be working hard enough to build your business in the beginning (wherever you are!) so visibility and street presence weigh a lot to the initial launch of your store.  If you are pioneering an area that is off the beaten path or is potentially up-and-coming, have your promo and marketing plan in place to best get the word out to your target customers. We opened Urbanic on a great street, but at the time our location was on the end of the block that had much less foot traffic. Before we signed our lease, we sought out advice from the local realtors to learn about the growth of the block over the past few years and get insight on the real estate forecasting. We also considered the other businesses that were slotted to open near our location, all of which was helpful in making our decision.

We learned from experience that this is not a good place to cut corners! If you are signing a lease, make sure you have a lawyer look over it first.  If you’re not great with numbers, hire a bookkeeper & accountant that has great reviews from other retailers. If you are offering custom work, make sure you have the proper contract in place to protect yourself and your business. Believe me when I tell you this stuff can be a huge can of expensive worms that you don’t want to open if not set up properly from the start.

A Point of Sale System is essential for entering and receiving inventory, pricing goods, formulating financial reports and keeping track of vendor & customer information. There are many options out there to choose from, so it’s important to make sure that you are doing your research and considering one that has all that you need to get started.  ie. – Are you wanting to access your POS from home? If so, a cloud based system would be best for you.  Do you need your POS to integrate with your e-commerce shop? Make sure that the one that you’re considering is compatible to your shopping cart platform.

The way you engage with the people surrounding your business will determine the personality of your brand. Our goal at Urbanic is to treat each person that walks through our doors as a special guest. We love greeting our regular customers by name and catching up with them if we haven’t seen them in a while.  Our store events have allowed us to get to know these people in a new way, and the relationships we’ve built with folks over the years make this whole experience more valuable and priceless than any bottom dollar ever could.  Joshua and I are firm believers that if you love your staff, – show them! At Urbanic we celebrate birthdays, work-a-versaries, and host staff parties twice a year. We have a coffee meeting every month and are going to our first team building outing to decorate cakes together next week.  We operate in a family environment which in turn makes our customers feel at home when they shop with us.

Getting to know the other businesses in your industry and neighborhood can be hugely rewarding and lead to great things. Consider teaming up with other brands who have a business identity that compliments your own. In working together you can point business to back to one another and grow.  Over the years, we have found great collaborations with calligraphers, printers, planners, bloggers, designers and photographers to name just a few!

I’ll be writing a little bit more about this  in tomorrow’s post, …. so stay tuned!

It’s always good idea to make sure you have a product mix that works for a variety of different people and budgets.  You don’t need to sacrifice your identity in order to do this,  just make sure you are thinking through your offerings so that you don’t pigeon hole yourself into a corner. For example, if you have mostly expensive items you may want to mix in a few great things that are less pricey as well so that you don’t become off limits for people. If you have mostly feminine products, but find that men are shopping in your store as well, create a handsome section just for them.

If you have been desperately wanting to open a retail shop and it’s a burning desire within you, you’ll need to get to a place where you are ready to take a risk.  When we signed the lease 8 years ago, it was the biggest decision I had ever made in my life and by far the scariest. Although I didn’t know exactly what I was doing at the time, I realized I would rather die one day having tried to move forward with my dream (whether it was going to work or not),  instead of wishing that I would had tried the rest of my life.

– Audrey


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  1. Audrey,
    This is a great little post – I know when I was researching opening Domestica I lived to find help like this. Right now, we’re looking at expanding to a bigger space and I’d forgotten how it felt to start something new – I’m less afraid this go around, but the trepidation’s still there. It’s a huge undertaking, but for anyone who really wants it, it’s so worth it.

  2. Hi Audrey! Such a great article. We are in the process of opening up a retail stationery boutique here in Kansas so this is right up our path. We have been researching POS systems – do you have one that you recommend? There are so many out there. What does your shop use?

    • Hi Jill, we stared off using Quickbooks POS back in the day, but as our needs changed we’ve recently switched to Lightspeed Cloud. It has a few bugs, as it’s fairly new, but overall, it functions the way we need it to and is dedicated to evolving with advancement of technology which is hugely important.

  3. Great read, Audrey! Ever since I left the manufacturing end of the stationery world, I’ve been dreaming of opening a shop when my little Hilma is a bit older. Now we’re planning a family move to Sweden in two years, and opening a store there is part of my 5 year plan. Great to have some concrete tips. Hope you’re well!

    • Hi Carrie! Always loved working with you on the wholesale end at the shows in the past. Nice to hear from you. SWEDEN?!!! how amazing! I’m sure it will be a huge success. xo

      • Ditto – I loved catching up with you at the shows. And my husband is Swedish, so why not try his homeland for a while? We’ll be close to family, and I couldn’t ask for a better life for Hilma. 🙂

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