Our Mission

Learn who we are and how we serve our community


Meet our leaders, trustees and team


Developing the next generation of talent


Covering the latest news and trends in the marketplaces industry

Industry Insights

Check out wide-ranging resources that educate and inspire

Government Relations & Public Policy

Learn about the governmental initiatives we support


Connect with other professionals at a local, regional or national event

Virtual Series

Find webinars from industry experts on the latest topics and trends

Professional Development

Grow your skills online, in a class or at an event with expert guidance

Find Members

Access our Member Directory and connect with colleagues

ICSC Networking Platform

Get recommended matches for new business partners

Student Resources

Find tools to support your education and professional development

Become a Member

Learn about how to join ICSC and the benefits of membership

Renew Membership

Stay connected with ICSC and continue to receive membership benefits

Small Business Center

42 Things No One Told You About Starting a Retail Small Business

November 3, 2021

By Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor

Owning your own small business or retail store is a goal of many. You can be one of the few small business owners who make the dream a reality. You just need to understand before you open your doors what you are in for as far as startup costs and cash flow, as well as what it takes to be profitable. Your marketing strategy needs to include an understanding of your target market and what products it will buy from you in enough volume with high enough profit margins for you to live the lifestyle small business owners dream of. While I don’t believe in “Build it and they will come,” I do believe if you go in with your eyes open, you can have it all. I’ve met thousands of business owners from all over the world who prove it. You’re going to learn how to increase retail sales sooner or later anyway. Why not learn, before you take the plunge, the pitfalls you will encounter when you start a retail business? And if you’ve already opened a new store, read on to see how many you’ve already encountered.

1. Your retail shop will be solicited for donations before you make your first sale.

2. People in your town will assume you are rich because you have your own business.

3. Some days, you will donate more products to charities in your community than you will sell in your store that day.

4. As soon as you figure out what your customers want, they will want something totally different.

5. Every lunch will be eaten standing up, and only one bite of a hot meal will ever be eaten hot.

6. What customers say with their mouths is interesting, but what they say with their wallets is how they really feel.

7. You will always remember the customer who managed to get under your skin and got you to lose your cool, even if you were right.

8. Every big event in your store coincides with a terrible storm.

9. Customers will have suggestions for every part of your startup: what products you carry, what events you should hold, what point-of-sale system you should buy, etc. But what they buy, attend and otherwise support is another matter entirely.

10. You will work weekends and holidays; if you don’t like it, don’t become a retailer.

11. Just because someone asks for a discount doesn’t mean they won’t buy if you don’t give them one.

12. Nobody cares more about you and your business than you.

13. You will outsell your best retail employees — every time.

14. Customers never read the small print on coupons, which will challenge your ideas of delivering customer service.

15. People think that because you are the business owner, you have no boss, which is completely wrong; you have many. Your business loan is your boss, your retail business space is your boss. Plus, every customer who walks through your door is your boss, too.

16. Ninety-nine percent of the time, that 800 number on your caller ID is probably a merchant-services telemarketer trying to get you to switch.

17. Sometimes, a Tuesday might be your best day of the week; other times, it will be a Saturday. In this business, there is often no consistency.

18. There will always be customers who won’t respect your store, products or employees.

19. Never discuss politics with your clients in your shop or on your shop’s social media page. You will be making half of your customers angry.

20. Like most brick-and-mortar retailers, you will fight a losing battle to keep your backroom, stockroom and desk organized.

21. Without a sense of humor, you will never survive. OK, you may survive, but you will be miserable.

22. You’re bound to get pitched by a small business consultant who opens the conversation with, “My retail store failed, so I switched to consulting.”

23. The customer is not always right.

24. There are many businesses out there whose only intent is to rip off and scam other small business owners.

25. Sales reps can lie — even some of the best ones.

26. If you let your vendor substitute one item for another one time, the next time they will simply send you whatever products they feel like sending you to the point that you won’t even recognize it as your order when it arrives at your retail shop.

27. You will need to force any marketing or PR firm you hire to be accountable, and you will need to fire it when necessary.

28. You’ll have to fire the friend you were sure would be a great business partner or employee.

29. Balancing income with expenses is an art form entrepreneurs rarely master.

30. You will eat, sleep, read, breathe, talk, study, compare, worry and probably be flat broke for some time.

31. Twenty percent of your customers are responsible for 80% of your sales.

32. You can always be told no and say no.

33. Organization is a skill worth working on; it’s what can make or break you.

34. The longer you own a store, the harder it is to ever pay full price anywhere for anything.

35. You will rarely have a for-sure day off again.

36. You need to listen for what customers actually spend their money on, not what they say they want.

37. You must study a location for foot traffic and other variables before you open your brick-and-mortar store; going by your gut is often wrong.

38. You’ll discover an employee you loved during the interview is unable to do the job.

39. The best parenting advice in the world doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t know what your baby needs. Your store is no different. Know your baby.

40. Consistently great customer service will make your enterprise thrive, but one bad customer experience in the face of social media can close your doors!

41. Running a business is harder than you think it’ll be, but you won’t really have time to notice.

42. Master change. Change vendors when pricing or service don’t match, change advertising when it doesn’t drive results, change employees when necessary, especially friends and family.

But you know what? It can be well worth it, even with all of the maddening things that come along with being a small business owner, especially right now, during the pandemic. When you are starting a retail small business, the things you will learn about yourself, your customers, your online presence through social media and your community will make your life more rewarding. While you won’t start off a well-known brand, from your dedication to trying new ideas as you go along and learning from COVID-19 instead of fighting it, you can build a local brand that beats others in the retail industry.

This article originally appeared at www.retaildoc.com.

Small Business Center

ICSC champions small and emerging businesses in getting from business plan to brick-and-mortar.

Learn more