How to Get Your Retail Business Started

The high street landscape is changing dramatically, and while some may say it has died, opportunists call it evolution. We agree with the latter! The global pandemic changed consumer habits, and since then, many established chains have shut shop on brick-and-mortar stores. But for independent and SME businesses, the future is looking bright. 

Starting a Retail Business in 5 Steps 

For independent businesses, now is the time to start your retail venture. But with the looming threat of the high street’s extinction and the pressure to succeed, it can be a daunting and confusing process. The question of how to set up your retail business and do it well is a hot topic. 

Luckily, we have some advice to help you. In this article we will cover;

We have put together five steps to start your retail business, which can be applied to various business types and styles. Whether it’s an off-license or pharmacy, follow these five steps to make opening your retail business successful. 

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1. Put Together a Retail Business Plan

As with any new business, the first and most important step is to put together a business plan for your retail venture. Essentially, it is the amalgamation of your idea, how and why it will be successful. You can break it into two parts, starting with an actionable plan and realistic goals you estimate to achieve. 

You can use your business plan as an opportunity to sell your business and set out a clear structure of what it will take to make it successful. You can also set out the length of your business plan to a time frame that suits your goals. It can be as little as a one-year business plan or even ten years. 

Finally, you should ensure your business plan has plenty of measurable goals. Your goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely, this will help keep you motivated whilst remaining grounded. A strong business plan will also stand you in good stead should you need to pitch your business to potential investors in the future. This is what will set your retail business apart from being an ‘ideal situation’ to something that is proven. Quantifiable goals could include increasing revenue by a percentage or an exact number. 

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2. Store Set Up

Once you have your business plan in place, it’s time to make your retail dream a reality by setting up shop. This is the first major decision you will need to make, and many factors may affect which location you choose. 


Start by choosing a location that will help boost business. Foot traffic is key when it comes to a thriving retail business, so high populace areas with plenty of other retail and hospitality businesses may be the best option for a thriving start-up. However, you should also consider if there is a gap in the market for your retail business in that chosen location. After all, opening a pharmacy with two other pharmacies on the same street may result in bad business for all. 

Similarly, in high-foot traffic areas like the high street, you face paying much higher rent fees for such a prime location. You could scope out the surrounding area if this is outside your current budget. A quieter street off the high street may see more modest levels of foot traffic, but the rent will most likely be much more reasonable. You might also want to consider your target demographic and where they tend to shop and browse. As a retail business just starting, you should be planning to take your business to the customer to build brand identity and a customer base before expecting the customers to come to you. 

Set Up Costs

We have touched upon the amount of rent you can expect to pay in accordance with your location, but there are more initial set-up costs to consider. For example, you may have found the perfect location, but the interior might need work. From simple changes like adding your shop sign to the door and changing the wall colour to more drastic shop refits, you need to be prepared for the costs associated with getting your shop interior right. 

It can be tempting to cut costs in this area by delaying the shop fit-out until you have an established customer base and business model, but this can set you back even further. The costs of the refurbishment will be the same no matter when you decide to have it done, but having to close the shop after opening to carry it out can have a major impact. Of course, you will stop making money for the length of time the fit-out takes, and in some cases may even lose regular customers if they need to look for business elsewhere. 

Where possible, you should plan the refurbishment of your retail store prior to opening. If the costs for these changes are not possible, consider choosing another location with an interior fitter for your retail business. It is possible to spread the cost of retail furniture or a full interior refit using asset finance should that be required.

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3. Stock and Merchandise 

As the location is signed off, you must ensure you have the stock and merchandise to fill your shop. This could mean you order far more stock than you’re used to, so you need to account for higher costs here. You also need to be cautious of over-ordering stock, as you don’t want to be sitting on merchandise you can’t sell before having to reduce the price. Having a sale too early into your retail business could be off-putting to customers as they question the popularity or quality of your storefront. Under-ordering merchandise could leave you in a similar adverse position as you do not have the stock to keep up with demand. While this may help marketing in the short term, it could affect customer satisfaction in the long run. 

Use your previous sales figures to determine what you will sell in the first few months of opening your physical retail business. You may be able to offset some costs of ordering more stock by keeping it on the premises rather than relying on a storage facility at an additional cost. 

If your materials or inventory are expensive, prices are increasing rapidly, or typically have supply-chain problems, consider buying in bulk if you have the storage space. It’s often possible to get a small short-term loan to cover this if it helps get you going and is a reasonable option if your sales margin or size of the opportunity exceeds the cost of finance.

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4. Ongoing Costs 

When you have paid out to get your retail business started, like the initial downpayment for the premises, fit-out costs and price for the stock, you need to consider the ongoing costs. This could include mortgage or rent payments, utility bills, insurance and even staff wages. 


Utilities include your gas and electricity bills, which will keep your shop open for business. On average, a UK small business may expect to pay around £3,000 for gas and £820 for electricity if used heavily. You can use the business energy bills data from Money Supermarket to calculate your potential utility costs. 


Other costs include your business insurance, which you may take out for the first time or amend depending on the stage of your business before the shop opening. Your insurance needs to cover the likes of Employer’s Liability, Public Liability and Business Insurance. However, there will be other additions unique to your requirements. For example, if you have a store with a glass front, you will need insurance for this, also. To get the best insurance deal, we recommend seeking the help of a professional insurance broker who can compare the best deals and ensure you’re covered for all things necessary. 


Finally, when opening a new retail business, you must employ a team of people to help you run it successfully. The number of staff you need will depend on your business type and how small or large the premises are. For example, a small off-license may only need one staff member to operate the desk and serve customers at a time. However, a large clothing shop will need more team members to help individual customers, serve at the till and monitor changing rooms.  When hiring your team, take time to interview potential candidates and look for qualities of passionate individuals keen to grow with your business. This will prevent a high turnover of staff members and loss of earnings due to staff absence and continuous rehiring.

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5. Technology 

Investing in technology is the last step to success when opening your retail business. The tech should be a priority before opening your doors, as a robust and quality POS system can elevate your business greatly. You should look for a point-of-sale system with integrated technologies to suit your business to ensure accurate data collection throughout your transactions and sales. Not having this in place could cost your business money in the long run, as you may find it harder to keep track of stock and money. Similarly, we recommend investing in quality security systems for your store. This can deter and catch opportunists, ensuring you do not lose money via stolen stock or fixing property damage. 

Quality technology like this can be expensive, but there are finance options available to you, such as asset finance, which ensures you get the tech you need without the high upfront costs. Simply allow your technology to pay for itself as you get more customers through the door.

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Looking for Retail Business Finance Advice?

Whether starting a new retail business or scaling your SME into a retail location, there is a lot to consider to ensure your venture is successful, as evidenced by our extensive guide. Of course, you have the idea and creative vision, but some of the more practical elements, like finance, can be more difficult to grasp and master. Luckily, we are here to help!


Start Up Loans FAQs

How can I get finance to start a business?

To get finance for starting a business, you have several options to consider. Firstly, you can apply for start-up business loans offered by banks and lenders specifically tailored for new ventures. Another option is crowdfunding, where you collect small contributions from a large number of people through online platforms. Additionally, you can seek funding from angel investors or venture capitalists who provide financial support in exchange for an equity stake in your business. Using personal savings or receiving help from family and friends is another possibility.  Alternatively, explore government programs that may be available for start-ups in your area. Whichever option you choose, make sure to have a solid business plan and financial projections to demonstrate the potential success of your business.

How much can I borrow for my new business?

How much a new-start business is able to borrow depends on a range of factors including: your business plan and projections, any other businesses you may be involved in, the value of your property and the assets you are looking to purchase. The best option is to enquire with Portman and one of our Account Managers can discuss your individual needs.

How long does it take to get a start-up loan?

Finance could take as little as 24 hours up to a few of weeks, depending on eligibility for finance and the amount of borrowing required.

Do you need a deposit for a startup business loan?

Typically, startup business loans may require a deposit or collateral as a form of security, depending on the lender and the specific terms of the loan. However, it’s essential to research and compare different lenders to find options that may not require a deposit or offer flexible alternatives.

Can I get a start up loan with bad credit?

A poor credit history can affect your ability to get finance but at Portman we work with a number of specialist lenders who may be able to help. For new businesses, your ability to obtain finance is based on a number of factors including your turnover or projection, your business plan, your personal wealth and homeownership status, other businesses you may be involved with and your own credit history. A bad credit history will affect the rates you are able to obtain but might not prevent you from obtaining credit entirely. As much as we aim to help every start-up business that comes to us, poor credit history is likely to limit your ability to get finance for your company. For new businesses, your ability to obtain finance is based on several factors, including: Your turnover or projection, Your business plan, Your personal wealth and homeownership status, Other businesses you may be involved with. Poor credit history will affect the rates you can obtain and may prevent you from obtaining credit entirely. If you have poor credit, we suggest you look at ways to increase your credit score before applying for a start-up loan.

What are the advantages of buying an existing business?

Buying an existing business has numerous benefits. It comes with a recognised brand, a loyal customer base, and a proven business model, saving you time and effort. You can start generating revenue immediately and gain tangible assets, like equipment and a skilled workforce. Additionally, insights from the previous owner’s experience provide valuable market knowledge.

Can a startup be valued using the same methods as an established company?

While some valuation methods can be applied to both startups and established companies, certain factors set startups apart. Startups often lack historical financial data and might be operating in highly uncertain environments. As a result, valuation for startups might heavily focus on potential growth, market opportunity, and the uniqueness of the idea. Established companies, on the other hand, rely more on historical financial performance.