How to open a shop: what you need to know and where to start

27 February 2020

With the current economic climate and a move towards online-based business has made it more difficult than it used to be when it comes to making physical stores a success. Retail, however, is far from a thing of the past, and prospective store owners shouldn’t be put off by the trend.

Although there are plenty of opportunities for success, opening a shop has its fair share of challenges along the way. From picking your location and perfecting your product offerings to defining a legal structure, there’s a lot of things to consider before the grand opening.

To help you with what is an arduous but rewarding process, this resource is here to guide you through what you need to know and where to start when it comes to opening a physical store.  

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Choosing your premises

The location of your shop is a huge difference-maker, having a major impact on whether or not operations are a success. Before you sign the lease, consider the location first; without a framework to make your decision, the options available to you can get confusing.


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Do you want to lease in a shopping centre? Somewhere in an up-and-coming neighbourhood or a development next to a shop with major footfall such as a supermarket? Perhaps you’re bound by a budget and have to settle on a less pricey location away from busier areas?

In making a decision, you’ll have to weigh up a few different options. If your product is unique, then people may be willing to make the trip to your location, so you might not have to worry about being located in a low-traffic area. If your product isn’t differentiated enough from competitors, then a high-exposure area is preferable.

Look into your customer demographic, too. Through census data, you can analyse the demographics in your area and compare it with the customer you have defined in your business plan. This gives you a better idea of whether you’re looking in the right area.

For a more detailed resource on choosing commercial premises, check out our list of things to consider here.  

Defining a legal structure

One of the most important things you’ll need to do is choose a legal organisational structure for your business. This is necessary because it affects how you pay taxes, the amount of liability for debt, how you raise capital and the possibility of having shareholders. All of these have a large impact on how your business operates, so it’s essential you make the right decision. And while it is possible to change the legal structure at a later date, it’s a difficult and expensive process - make sure you choose wisely. Here are the most common legal structures shop owners in the UK could potentially choose:

  • Sole proprietorship: The simplest structure, but not necessarily the best. It’s important to note that sole proprietorship is not a legal entity, and does not draw a line between business and owner. The owner is personally responsible for the debt. However, income and expenses from your business are included as part of your tax return; this allows you to offset business losses from income and you only have to file one tax return.
  • General partnership: In such agreements, each partner participates in day-to-day operations and has control over the business and share liability as owners for debts and judgments against the business such as lawsuits. This is a sound option for opening up a store, giving all parties control over management and operations.
  • Limited partnership: Same as the above, with the addition of a partner(s) not involved in daily operations, which means less liability than a general partner. These tend to be silent partners, i.e. someone who provides capital but isn’t part of the day-to-day running of the business.
  • Limited liability partnership: Here, all partners share limited personal responsibility for the business and can participate in management tasks and operations. This is popular among those in the professional services industry, such as lawyers, accountants and financial advisors, so it’s not particularly suited to retail stores.
  • C Corp: A legal entity that’s separate from its owners, C Corps allow the corporation to make a profit, record losses, be taxed and be held legally liable independently from the owner. While C Corps protect personal liability, they can be taxed twice – once upon earning a profit and another when dividends are paid to shareholders.
  • S Corp: Better suited to retail store owners, S Corps are like a combination of corporation and partnership, allowing profits and losses to pass through the personal income tax of its owners (like a partnership), while also providing personal liability protection like that of a corporation.

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Financing your shop

Whatever the product you’re selling, setting up a shop requires money. It may be the case that you’ll finance the store yourself, but many require extra capital to get things off the ground. Thankfully, there are a few different options available to you:

  • Startup loans – A government-backed scheme where you can borrow up to £25,000 with a fixed interest rate of 6% p.a.
  • Business loans – Similar to the above, except they aren’t just for new businesses and don’t have the same caps.

It’s important to keep track of your finances, too; using a business bank account helps separate your personal expenses and income from your business finances.  

Branding and naming your shop

You might have an idea of what you want to call your shop, but it may be worth thinking twice about. The name you have in mind might be special to you, or be a clever bit of wordplay, but consider whether it will work against you when it comes to marketing it online and offline. Something unique that’s memorable, clear and communicates what you sell will serve you well when it comes to netting business both off- and online.


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Closely linked to the naming of your shop, is the way you brand the business. This includes the interior design of your shop, the tone of voice in communications and advertising, and your social media presence, among many other things. This must be done in a way that communicates your personality, represents the preferences of your target audience and promises both a quality product and a positive shopping experience.

For more on how to craft a brand identity, be sure to check out our interview with creative expert Richard Meads here.  

Creating a business plan

Put simply, a business plan is one of the steps of starting any business that you cannot afford to skip. Though it takes a large amount of planning and research, creating a business plan is invaluable, plotting a course for you to follow on the way to success. A proper plan makes the objectives of your business clearer, illuminates any potential pain points, sets achievable targets and many, many other benefits. Avoid creating one at your peril.

Sorting out shop regulations

A physical retail store may need the necessary licenses and permits to do business. Failing to obtain these documents can result in a criminal offence and large fines. Not all small businesses require one, and in many cases, you can trade without one as long as you’re set up with HMRC and have chosen a legal structure for your business. However, you’ll need to obtain a specific license if you’re doing any of the following:


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  • Selling alcohol or tobacco
  • Running a pet shop
  • Trading through a street market stall
  • Preparing and selling food and drink on your premises
  • Playing background music instore

Recruiting the right people

Although you probably won’t be able to hire immediately, as your shop grows and the workload increases, you’ll need a bit more people power to deal with everything coming your way. Before you start advertising anyvacancies, there are a few things to consider. For a start, you’ll need to decide how much to pay them – legally this has to meet or surpass minimum wage. Make sure your candidates have the legal right to work in the UK too; you’ll need a copy of their passport or their National Insurance Number to check. You’ll also have to register as an employer with HM Revenue and Customs – you can do this up to four weeks before you start paying your staff.

When you started the business, it’s likely that you’ll have an idea in your head of the company culture and the kind of person that will fit into the culture. Do you want people with the proper experience or those with softer skills who will add to the company in other ways? Finding fresh talent is important, and there are many different ways you can go about doing it.


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Getting the marketing right

Like a business plan, a marketing strategy is an important part of running a shop profitably. This is where you outline your target market and how you plan to reach them. What channels will you use to contact your intended customers? How will you present your messaging? What promotional strategies will you employ?

Don’t forget to monitor and evaluate the results of your marketing efforts so you can see what is and isn’t working. It can often be a case of trial and error, so don’t fret if things don’t go according to plan the first time.

In the early days of opening your store, you might want to try some of the following to increase your brand awareness with new customers:

  • Going online: As we mentioned before, a search engine-friendly website (and business name) will improve your online presence. Social media channels are also imperative in this day and age, so be sure to leverage their potential. Maintaining a positive relationship with followers and customers is especially valuable.
  • Send out freebies: If there are local influencers, bloggers and YouTubers in your area, then take advantage of their large followings by sending them free samples to review. A positive review can be a huge boon in the early days.


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  • Deals and discounts: Consider creating some special offers to hook in potential customers, and don’t forget to clearly advertise them in-store, online and through any other channels you’re using.
  • Special events: Similarly, putting on exclusive events where customers, influencers and journalists are free to check out your shop before its full opening is a great way of drumming up interest. Alternatively, discount events where shoppers can peruse discounts and deals on your items can payoff too – just make sure you can afford to offer these discounts.
  • Old school advertising: Don’t forget about more traditional routes such as placing ads in newspapers, magazines, radio and TV. Don’t put out anything low quality if you can’t afford to invest properly, but provided you have the means and expertise, such methods can be highly beneficial for the business.

Gazprom Energy is a leading and award-winning business energy supplier, helping thousands of small businesses manage their gas and electricity contracts. To find out more about what we can offer your business, visit the homepage or call us today on 0161 837 2295.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within this article are those of our third-party content providers alone and do not represent those of Gazprom Energy. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Gazprom Energy accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.

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