Traditionally, it was just assumed that a retail business would need a bricks and mortar storefront in order to commence trade. This is no longer really true with retailers looking to online and pop-up retail storefronts as alternatives to a fixed location.
A bricks and mortar retail store can sometimes bring with it more financial obligation than a new business is ready to take on. As such, it is important to consider whether your retail business needs to actually launch with a physical, real-world presence, or whether an alternative suits your business plans.
Trading online or through temporary real-world locations can be a great way to develop a customer base without needing a long-term fixed location, which usually includes costs like:
- Lease agreements
- Store fit-out costs
- Cleaning supplies
- Point of sale equipment and software
Of course, just because a business opens as an online or pop-up vendor, it doesn’t mean that they are then unable to also open a fixed outlet and capitalise upon their established brand, customers, and the industry learnings they’ve developed. Two great examples of established companies that have embraced a fixed location recently are Brisbane retailers Bagel Boys and Junky Comics.
Bagel Boys initially launched in 2012 selling their bagels at markets across Brisbane’s suburbs throughout the week. Today they operate 7 different market stalls, and through their wholesale business they sell bagels to a further 11 other market stalls and to cafes, deli’s, resorts and restaurants across Southeast Queensland. In October of 2014 they opened up their physical store ‘The Bagel Bar’ in Brisbane’s CBD.
Junky Comics, however, took a different path to opening a fixed retail location. The store, owned by local comic artist ‘Junky’ launched initially as an online vendor of alternative and small press comic books in October last year. Having learned about distributors and ordering processes, Junky has opened a physical store just this month in hip, inner-city suburb, West End. By opening in a physical location, Junky Comics are able to host events in their store, such as a recent Wes Anderson inspired comic art gallery.
Making the move from an online space to a real-world store isn’t just the domain of small business owners, however. Even online retaileing juggernaut Amazon have recently opened a physical storefront, launching a customer pick-up/drop-off destination on the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. By opening a storefront, Amazon are offsetting costs associated with large volume shipping of items in catering to a cash-strapped student customer-base.
While the operating costs are certainly lower by not needing a fixed location, the benefits of a fixed ‘bricks and mortar’ location shouldn’t be over-looked. These include:
- Customers have the ability to see and touch your products.
- A physical presence establishes legitimacy. People immediately have greater trust in businesses that have a physical place that they can walk into and talk directly to staff or the owner.
- Being able to speak with potential customers face to face, assisting them directly with purchasing decisions.
- Foot and road traffic will raise the local profile of your business.
- Direct communication with customers keeps retailers in touch with the needs, desires, and attitudes of their customers.
Opening a fixed location storefront is about community and relationship building. You are not selling products, but rather you are selling a personal point of contact with customers as you offer information and problem solving. While your business doesn’t need a physical, real-world fixed location, they do provide benefits that can’t be overlooked.