Friday, May 12, 2017

What Business Does Every Small Town Need?

If you’ve ever lived in a small town, you know it’s a whole different way of life than the big city or the suburbs. You can’t step out your front door and hail a taxi, or run to Target whenever you need a gallon of milk. Many businesses and services that urban and suburban dwellers take for granted are scarce in small towns.

That spells opportunity for savvy startup entrepreneurs.

If you live in a small town—or are thinking about moving to one—filling a need in the local community can put you on the road to success.

What businesses does every small town need? Here are 13 ideas, many courtesy of my significant other, who grew up in a small town in western Minnesota.

1. Laundromats

No matter where they live, people need to do laundry—and they don’t want to lug their dirty clothes miles into the nearest city to get it done. A small-town laundromat can be easy to operate once you buy or lease your equipment and get it installed. If your small town happens to be a college town as well, think about adding a bar or bistro to the premises.

2. Drugstore

While drugstore chains are ubiquitous in most cities and suburbs, those chains usually consider small towns too tiny to bother with. The drugstore in my boyfriend’s hometown still delivers prescriptions to its customers.

3. Handyman service

Every town has its share of do-it-yourselfers—but many people can’t or don’t want to tackle household tasks like plumbing, painting, electrical work, or home repairs on their own. The more services you can offer, the busier you’ll be.

4. Restaurant

Every town, no matter its size, needs restaurants. If your town is near a major tourist attraction or even just the highway, your local restaurant could attract travelers as well as townies. But before going ahead and opening a new restaurant, be sure not to duplicate the ones already in town—after all, how many pizzerias does one small town need? Unless, of course you’re in a college town, then there are never enough.

5. Bar

Unless you’re located in a dry county, a bar is one business every small town needs. It should be a welcoming, appealing spot where a wide range of customers feel comfortable. Think Cheers—the bar where “everybody knows your name.” Liquor stores are very popular in small towns as well, particularly in states where grocery stores are prohibited from selling alcohol.

6. Hair salon/beauty parlor/barbershop

You can’t order haircuts or manicures online, so small towns need salons and barbershops. Some small towns can support a standalone barbershop—others can only host one salon that serves both men and women to get enough customers in the door. Be sure to stock hair products as well.

7. Lawn care/gardening service

One appeal of small town living is you often get more land for your money. But that means residents need help mowing their lawns or landscaping their property. In northern climates, many lawn care services transform into snow removal businesses in the winter. This business can be even more lucrative if your town has an aging population.

8. Housecleaning/janitorial service

Small towns likely can’t support two separate residential-housekeeping services and commercial janitorial services. But if your company offers both, it can make it easier for you to, um, clean up.

9. Grocery store

It’s simply not convenient for small town residents to drive to the nearest big town to shop at Target, Walmart, or a large grocery chain. Opening a small general grocery store that caters to the local population’s tastes and emphasizes farm-to-table is a great opportunity.

11. Auto service/repair

Car care is a consumer necessity—no matter where people live. Gas stations, auto service, and repair shops are important part of a small town’s infrastructure.

12. IT/computer/consumer electronics service

Small-town consumers and businesses use computers, smartphones, and tablets, and when things go wrong with their technology, they, like the rest of us, need help in a hurry. Start a business that fixes computers, repairs cracked smartphone screens, and helps local businesses keep their technology running smoothly.

13. Pet grooming service

Do your small town’s pet owners dread wrestling their rambunctious animals into the bathtub? No one wants to drive their dogs or cats miles to the groomer, so if there isn’t a mobile grooming service nearby, this can be an ideal startup.

A Few Tips to Keep in Mind

  • Conduct market research just as you would when starting a business in a bigger town or city.
  • Take competition from larger towns nearby and from online businesses into account when creating your business plan.
  • If your small town attracts lots of tourists, you can play up the “small town charm” and tailor your business to appeal to them. For example, a thrift store can emphasize antiques or “country” finds. If you add locally sourced foods, your grocery store can be marketed as a specialty gourmet market. Depending on your community, you could even hold a farmers’ market in your grocery’s parking lot one day a week.
  • As I mentioned, in small towns it’s common to combine two or more businesses under one roof—a laundromat that  sells ice cream, for example, or a gas station that sells groceries or auto parts.

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