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General Retail Business Issues/How to get started in gift shop retail?



Before I begin, I must say how impressed I am with your credentials - and the emphasis on psychology.  As a 26-year military veteran who has spent much of that time in "psychological operations" I know that understanding the mind and decision-making of the customer (or adversary, in my case) is critical to success.

I'm looking ahead toward retirement and the VA is offering me up to $300k in a business start-up loan. I'm considering putting up a water mill on a creek near where I live in the mountains of central Colorado (just west of Colorado Springs) from where I would sell... stuff.  Here's an example of what a water mill might look like:

but you can simply type "water mill" in Google Images and get a good picture yourself.  It's the mill people will come to see.  It will be a destination on its own.  But I'll need to sell products from the mill (and service too, such as renting it out for weddings), but I have no experience in gift shop retail.  Can you offer any suggestions/directions/advice as to where to get smart on gift shop retail?


- Curt

Thanks for the compliment! You really need to do a few things to make this dream a reality that does not become a nightmare. The key component in retail is TRAFFIC. How many people you have coming to your store, the higher the number the greater chance of success. Being a destination retailer offers some real challenges insofar as you will be limited to people who seek you out and unlike a high traffic street or mall, you will not have those passerby's who could ad more impulse buying. So, be very conservative in your estimate of how many people will come, it is not like the movie "Field of Dreams" if you build it they may not come!
If you are comfortable with your estimates of visitors to the mill, then you need to calculate how many will become shoppers and what you will offer them in the gift shop. Obviously Mill themed merchandise is critical but it is expensive to design and offer your own branded items, although not altogether out of reach. It is a volume issue. You need to go to which is the largest gift market in the US. This is a good starting place. Go to one of their shows before you are ready to start. There are classes you can attend that will help you. Also not a bad idea to buy a copy of my book "The Complete Idiot's Guide To Starting And Running A Retail Store" which will give you tons of information about what you need to know.
You will need a good business plan, with expected sales, expenses and estimated profit (don't expect a profit in the first year!) Also be careful on set up expenses, you need to look like you are NOT playing store, it needs to be a professional presentation. Remember, if you look like a yard sale the customer will expect the same prices.
Lots to learn but you can make it work if you avoid all the avoidable mistakes. Take it slow, learn first.

Good luck!

General Retail Business Issues

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James E. Dion


Most questions about trends in specialty retail, how customers are changing both in the US and Europe. Demographics for all countries as they relate to retail trends and issues. Store Operations, Buying and Merchandising.


Over 40 years in the retail industry, store level, store manager, buyer, merchandise manager, Vice President.

BS Psychology, MS Psychology, PhD(abd) Industrial Psychology Illinois Institute of Technology

Past/Present Clients
Microsoft, Harley-Davidson, Ritz-Carlton, Hummer, Williams-Sonoma, Ace Hardware, Coleman Spas, Aldo, Intel, Dell, Safeway, New Balance, IBM, Kodak, Bata International, Nortel Networks, Honey Baked Ham Co., Man Alive, Highsmith
B.S Chicago State University M.S. Chicago State University PhD (abd) Illinois Institute of Technology

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