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How We Made the Transition from Contracting-Only to Retail

As a contracting business, we never expected to get into retail. But after moving to a new town and seeing the need, we decided to take the leap.
As a contracting business, we never expected to get into retail. But after moving to a new town and seeing the need, we decided to take the leap.

After working as contractors for 20 years and running our own floor contracting business for five, we decided to open our first storefront earlier this year. We had the idea after moving from a big city to a small town and realizing there wasn’t a dedicated flooring retailer nearby—the retail options were either a big box chain or a nearly two-hour drive. There were a lot of unknowns when we transitioned to retailing, but it’s so far turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve made. Here are some of the challenges we faced opening our store, why we felt it was the right move for us, and things to consider if you’re wondering whether you should take the leap, as well.

Research the marketplace

The first thing we did was run the idea of opening a storefront past friends and customers who lived and worked in this town. We got only positive feedback, and that was a good push. The next step was researching how easy it was to work with different vendors, shipping, and all those logistics. We knew we wanted to finance everything ourselves because we didn’t want to be tied to big loans or massive monthly payments, so we aimed small. We’re kind of taught that if we want to start a business, we have to go all in and get a huge business loan to have everything set up and perfect, but that’s not true.

Find the storefront 

Finding a store location is difficult for anybody. There are budget limitations, and you want your space to look a certain way. We knew we wanted just a showroom—our plan from the beginning was never to stock material, but rather offer sample selections and then order per job. That helped narrow our options and get us into a space that was affordable. It’s a small showroom, 650 square feet, but it’s all we really need to display our products.

Expect delays … lots of them

We secured our space in March and thought we’d have it open in weeks. In reality, it took three months to get everything in order. A big takeaway was that everything takes longer than you think it will. Getting applications with different vendors and dealing with the city and permits and business licenses—all of that takes a lot of time. On top of it, we had to paint and prepare the store itself. In some cases, our distribution is on the other side of the country, and we didn’t realize immediately how much more of a challenge that would be in case of shipping errors or damaged material.

On top of getting applications from different vendors and dealing with city permits, painting and preparing the store itself took time.On top of getting applications from different vendors and dealing with city permits, painting and preparing the store itself took time.

Know what not to do

When we were contractors, we worked for several big box retailers over the years. Starting our retail store, we knew we wanted to do the opposite of almost everything the big box stores did. Too often those big stores treated sub trades—us—as a commodity and not as a craft. We wanted to be a business that pays people what they’re worth, and we wanted to be customer-focused.

Expect different close rates

Having a showroom location has definitely brought us more work and an influx of new clients. But close rates are a different animal in retail. When we were just word-of-mouth sand-and-finish business, we would probably book 90–95% of all potential customers who called us. But now, at our storefront, we’ve got all these people coming in because they’re interested in browsing. So even though we have a larger volume of customers, we book a much smaller volume of jobs, comparatively, and at first that was a little discouraging.

It's great to have a place that reflects us and our style.It's great to have a place that reflects us and our style. 3 U 1221 Wfb Img 2941 Lg

Build relationships in the community

As a contractor, you’re always talking to people and trying to sell yourself. With a store, it’s no different, and in a way, having a storefront makes you seem more legitimate. We really like our space, because it’s nice to have a place that reflects us and our style, our values and our aesthetic. If people come in and they love our space, it feels nice, and we can explain to people why we brought in certain things, and what caused us to want to sell this product. It can be intimidating and stressful to start a new venture like this, but if you feel it’s the right next step for your business, don’t be afraid to take it and to approach it in your own way. For us, it’s been rewarding to be successful in the beginning and exciting to plan out how we can expand. 

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