Single-store retailers that have found success often start thinking about the prospect of setting up shop in other locations. This is a natural step that many businesses take, and for good reason: expanding to other locations puts your business in front of more people and opens up opportunities for growth. But as you think about how to grow a retail business from one to five stores, it is important to remember that a multi-store business is a completely different endeavor.
Finding success as a single-store retailer doesn’t guarantee that your next 2, 4, or 5 stores will be a hit. To help you figure out how to grow a retail business from one store to five, we’ve put together some key steps and considerations to think about.
Let’s dive in.
See to it that your current business has the capacity to expand
First things first. Before you start scouting for new locations, take an honest look at your business. Make sure that you are in a good position to expand. SCORE, a non-profit partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, recommends that you evaluate the following factors when considering an expansion:
Are you turning a profit regularly? According to SCORE, if your business has been profitable for at least three years, then it may make sense to set up shop in another location. Note that you need to be steadily profitable, and not just experience a surge in profits.
Your business needs to be cash flow positive before you open new locations.
Retail expansion is a major endeavor and you’re going to spend less time in your existing store going forward. Before moving into additional locations or markets, ensure that your current store can run smoothly without you.
Strong demand for your offerings
Are you operating in a market that is growing and underserved? Do you have customers who can’t get enough of your products and services? Have you started turning away new customers? If you answered yes to these questions, that could be a sign that there’s a strong demand for your offerings. Expanding to new locations may help you thrive.
Establish and document repeatable systems and procedures
The key to a successful business expansion lies in the systems you have in place. It’s essential to establish standardized systems and procedures that you can duplicate again and again.
When you first start a retail business, you inevitably have to wear many hats and do various tasks yourself. It’s not uncommon for a small business owner to do everything from inventory management and bookkeeping to merchandising and customer service. But you can’t carry on like that if you want to grow and expand.
Delegation is a must.
To that end, the best way to onboard and train people on how to accomplish a job is to have documented processes.
So, record everything you do in your business. You need to get all the information out of your head and into a formal document. List all the processes and tasks required to run your store, and flesh out step-by-step instructions on how to do them.
When Kevin Gelfand, founder of the six location business Shake Smart started to expand, he said that they spent a lot of the early days documenting their systems. In an interview with GrowTeam, he explains:
We wrote down and systemized any issue or task that we were doing for the business. Everything from troubleshooting, whenever there was an issue with anything, writing down what the issue was and what the solution was to fix it, to purchasing, writing down everything that goes into opening a new location, to marketing, to payroll processing.
Visuals are important
Depending on the process, it may help to have visual materials to relay information. For example, if you’re documenting your in-store merchandising practices, consider taking photos to illustrate your merchandising techniques.
If you’re documenting your process for ordering and receiving stock, consider creating a flowchart or diagram that details how stock moves from one department to the next. Also document who’s in charge of what.
Finally, make information about your systems easily accessible. Store your documents in the cloud using Google Drive, Dropbox, or any other app that makes it easy for users to search and retrieve files.
When you are ready for a more advanced solution, choose an app like Compliant IA to create checklists for your operations, merchandising, and safety standards. Schedule inspections using these checklists for your stores to complete. You can attach best practice photos and request photos to verify execution.
Having your procedures in an app like Compliant IA also means that you and your team will be able to access the information from anywhere or any device. It’s much easier to handover details to people in new stores when the data you need is just a few clicks or taps away.
Plus, you can update in real time, so your team members always have access to the most updated info.
Have the right multi-store management tools
Technology plays a critical role in your retail expansion. In line with establishing systems and processes, having the right tools in place will ensure that your procedures and tasks are carried out successfully.
Below are some of the tools that every multi-store retailer must have:
Get yourself a stock management solution with multi-store capabilities. Your inventory management system should enable you to view what’s in stock across various stores. This is so you and your team can evaluate product performance and inventory levels. Your stock management platform should also make it simple to transfer inventory from one location to another.
Knowledge is power, and in retail, the best way to acquire knowledge is to have reliable metrics and data. As such, you need a retail analytics solution that sheds light on all the important KPIs, including sales, profits, stock turn, and more.
Additionally, you should have the ability to “slice and dice” data and reports. For example, if you need a general view of retail performance across all your stores, then your system should be able to offer an overview of your business performance. At the same time, it should also give you the option to drill down on the metrics for specific stores, so you can evaluate each location separately.
When you’re running one store, getting information from another team member could be as simple as tapping them on the shoulder or calling them from across the room.
Obviously, this isn’t possible when your team is spread out across different locations. That’s why you need to invest in communication tools that keep your team on the same page.
It’s not uncommon for large teams to resort to using multiple communication methods (text, email, social media, phone, etc.). Avoid this pitfall at all costs, as having disparate methods and tools is a recipe for miscommunication.
Strive to have just one central communication channel through which you can relay updates, touch base with team members, and push the tasks that need to get done. Compliant IA, for example, offers secure communication capabilities that include chat, notifications, calendars, and content sharing. All these features enable teams to keep their communications in one place, which prevents confusion or missed memos and emails.
Delegation is a must for any multi-store operation. But how do you make sure that the jobs you’ve handed over are completed successfully and on time?
Three words: task management software.
Arm your business with an app like Compliant IA that lets you assign tasks to team members. You can track their progress and see completion rates in real time. A task management app also adds a layer of accountability; employees are more likely to complete the things they need to do on time, if they know that someone will check their work.
For more on task management best practices, see these our blog: Retail Task Management: A Comprehensive Guide.
Retail store audits are essential to keeping your stores in check. When you’re overseeing several stores, it’s important that they:
- Comply with any local, state, and federal regulations
- Operate in a way that meets your brand standards
Regularly auditing your stores will keep them on track. And you can make this task easier by using retail audit software that streamlines store inspections and audits. Compliant IA does exactly that by letting you build custom checklists and forms for checking operating procedures or verifying safety standards. The software also makes issue resolution much simpler by enabling you to quickly identify issues and assign them to the right team members.
Stay on top of staffing
Now let’s talk about people. It’s impossible to be in multiple stores at once. So you should ensure that the individuals in charge of your shops are truly up for the job. See if you can station one of your existing team members in your new store. It’s easier to onboarding employees and establish your new location if you have someone on the ground who’s already familiar with your company.
If this isn’t possible, then you (or a trusted associate) will likely have to spend a bit more time in the new store ensuring that everything is up to snuff.
When it comes to hiring new employees, specify the distinct characteristics that you’re looking for. Look at your existing team, and identify the skills and traits that are valuable to your company. List down those items and let them guide you in your search for new employees.
Also, remember that labor laws may vary per location. If you’re opening stores in different cities and states, educate yourself on regulations and laws regarding hiring. This includes hours worked, termination, sexual harassment, etc., and follow them to the tee.
Once you’ve hired new people, use the documented procedures we discussed earlier to train and onboard them into your business. The length and level of detail required for this step will vary from store to store. It helps to have regular meetings with all your store managers, so you can check-in on each shop’s progress and address any issues that may arise.
Here are several posts to help you hire and support your team:
- 6 Tips for Hiring a Retail District Manager
- 3 Ways to Support Retail Store Managers
- How to Hire for Diversity in Retail
Bringing it all together
Going from one store to two or even five is a thrilling step for any business. It can certainly lead to higher levels of retail success — but only if you do it right.
When expanding to multiple locations, make sure that your first store is ready to function without you. Standardize and document your processes and use technology to aid your growth. Hiring people can be tricky, but as long as you’re clear with what you want and need, you should be able to find and onboard new team members with ease.
When you have your people, processes, technologies in sync, expanding to new locations — and running those stores — are completely doable.
About the author:
Francesca Nicasio is retail expert, B2B content strategist, and LinkedIn TopVoice. She writes about trends, tips, and best practices that enable retailers to increase sales and serve customers better. She’s also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores.