When the time comes to expand your retail business, how will you know? Some shop owners decide purely on gut feeling. Some people decide based on excess cash-flow. Forward-thinking retailers decide because they see the signs in the data.

As cloud technology has become affordable and accessible to small retailers, now they can take advantage of store data - like foot-traffic converting into sales - that illuminates opportunities for growth from one store to many.

But data isn’t just a way of making big decisions like whether or not it’s time to open a new store. Data is your growth medium from the first day you decide to start up a retail business. It’s the stuff the future’s made of.

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However, you don’t need big data to do something useful. All you need is a collection of your own “small data,” used wisely. Here are four types of data you’ll learn to love if you want to build a successful retail business:

1. In-store presence data. With the right technology, you can measure everything from foot traffic to in-store dwell time to the areas most visited on the shop floor. Integrate that information with your point-of-sale data and customer data to understand how people shop, including conversion rates and market segment behavior variations.

For example, If checkout times are long and abandonment is high, then you know you need to speed up the checkout process or staff up during peak hours. If customers linger longer in the footwear aisles then the lingerie department, but buy more lingerie than footwear, you may want to investigate their reasons and rethink how you are using your space.

2. Inventory data. If you peek inside your customers’ shopping baskets, you can learn a lot about what they are buying most. Comparing that to your inventory and cost of goods sold will help you tweak your retail operations to encourage growth. Seasonal fluctuations in purchases and items bought can help you determine when to create new advertising, in-store layouts, web pages or special offers.

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San Francisco-based handmade tea retailer, T-We Tea, used inventory data about the cost of goods sold to identify which of their best-selling teas had the highest margins.

In order to maximize profits, T-We purchased higher volumes of those teas in order to increase economies of scale. From there, T-We was able to bundle their most popular products together with those same highest margin products, sell at a discounted rate, but still increase profits. These simple but important tweaks grew revenues by 300 percent and helped them expand to a larger location.

3. Financial data. Financial data is vital to learning how your cash flow and profits are doing and what patterns they tend to follow. There are plenty of tools on the market that can do this for you, at little to no cost (No need to hire an expensive accountant to tell you how you are doing).

Plug your POS system into your accounts so you take control of your day-to-day business finances. Services such as QuickBooks Online integrate with POS systems, allowing you to automatically capture real-time financial data and run analytical reports that give you deep insight your business and let you forecast for growth.

4. Customer data. Customer insight helps you grow your brand’s influence and appeal. If you want loyal customers to make repeat purchases and recommend your store to their friends, then you need to listen to your customer data.

Working with a company like PayPal, retailers can empower their customers to “check-in” when they arrive, showing the retailer the customer’s photo and buying history. With this kind of insight, you can personalize the customer experience based on their purchase history.

These four pillars of data are key to understanding the performance of your company. When you can see what’s going right and what’s going wrong, you’ll make smarter decisions that steer the company in the right direction, creating net improvement all the time.

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