Choose Your Path

Get Your Feet Wet

If you're not quite ready to jump into a kiosk or a brick-and-mortar business, and you're not sure about the e-commerce thing, you can still dip your toe into the retail pond. You might start by selling your product on online retail or auction sites like Amazon.com, eBay and Yahoo! Auctions to get a feel for what retail customers are looking for. There are myriad resources to help you get started, and every good site has tons of information for beginning sellers. Retail expert Gregory Fairchild also notes that home parties, trunk shows, craft fairs and flea markets are a great way to get started. "They're great for learning, and in certain businesses, you may not need to go further," he says. "In fact, those distribution [channels] might be the best place to reach consumers [with your particular product]."

Home shows, for instance, work well for products with a social component--like cosmetics or purses. Be ready, though. "If you're thinking about trunk shows . . . you'll have to be a bit of a showman," Fairchild says. "You need to be good at pulling people into discussions and have a good sense of humor. There needs to be a sense of showmanship and flair."

Before deciding which avenue is best for you, Fairchild suggests you answer these questions: Do you fit with the environment you're going into? Will you enjoy interacting with people from behind your table at a flea market? Do you feel comfortable going into people's homes to sell at parties in front of their families and friends? It's as much about your personality as it is about how much consumers like your product.

To Grow or Not to Grow

You're steaming along in your retail business. You've got regular customers, and you're starting to see some success. Do you see a chain on the horizon? Or are you envisioning a world where your company is proudly listed in Entrepreneur's Franchise 500®?

Before you lease that 25,000-square-foot retail space, heed retail expert Rick Segel's advice. "Profitability, profitability, profitability. Each store has to be profitable," he says. "[Many businesses] expand for all the wrong reasons. You expand because you've got a great idea that can be duplicated." If, for example, your retail business is consistently showing 5 percent net profits and you can clone that, then go ahead and expand, he says.

Also be sure to ask yourself if you are vital to making the company a success, says retail expert Gregory Fairchild. You can't be present in 10 stores like you are in your one store. And especially in a franchise system, you've got to sell other entrepreneurs a program that works. "To what degree is the current working business model contingent on a few things?" he notes. "Even if they're working in your market, are you sure that purchasing patterns, habits [and] desires will be the same in other areas? There has to be a careful analysis."

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This article was originally published in the March 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Choose Your Path.

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