I Started a Retail Store With Only $660
For furnishings and stock. Bootstrapping is hard, but it works.
In 1999, I started a retail store with my friend Ken. We called it Mystical Times. It was a New Age shop where we sold crystals, tarot cards, incense, etc., and a healing center. You know the type. Starting that store was a trip.
I opened it with $660 (including buildout, stock, shelving, furniture, etc.- not including rent, that was another $600 for 1st and last.) How? Creative thinking, manifesting, the help of friends, and thriftiness.
I’m great at stretching a dollar. I love to get something for nothing or next to nothing. Back in the day, there weren’t sites like Freecycle.org or the free sections of Facebook and I believe Craigslist hadn’t yet reached Boston. If it had, I hadn’t heard of it. But today, with all of these and other options, I probably could have done the buildout for even cheaper if I had to.
To put this need in context, I had just been laid off from selling furniture for a store that closed. That was the job I got when I moved to North Attleboro, MA as something to do until I could decide what I wanted to do. I had sold my real estate practice in Connecticut and was in the process of selling my house there as well. So I was making a fresh start. Given this, being really frugal seemed the appropriate choice.
I went to auctions and bought furniture for the healing center for $25/piece. Then I bought a cover for the love seat for $40 and used a sheet I already owned to cover the sofa.
I bought an old window frame for $5 and spray painted it yellow (for good feng shui) and then added a mirror behind it — another $5 — for wall decor. Everything was sourced as cheaply as possible and then made to appear as expensive as possible with accents, paint, and accouterments that I had on hand.
When you have the funds to buy the best, it’s a lovely thing to do (and I’m enjoying that gift now). But when you have to economize, there are smart ways and not-so-smart ways to do so. For instance, we paid for marketing rather than buying extra stock in the months that were lean, so we kept business coming in the door. After all, there’s no point in having a ton of stock if no one is buying it.
I’ve been known as the Queen of Manifestation for many years. I’m really good at asking for something and having it just show up. So when I was opening my retail store, Mystical Times, in 1999, I put those skills to good use.
I needed one good display cabinet to serve as a checkout stand and a place for pricier items to be displayed, but those types of cabinets are expensive. A friend had been storing a display cabinet for another friend in their basement for many years. Their friend was not showing any signs of picking it up, so it was mine to use. I just needed a new piece of glass for the top. $50 later, that was covered.
I also was building out the shop and really didn’t want to sand the floors, so while I was working, a random guy comes by and offers to help. I tell him I have no money to pay him, but I could buy him lunch. He said, “pizza would be great!” Then he gets me the contractor rate for the sanding machine, saving me enough to cover the cost of the pizza. He proceeds to work for me for free for two days doing all kinds of painting, sanding the floors, etc. (Don’t forget to say “yes” when people offer to help.)
After we were open, I would manifest an apprentice: someone who lived in the area and wanted to hang out and learn from us. In exchange, he gave us advice on merchandising and would occasionally open or close the shop for us when we weren’t able to do so.
When summer hit, our ancient air conditioner couldn’t keep up with the heat. Customers would come in saying “wow, it’s hot in here!” and I’d say “yes, I know, I’m manifesting a new air conditioner, it will be here any day now.
Two weeks later, I had this exchange with a woman who said “I have a one-year-old air conditioner that won’t fit in my window. I’ll trade it to you for the cost of this plaque. The plaque cost me $12. I said, “SOLD!” That new air conditioner required that we reconfigure the hole in the wall, but it was totally worth it.
Earlier I mentioned the random guy that offered to help build out my shop. I wouldn’t have had his help if I didn’t say “yes” when he offered. I also wouldn’t have had the beautiful reclaimed barn wood shelves, the sculpture of a tree that served as the centerpiece of the shop, or the rich-looking, thick, fully-lined curtains that reduced the noise from the street in the healing center.
And, I would have been doing all the construction work alone. Instead, I had a bevy of friends who were happy to be part of this new venture that Ken and I had started. Each contributed in their own way and I’m still grateful to this day.
When it was time to open the shop, I had no cash for stock and I didn’t want to run up my credit cards buying any. So I went to a festival where I knew vendors would be selling their wares.
I waited until they were packing up and then went around to each of them and said “your stock can sit in your basement until the next event or you can hand it off to me and sign this consignment agreement and I’ll sell it for you in my shop.” Most of them took me up on my offer and I filled my store with stock for zero dollars out of pocket.
As I made sales, I would buy more traditional stock — initially incense (it was cheapest), then essential oils, then tarot cards, and finally crystals. And I was up and running. Truly a bootstrapped retail store.
And best of all, the vendors got more money that year than they normally would have. Win-win-win!
So before you lament that you can’t do something because you don’t have the funds, get creative. Think of how you might get what you need in another way. Then consider what friend you have who might help. Steward the money you do have wisely by being thrifty but not penny wise and pound foolish. Then manifest whatever is left and be willing to say “YES!” when it arrives. You can do it! I believe in you!
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