A few months back there was an article in Witchvox containing advice about running an occult store. I read it and thought to myself: Wow, that is almost all incredibly bad advice!
I have a background in retail: not only have I worked it but my father and grandfather both owned a hardware store. I got to be involved in the running, expansion, decline, and eventual rescue and sale of that business. As a lecturer and friend of some shop owners I have also gotten a good glimpse of struggle and often closing of magic businesses. Just to be sure that my opinion wasn’t off though I asked three owners of occult stores to read it, and they found the advice so bad that they did not believe the author had any experience other than as a customer.
Many students and friends of mine have told me that they had aspirations to open an occult store. At one time, I myself had this aspiration. Since people are still losing their jobs regularly, and since I am always suggesting people start their own businesses, I thought I might share some of my thoughts on the subject.
I want to clarify that the following advice applied to brick and mortar stores only. This is not about web-based business.
So here than is Jason’s advice for those hoping to open an Occult/Magic/NewAge store:
1. Get a lot of input on this before you invest a dime. I am not just talking divination here. Talk to people that owned stores that failed, which is almost every store that has opened in the last 10 years. Talk to people that own stores that are still in business. Don’t just ask if its worth it or not – ask about how much a case of merch in the store is worth, ask about how much they started with, etc.
2. You need to LOVE retail. I do not mean the merchandise, but actual process of retail sales. After the novelty of the occult stuff wears off, its just stuff that you have to sell. In the end the merchandise doesnt matter. You have to love selling stuff, if you dont than dont do it.
3. Be prepared to work long hours 6-7 days a week.
4. Be prepared for worrying about things even when you are not at the store. When you own a business you never really clock out at the end of the day. When that business is almost guaranteed to be struggling through its whole existence than you need to be prepared for the psychic weight of that.
5. You need to know that you will probably not make enough to support yourself in a middle class lifestyle, much less retire, unless you have other means of income. Some people get the idea in their head that if you own a business that automatically makes you rich. It doesn’t and in the case of an occult store it probably makes you the opposite.
6. You need to be prepared to lose every penny you put into it AND have serious debt if it fails – again just about ALL of them fail regardless of magic.
7. You are running a store NOT a community center. You are in business to make money. Lots of people will use your store as a community center, which is good, but they will often not contribute funds or worry much about you making money. If the people that hang around the store are blocking sales, than you need to be tough. If they are not paying for merch you need to be tough. The community itself can bleed you dry.
8. Do not pay for empty floorspace just for classes and rituals. If the store you are looking at has a big backroom and there is not a smaller cheaper place that you could rent, than great, I love giving talks in nice spaces. If there is a cheaper space though, save the money. Move bookshelves before classes, you will be amazed at how many people will pack into a small space.
9. Fill the space you have. This is a must and another reason for a smaller space. A full store looks successful, an empty one does not. People will talk about how they want to support the failing store, but in reality they go to and spend money in the successful store. If you have a big store, either figure a way to fill it, like with altars and such, or put up a wall to make the front smaller.
10. You need more money than you think you do. Number one reason that new stores of any kind fail is that they are under-capitalized at the beginning. You need to fill the store AND have money to fill it again. If you do not rotate merch, people will stop coming in to see what is new. You cannot just rely upon the initial sales to re-stock the store.
11. Have an angle. What makes you special? The only time that I considered opening a store of my own was going to be a small shop on the boardwalk in Atlantic City that specialized in Gambling Charms. If I felt like dealing with all the graft and possible legal hassels involved in such a venture, I would do it. Bottom line is what makes you special? Are you in a town known for that kind of thing like Salem, New Orleans, or New Hope? Are you servicing a specific community like an ATR or very New Age area? Just wanting a store near where you live is not enough.
12. Do not be afraid of competition. Sometimes its better to move into a town that has another store like yours than it is to go to a town that doesn’t. Ever walk around a city? Notice how there is a district for jewlers, a district for Indian restaurants, a district for Punk shops? Your store alone may not be enough to get me to drive an hour. If you are in a town where there are three other shops that are similar but just different enough to make it interesting, I will drive that hour over and over again. What you loose to a competitor will often be more than made up for in increased overall volume.
13. Understand that from a financial standpoint this is a BAD investment. Even done as well as can possibly be done it is still a BAD investment. The ONLY reason to do it is that you are willing to deal with all of the above because somewhere deep down you want to be a magical retailer. ANY other reason and you should bail.