Author of " Every Way of Earning a Living" "Our Sons and Daughters," etc.
In days when there was little or no com-petition, days which have long since Passed into the shadows of things forgotten, shopkeeping required little more than a few pounds for stock and sufficient patience on the part of the shopkeeper to wait while the business grew and her fortune gathered itself about her. Then it was not a question of one of many good tradesmen begging for one man's custom, but almost a question of customers begging to be supplied by the one or two available tradesmen.
How different it is to-day! No longer is it possible to take the nearest vacant building and turn it into a shop with the prospect of success. No matter what the line of business, difficulties begin immediately, probably the greatest of all being that of finding a "pitch" so situated as to give reasonable hopes of success.
I deal below with many lines of business in which women may often succeed brilliantly, if good shops be selected and sufficient capital be in hand. But before considering individual trades, it would be well to glance at the general qualifications which all shopkeepers must possess if they are to be successful in their undertakings.
First of all, no woman should launch out into shopkeeping without some business experience. It is not essential that the experience be gained in a shop exactly similar to that in which she proposes to start, so long as she has gained some knowledge of the value of things, of the spirit of dealing to make profit, and of the way to " handle " clients.
This experience may be gained in various ways; some people would acquire the requisite knowledge by spending a few months in contact with business people, others will need years passed actually in a shop, and even then be no nearer to making good shopkeepers. Of course, this initial requirement does not need the consideration of a shop assistant starting off on her own account, for she will have learned in the best of all schools, that of experience.
But we would warn women, particularly those unfortunately left widows at an early age, who find themselves suddenly robbed of their breadwinners, and with small capital have to start out in the world for the first time to earn their own livings, before venturing their capital in a shop-keeping venture, to obtain a certain amount of business experience.
A good plan for such a woman to follow would be to obtain a post as assistant at a small wage in an establishment similar to that which she intends opening. This is better than gaining one's knowledge at the expense of one's own capital, and after a short while spent thus, during which the learner will be living in the atmosphere of the business and gathering knowledge of its smallest details, she will be ready to select the shop in which to try conclusions with fortune.
A second important qualification that should be possessed by all women who intend to make a living as shopkeepers is good health, a sound constitution. In discussing careers with people, I have many times been appalled by this remark, " Oh, she is so delicate, you know, that I think nothing could be better for her than a small shop ! "
Let me try, once and for all, to remove that widespread impression that shopkeeping is easy, comforting,-, and.a tonic for the feeble. Shopkeeping-especially at the start-is one of the very hardest ways. of. earning a living with which I am acquainted. There are long, tedious hours to be passed, during which the anxious shopkeeper is sustained upon hope rather than upon returns; long weary hours to stand behind a counter. There are trials connected with the stock, and tribulations connected with the rates and taxes, the neighbours, and the police. There are thousands of worries to be borne and conquered before the golden days when the shopkeeper can sit behind a desk, a big ledger before her, booking orders whilst an army of satellites perform at crowded counters the bidding of her clients.
Such is the strain and stress, which only the woman in full vigour of health and strength can endure with success.
Remember, then, a sound constitution is absolutely essential to successful shopkeeping.
A third general qualification essential to all shopkeepers is a calm temperament. The person who worries because customers do not rush in as soon as the shop is open will achieve little more than a head of very white hair and a face furrowed with wrinkles. Worrying is useless-patient work, coupled with an ability to wait for results, is the only thing that counts for success.
Here, then, is a third thing for the intending shopkeeper to remember-not to go into business if she is of a worrying disposition, for she will only succeed in ruining her health.
I shall now take alphabetically a list of shops, some of which are suitable for women only, some which may be worked with equal advantage by either men or women. The notes given will serve as a general indication of the requirements in each case, and the knowledge gained therefrom by the reader should be supplemented by personal inquiries among tradesmen, and a perusal of the trade paper published in the interests of the particular trade.
A woman with a taste for books, the general qualifications indicated above, and a capital of from £100 to £500, may start in this business. She will stock her shop with books of a class to suit the neighbourhood in which she launches out in search of fortune. New books of the best description must be purchased for a well-to-do neighbourhood, with a special class of stock if there be one or two good schools near at hand. The sale of stationery, fancy goods, and periodical publications may be combined with books of a cheap description, or a second-hand bookselling establishment may be opened. The latter, of course, demands a more intimate knowledge of the books themselves. Girls are employed in many of the large bookshops, so that experience may be gained before opening one's own shop. Vacancies are advertised in the "Publisher's Circular" and the "Athenaeum."
Directed by good business women, who are also good needlewomen, Berlin wool shops afford good openings for profitable and pleasant work. A small shop in a popular part should be filled up with shelving, a glass case or two, and brackets on the window board. Scotch and Welsh yarns, embroidery silks and cottons, needles, pins, crochet needles, rug needles, tambour and square frames, and wool winders should be stocked. The wholesale houses will treat well those who come with cash in hand, or with satisfactory credentials, and the average rate of profit on wholesale prices should be from 25 per cent, to 33 per cent. It is an excellent plan to run a registry office for servants in connection with a Berlin wool shop, as not only will this bring grist to the mill in the shape of small commissions, but will also attract customers for wool. As business increases, a girl apprentice may be taken, a premium being charged.
From £100 to £150 capital will suffice to start a shop in this line in a popular residential neighbourhood. The fitting out of the shop,, with counter, brass uprights for displaying hoods, cloaks, etc., a stand with glass shelves, wood shelving, window fittings, etc., should cost about £15. Stock should include infants' shirts, flannels, woollen boots, robes, cloaks, and hoods for the long-clothes stage; short frocks, bibs, pinafores, wool socks for the shortening stage; and walking costumes, sleeping suits, etc., for the older children. With good business capacity, 33 per cent, to 40 per cent, profit may be earned. Rent and rates should be £50, gas £10, errand boy or girl £20. A girl who wishes at some future date to start in this line of business should obtain a situation in an old-established shop as assistant, where, by applying herself diligently to work, and watching all that goes on around her, she will soon gain the necessary experience. A sewing machine agency may be worked in connection with a baby linen shop with advantage, and particulars may be obtained from the various makers.