Author of "Every Way of Earning a Living" "Our Sons and Daughters" etc.
Trading - Getting Customers and Keeping Them
Within recent years there has been quite a movement on the part of owners of grocery establishments in the direction of employing women assistants. When one comes to think of it, there is every reason in favour of women making a success in the business as proprietors. All the goods dealt in are well-known household commodities, and the purchasers and users are women. It therefore seems a most fitting trade for a woman to undertake. The term grocer cannot be defined in terms of a few simple articles to-day, as the tendency has been to gradually increase the scope of the business to such an extent that some so-called grocery shops include provisions and the class of goods formerly sold by Italian warehousemen.
It is quite permissible to carry on these trades under the name of grocery, but the more simple way of running a business would be to exclude provisions, and, say, those goods usually stocked by oil and colourmen. No arbitrary line can be drawn in this matter, and much will depend on circumstances. For the beginner we recommend a trade in tea, coffee, cocoa, sugar, all the cereals, packet goods of every description for household use, and such articles as will appeal readily to the housewife shopping at the grocer's.
To one contemplating a start in the trade a knowledge of the business is desirable. This can be acquired by attending classes such as the Borough Polytechnic, London, where the theory of work and the laws affecting the industry are fully demonstrated. The fees for a session are very moderate. An alternative course is to get employment in a shop and undergo a practical training. So much the better if the theory and practice can be combined. It is not absolutely necessary to do either of these things, because, if one begins in a small way, the intricacies of the business are easily mastered by an intelligent person, and if one advances to something larger, skilled assistance is easily procured.
Having settled this, the next question is taking a shop. This depends upon the circumstances of the individual. It is largely a question of the capital available. For anyone expecting to make a living out of the trade, we should suggest that they should have a sum of at least L200 to invest in it. Many businesses have been started on a fourth of this sum, and are now doing well, but it is not possible to make anything like a fair show with less. Sometimes it is possible for the beginner to buy an old-established business at a moderate price. Two years' purchase of the net profit, with the stock and fixtures at a valuation, would be a fair thing for the purchaser to pay. There are, however, many pitfalls in transactions of this kind, and one should never entertain the idea without obtaining the best skilled advice. A good opening will often be found where a new district is being built. Landlords are anxious to let their shops, and invariably offer a concession by way of a small rent for the first year or two. They will also do something towards fitting up the premises.
Advantages of a New District
Another advantage in going to a new district is that the residents, being new-comers, are not tied to any particular tradesman, and the new shops stand a better chance of building up a trade in those localities than in an older neighbourhood. In selecting a shop due regard must be had to the amount of rent, the position of the premises, and the amount of existing competition. It is not wise to pay too much attention to the latter factor, as it frequently happens that the presence of a number of shops in the same street doing a similar trade make a market, and the people are attracted to the spot in large numbers. Most of the property owners who possess rows of shops have a clause in their leases which permits one of a trade only in the block. This is a good provision, provided, of course, that one has not to pay too much for it.
Assuming that the shop is taken, the question of fittings and fixtures arises. Too much must not be spent on this, but a nice shop-front and window fittings are essential. If one can afford it, an estimate from a shop-fitter who specialises should be had, or second-hand fittings and fixtures can be purchased, and a local carpenter or builder employed to fix them. By far the better plan is to make a bright and artistic show in front and interior. Customers like shops well fitted; it attracts trade.
The number of first-class firms in the wholesale grocery trade make it comparatively easy to get the necessary articles together to stock the premises. The largest assortment possible must be had with the money at disposal. By giving bankers' and trade references, credit can be obtained from the wholesale houses, but the better way is to buy for cash, and get the benefit of the discount that is allowed. A cash customer at the wholesale occupies a strong position, and can always secure the best service. The total amount of stock, and the quantities that will be required periodically to renew, are, to a certain extent, a matter of conjecture.
It is most important that the stock should consist of such articles as will have a ready sale, so that the turnover will be effected at short intervals. There are wholesale houses that supply all the goods required, and if they are told the amount of money the beginner has to expend, they will be only too pleased to make up an order for the amount. Great care must be exercised in the selection of tinned goods, and only the most reliable brands must be stocked. More trouble arises through want of attention to this one line than one could believe possible. As a general principle, it is a sound policy to deal in the best.