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Big jobs can be done in small towns. Small towns offer the unique opportunity of a concentrated market, as well as the challenge of a limited population. Finding viable business ideas for small towns comes down to meeting current demand with a great product or service.
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To start a business in a small town, you need to research the local market as well as the specific geography of the physical location. In a small town, you depend more on a small group for business, so choosing the right location is very important to improve your store traffic. Even if your business plan is service-based, it’s still a good idea to have a good understanding of how big your market is.
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Once you have an idea of the consumer market in your town, you can create a basis for different small town business ideas, ultimately settling on the one you think will work best. After learning about the resources and other businesses available in your area, you can talk to other business owners and assess the costs and requirements of starting a small town business. For inspiration, we’ve compiled a list of 35 small town business ideas that every community needs. You can use this list as a starting point for research or perhaps to find the right business idea for your small town.
Starting a business in a small town requires careful research and knowledge of your community. Once you’ve gotten a sense of the existing businesses and local demand in your area (more on that below), you’re ready to decide which business is right for you—and the community.
Try to find an activity or service where profitable small businesses, community needs and your own interests intersect. Here are some small town business ideas to consider:
Dinner, fine dining, or something in between, a successful small-town restaurant serves to provide people with something they haven’t had before. When you’re opening a restaurant, it may be tempting to copy a popular spot in town, but consider filling a need — or want — that locals can’t find nearby, and there’s value in traveling from another city.
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For example, a farm-to-table restaurant is a business idea for a small town, but if you are not in an area rich in agriculture or one that is available in your city, consider an alternative. Think about what awaits your family when they leave town. Maybe it’s a fine dining experience, or maybe it’s a slice of New York-style pizza, but there’s a market for a new restaurant. You have to understand what people want – and what they will eat.
Make up for slow business traffic by serving drinks people want all day. If coffee shops aren’t a “thing” in your town, serving coffee all day in a place where people go – like a bar – can slowly normalize the activity and encourage crossover business. A local bar in a small town may be your dream job, but a coffee shop can start bringing in money at dawn. There’s no need to compromise, as long as you’re creating an environment that works both day and night.
Depending on county laws and state taxes, opening a brewery can be one of the most profitable business ideas in a small town. Especially in areas where grocery stores are not allowed to sell alcohol, liquor stores dominate the alcohol market in small towns. Be sure to read up on how to open a liquor store, as securing the necessary documents (such as a liquor license) can be difficult.
A good craftsman will always be in demand, even in small towns. If you often get calls from friends, family and neighbors to come and see a leaky pipe or double boiler, you may be on your way to starting a small town business that works.
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Starting a contract service can be relatively easy if you already do odd jobs and think about who will hire you. If people in the area are not familiar with your work, try contacting a general contractor who is willing to offer a small project and hopefully get your name out there to potential clients. In word-of-mouth businesses such as service work, repair and construction, people you already know and who know your business are your strongest salespeople.
You’re more likely to own a car if you live in a rural area or small town, but the distance from a dealership can make routine servicing difficult. Auto repair services fill an obvious need for small towns and make life more enjoyable for local residents, so you should consider whether there is an opportunity to open a shop in your town.
Likewise, cars break down everywhere, and most trucks charge per mile. So if your town is a significant distance from the big cities, you may have the opportunity to start towing cars – even if you don’t have a proper repair shop.
Some people just don’t like cleaning, and chances are a few of them live in your town. Why not start a cleaning business for them? This is another service that takes advantage of the word-of-mouth referral system, and can even be combined with other services, such as babysitting or yard work. Professional cleaning is a valuable skill, but it doesn’t require you to spend a ton of money on courses or certifications, so it’s a good option if you’re looking for a low-overhead side hustle.
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All companies and individuals need technology support, wherever they are. No matter how big or small a city is, there will always be people who use technology — and have trouble connecting to their Wi-Fi.
This service will need a little more advertising to get the word out because it is less visible than a store business and less organized than a service like house cleaning. But if you’re not planning to do a major renovation, it won’t require much equipment, so you’ll also keep overhead costs low.
Opening a pet store in your town is one of the great small town business ideas if there isn’t already a local supply store or large chain, like PetSmart or PetCo. Depending on the number of pets in your area, pet sitting and boarding services may be in demand.
If you’re interested in opening a pet store or pet grooming service in a small town, ask local pet owners where they currently get their food and grooming. A pet store owner in your town can also be a good resource if you are interested in grooming, walking or boarding services.
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Chances are your town has at least one barbershop or salon, but this could actually help if you want to open a successful hair salon. If the demographics are missing—for example, there’s only one barber shop that serves mostly men—determine that the need for hair is currently unmet on Main Street.
If your city already has full-service hair salons and barbers, consider a more sophisticated hair care business, such as a bar or blowout salon that offers makeup, lashes, and tanning in addition to hair services.
It may not be the most glamorous job, but gas stations are essential in communities where many people rely on cars and trucks for transportation. Small towns located on or near major highways can gain significantly in traffic, and unlike many businesses, a gas station can actually benefit from a remote location between towns. Lottery and tobacco sales can also bring in significant income, especially if you are the only seller in the area.
When a town that could have a grocery store doesn’t, there’s probably a good reason: maybe too many people commute to work every day and use other stores, or there isn’t enough population to support a large chain.
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If you want to go the independent route (ie not open a franchise store), try to find a way to specialize your store so you don’t overspend on large inventory. Use local produce, trends and tastes to make your decision.
In agricultural areas, country market-style shops selling local produce and seasonal goods tend to be popular with both locals and tourists. A city that already has a large chain grocery store, but few organic, local, gluten-free, or vegan options, is a great candidate for a specialty food store.
A drugstore or pharmacy takes a lot of work—from hiring a pharmacist to getting insurance to setting up safety precautions—but if your town isn’t served by a local pharmacy, it’s a long-term problem in your community. It can be a great opportunity to open a temporary business. .
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