10 Tips to Know if a Co-op Shop Is Right For You

Recently I mentioned that I am always on the lookout for prime locations for new shop space. Today I want to discuss what to look for when you are scoping out Co-op Shop Space (sometimes call Group Shops).

Of all the business models I’ve experimented with, I tend to like the Co-op Shop best. But how does one choose? Here’s what I look for in a new shop?

Shop Owner

I look for a like-minded person who conveys an aura of hospitality. After all, this isn’t just junk. I offer unique artifacts used to create a warm and inviting atmosphere in someone’s home. I look for friendliness, creativity, and enthusiasm. Does the shopkeeper love what she does? Does she appreciate and see the charm of these rusty items, or does she just see a pile of junk for sale? Is the owner hard working?

The owner should be the face of the business, not an absentee landlord. Is she dependable, is she open when she says she’s going to be open? Are the shops hours sufficient to capture impulse shoppers and regulars alike? Is she savvy, fair and trustworthy in business dealings with vendors and customers?

Shop Location

If a shop is a destination unto itself, it can reside in the woods, far up a back road. But most shops benefit from high visibility to get their customer traffic. Does the shop you occupy have high visibility and a pleasant outside aesthetic? Does the building have curb appeal? How about adequate parking for vendors to load and unload product, and plenty of space for customers, so they aren’t intimidated by the lack of spaces, and keep on driving to another shop a few miles up the road.

Proximity to Home

Ideally your shop space is close enough to home that you can service your space one or two times a week. By that I mean, replenish stock that has left a gaping hole in your displays, or remove an item that has simply taken up space for the past month, with little or no interest from buyers. Sometime it may be to simply “Fluff it up”, because you were driving by.

You may choose to have more than one shop. Presently I have one space 20 minutes from home, and I have another one a half-hour in the opposite direction. This is very manageable, though it would be ideal if they were in the same direction, because I could hit them both in the same day.

There have been times when the ideal store for me has been over an hour drive from home. When business is booming, this is OK, but if business is marginal, a two-hour round trip, gasoline, tolls and more can quickly make the situation intolerable.

Vendor Churn

Visit the shop several times. Observe how many empty spaces there are. How many booths are offering steep discounts, or moving sales? If that number is high, that is not good. Is there a waiting list to get space? If so, that may be a good sign. It means people aren’t eager to leave. Are a disproportionate number of the booths occupied by the owner? If so, it might mean that they can’t satisfy enough vendors to keep them in the shop.

Customer Traffic

We already addressed automotive traffic in the previous section, but what about customer traffic? Is the parking lot always empty when you drive by? When you stop in the store to look around, are you the only customer in the store for 20-30 minutes? If so, beware. The more eyeballs that see your stuff, the better chance you have of selling. If no one’s there, no one’s buying. If you see customers, observe whether they buy, or simply kick the tires and walk out empty-handed.

Days and Hours Open for Business

How many days a week a shop is open for business can vary. Is the shop open on weekends? What time does it open? If it only opens at noon, that might be problematic. Does the shopkeeper view this as a real business (moving inventory and profitability), or is it a hobby (labor of love and a social outlet). I would suggest you don’t want to bet your bottom line with a hobbyist.

In recent years I’ve observed some shop owners strive to create a sense of scarcity, being open only one weekend a month. Yes, two days only. These are marketed as events. Such a business model does tend to stimulate a great deal of traffic and shopping activity in a short period of time. However, if you wish to participate in such a venture, there is a great deal of work involved in getting all your product to the shop for two days, and then removing it all to bring back to your own storage for the next 28 days.

Web & Social Media Presence

The olden days of advertising in a monthly regional antique/collectible dealer newspaper are history. Yes, some still exist, but they are expensive, and they are seldom timely. Does your shop still send expensive post cards to your mailbox to stick on your fridge to remind you of the big event on Black Friday? Does your shop owner have an e-mail list? Even better – does the shop owner allow you to collect e-mail subscribers within your own booth?

Good shops have a professional Facebook page and manage it daily to keep readers interested in the new arrival of products, and to constantly remind shoppers that cool stuff is “hit or miss”, so you gotta keep on top of things for fear of missing out. In addition to Facebook, better shops have their own website, and their own domain.  And the best shops use Facebook and their webpage in concert with professional e-mail reminders of special events and to create a tribe of savvy shoppers, who get the news first on new arrivals.

Price Points & Customer Demographics

Some markets cater to a higher-end clientele that has no issue with paying premium pricing. Other markets prefer moderate/fair pricing. Others, are just plain cheap, avoid these at all costs. If a shop is perceived as simply an indoor flea market or yard sale – run! These shoppers place no value on what you have, all they want to do is deal. I could include links to sites or Facebook pages that would illustrate each of these scenarios, but I don’t want the negativity.

Often times this is less a matter of geography and more of a mindset conveyed by the shopkeeper. Which leads to my next point.

Beware of the “Sale Mentality”

Some shop owners think having a “Sale” is the way to drive business. They are eager to promote “Sales” to get buyers into the door, to buy your stuff at a discount. But the shop owner is still getting full price on the rent from all the vendors. Some even expect vendors to be on site to help “man the store”. If you pay rent, then have to discount your products, bake cookies and work at the counter, then I have a cheaper business model for you. Put your stuff on the curb with a “Free Stuff” sign on it. It will be much less work, for the same profit.

Similar Design Aesthetics

If you step into a Co-op and the booths all look just a little too similar, odds are that the owner is occupying most of the space. If the booths vary in the types of collections and presentations, then this visual diversity suggests many creative vendors are present.

Either way, you want to be in a space with similar quality merchandise. You want variety, yet similar. You want to see merchandise that is clean, gently worn to show its age and character, yet serviceable or displayable.

Summary

There you have it. 10 tips about what I look for when I’m scouting out new Co-op space. These are not hard and fast rules, but they are guidelines that will give you a starting point when you begin exploring Co-op Shop alternatives in your area.

If you have any additional ideas to share, please add them to the comments section below.

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