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How to Start a Profitable Retail Business in South Africa


Retail businesses are very popular in South Africa and other countries in the world because people would always love to spend their money on useful things or things that they need. On a daily basis, people must buy something they want or cannot do without, from food to clothes to kitchen items, electronics, cosmetics, toiletries, and more.

Even though online shopping is a popular trend in South Africa, owning a land-based retail business still has an undeniable advantage over online shops. The ability to touch and physically examine what you want to buy makes many people prefer retail stores to online shops.

So if you are wondering whether retail businesses are still profitable in South Africa with the advent of online shops, they are still booming and attract many customers. It is also possible to own a retail shop and still create an online presence for your business just to reach out to more people and keep up with the trend.

However, if you are interested in starting a retail business in South Africa, this guide will show you everything you need to know.

It might naturally catch your attention when you hear about retail businesses probably because you are already looking for a business to venture into, but do you know what a retail business entails?

What is a Retail Business?

A retail business is a process of selling finished products in small quantities directly to consumers. If you are a retailer, you will stand as a bridge between your customers and wholesalers or manufacturers. 

As a retailer, you can purchase goods in large quantities from the manufacturers directly or buy them from wholesalers who also got the goods from manufacturers. However, it is more profitable to buy goods from manufacturers directly, but it may be easier to get them from wholesalers depending on the quantity you need. 

How Does a Retail Business Work?

In South Africa, you can sell products in small quantities or depending on your shop capacity and the consumer needs, and there are two ways you can do this.

You can either set up a counter or a delivery retailing, but the most common practice in South Africa and many other African countries is the counter retail business. Although you can practice both, it is advisable to first build a solid customer base with the counter retailing and then include the delivery service if you can afford it. 

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The counter retail business requires your customer to walk up to your shop and ask for what they need or simply pick up what they need from the products displayed on your shelf like in a grocery store. 

While the delivery service, on the other hand, is when you have to provide whatever your customers need and take them to their doorstep through your preferred means of transportation. This system of operation will require you to provide a reliable means of communication, either through phone calls, texts, or better still, make your business available online so people can easily place orders through your business website.

Guide To Start A Retail Business In South Africa

Now that you understand a retail business, are you interested in starting one, or are you already running an online retail business and would like to set up a brick-and-mortar office for your business? Whatever the case may be, with the steps discussed below, you can start your own retail business in no time.

Do a Thorough Market Research

The first step to starting any business is to adequately understand what you are getting into and how the business is operated in your country. So it would be best to do proper market research before starting your own retailing. Here are some vital things you should consider when doing market research for your business.

  • Find out which products are in high demand.
  • Discover the type of retail shop that people love and why.
  • Access the retail business field and discover your competitors.
  • Lastly, search for reliable suppliers of the products you have decided to sell.

Create an Exceptional Business Plan

A business plan is one of the major things that can help your business succeed in South Africa; you need to draft a realistic and well-structured business plan following your market research. Your business plan should entail the following:

  • A description of your business.
  • Marketing strategy.
  • Financial projections (budgeting and pricing).
  • Product and services.
  • Organisational structure.

Register Your Retail Business

There is an already established legal framework for all retail businesses in South Africa designed to prevent any illegal business or trading activities. These laws are well structured to protect retailers, consumers, and the South African government. Therefore if you want to run a retail business in South Africa successfully, you must register your business and comply with these laws.

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To register a business in South Africa, you must contact the Companies and Intellectual Properties Commission to help you with all the required documentation to run a legal retail business in South Africa.

Get Business Licencing, Permits, and Insurance 

A business license is one of the essential things you need to operate a business legally in South Africa. So to get a license for your retail business, contact or visit the business-government office closest to your location and apply for a license. You will be given detailed instructions on the requirements and how to go about the process.

In South Africa, your business will also need a specialty sales permit if your city or state requires it. This is also important when you plan to sell a product that the government regulates. In addition, you need to apply for a sales tax permit from the state comptroller’s office so you can pay taxes if any are attached to the items you have purchased to resell.

Lastly, besides licensing and permits, business insurance is vital for all businesses. So it is best to find a good and reliable insurance company in South Africa that can provide coverage for your business in case of future disasters or losses.

Choose a Good Location

The best location for a brick-and-mortar retail business must balance affordability, visibility, and considerable rental terms. Setting up a retail business in a bustling environment is best because the more people can see and access your shop, the more sales you will make in your business. When choosing a location for your business, the following should be considered.

  • The size and population of the city.
  • The total purchasing power of the city’s residents.
  • Good access routes to your shop.
  • Complementary nature of neighbouring businesses.
  • The nature and number of competitions.
  • Visibility of signage and shop front, plus the general appearance of the environment.
  • How reasonable are the rental fee and terms?

Set up Your Shop

Once you have selected the right location for your business, you can set up your shop according to your preference and accessibility. When setting up your shop, you must first draw the shop floor layout, considering how you will arrange your products in order of demand and importance.

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Try to create a shop floor layout or arrangement that can generate impulse purchases and ensure your best-sellers are visible and accessible. In addition, do not forget to add enough transition space for easy movements and personal space for customers to feel comfortable and buy what they want even when the room is full. 

Lastly, the security of your shop is paramount; it would be best to install cameras at different corners of your shop to prevent theft and ensure the safety of your customers.

Hire Staff for Your Business

Depending on the size of your business, you may or may not need extra hands for a smooth operation. However, if you need to hire people for your business, you should know that the type of people you choose to work with can also determine the success or failure of your business.

Your staff needs to be hospitable, able to work efficiently under pressure and understand the customer satisfaction is a priority in every business. 

So to get the best team for your retail business, you should first identify the type of people that suits your business. Next, write out their job description and conduct thorough interviews. When you select those you want to hire, train them briefly to make them understand how you run your business. 

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When you have successfully established your retail business, you must work hard to gain the trust of your customers, build a good reputation in the industry and attract new people. 

You can also maximise social media, email or SMS strategy, loyalty gifts and programmes, and special bonuses or offers to attract and retain customers. These business strategies can also help you create awareness and build a long-lasting relationship with your existing customers.

Retailing in South Africa is very profitable. It is one of the businesses that does not require your 24/7 availability to operate smoothly since you can employ people to handle everything the business needs. So if you have been thinking about starting your retail business, waste no further time and get started right away.


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