Thursday, October 14, 2010

Advice for those looking to open Occult/Magic/New Age stores


A few months back there was an article in Witchvox containing advice about running an occult store. I read it and thought to myself: Wow, that is almost all incredibly bad advice!

I have a background in retail: not only have I worked it but my father and grandfather both owned a hardware store. I got to be involved in the running, expansion, decline, and eventual rescue and sale of that business. As a lecturer and friend of some shop owners I have also gotten a good glimpse of struggle and often closing of magic businesses. Just to be sure that my opinion wasn't off though I asked three owners of occult stores to read it, and they found the advice so bad that they did not believe the author had any experience other than as a customer.

Many students and friends of mine have told me that they had aspirations to open an occult store. At one time, I myself had this aspiration. Since people are still losing their jobs regularly, and since I am always suggesting people start their own businesses, I thought I might share some of my thoughts on the subject.

I want to clarify that the following advice applied to brick and mortar stores only. This is not about web-based business.

So here than is Jason's advice for those hoping to open an Occult/Magic/NewAge store:

1. Get a lot of input on this before you invest a dime. I am not just talking divination here. Talk to people that owned stores that failed, which is almost every store that has opened in the last 10 years. Talk to people that own stores that are still in business. Don't just ask if its worth it or not - ask about how much a case of merch in the store is worth, ask about how much they started with, etc.

2. You need to LOVE retail. I do not mean the merchandise, but actual process of retail sales. After the novelty of the occult stuff wears off, its just stuff that you have to sell. In the end the merchandise doesnt matter. You have to love selling stuff, if you don't than don't do it.

3. Be prepared to work long hours 6-7 days a week.

4. Be prepared for worrying about things even when you are not at the store. When you own a business you never really clock out at the end of the day. When that business is almost guaranteed to be struggling through its whole existence than you need to be prepared for the psychic weight of that.

5. You need to know that you will probably not make enough to support yourself in a middle class lifestyle, much less retire, unless you have other means of income. Some people get the idea in their head that if you own a business that automatically makes you rich. It doesn't and in the case of an occult store it probably makes you the opposite.

6. You need to be prepared to lose every penny you put into it AND have serious debt if it fails - again just about ALL of them fail regardless of magic.

7. You are running a store NOT a community center. You are in business to make money. Lots of people will use your store as a community center, which is good, but they will often not contribute funds or worry much about you making money. If the people that hang around the store are blocking sales, than you need to be tough. If they are not paying for merch you need to be tough. The community itself can bleed you dry.

8. Do not pay for empty floorspace just for classes and rituals. If the store you are looking at has a big backroom and there is not a smaller cheaper place that you could rent, than great, I love giving talks in nice spaces. If there is a cheaper space though, save the money. Move bookshelves before classes, you will be amazed at how many people will pack into a small space.

9. Fill the space you have. This is a must and another reason for a smaller space. A full store looks successful, an empty one does not. People will talk about how they want to support the failing store, but in reality they go to and spend money in the successful store. If you have a big store, either figure a way to fill it, like with altars and such, or put up a wall to make the front smaller.

10. You need more money than you think you do. Number one reason that new stores of any kind fail is that they are under-capitalized at the beginning. You need to fill the store AND have money to fill it again. If you do not rotate merch, people will stop coming in to see what is new. You cannot just rely upon the initial sales to re-stock the store.

11. Have an angle. What makes you special? The only time that I considered opening a store of my own was going to be a small shop on the boardwalk in Atlantic City that specialized in Gambling Charms. If I felt like dealing with all the graft and possible legal hassels involved in such a venture, I would do it. Bottom line is what makes you special? Are you in a town known for that kind of thing like Salem, New Orleans, or New Hope? Are you servicing a specific community like an ATR or very New Age area? Just wanting a store near where you live is not enough.

12. Do not be afraid of competition. Sometimes its better to move into a town that has another store like yours than it is to go to a town that doesn't. Ever walk around a city? Notice how there is a district for jewlers, a district for Indian restaurants, a district for Punk shops? Your store alone may not be enough to get me to drive an hour. If you are in a town where there are three other shops that are similar but just different enough to make it interesting, I will drive that hour over and over again. What you loose to a competitor will often be more than made up for in increased overall volume.

13. Understand that from a financial standpoint this is a BAD investment. Even done as well as can possibly be done it is still a BAD investment. The ONLY reason to do it is that you are willing to deal with all of the above because somewhere deep down you want to be a magical retailer. ANY other reason and you should bail.

15 comments:

Robert said...

I'd love to except for everything you've said. :O)

Zeta said...

*smiles* Man, Jason, you sure know how to put a hole in my dreams!

Nah, but everything you said is true, and good advice. A little disheartening, but good advice nonetheless. Maybe down the line when I've made myself a comfortable living I can look into it again and seriously consider it further. :-)Thanks for telling it like it is.

Miss Sugar said...

This is definitately all things that Jow and I considered and why we're not going to be brick and mortor unless we come into a large sum of money we can just basically afford to flush down the toliet.

Our compromise is to start as a webstore (and we've had marketing/branding meetings about our niche together) and then ideally become a traveling curio store. It's a lot easier to flush >$500 for an event/con/festival fee potentially than possibly tens of thousands of dollars.

Gabriele said...

Jason, you stated that basically all retail stores specializing in the Occult/Magic/New Age will eventually fail - despite the magic. I think that everything occult/magic that is done mainly for the sake of the occult/magic will eventually fail - because of the magic.

Jason Miller, said...

Not all will or have. There are a lot that have things which will make them succeed.

1. established clientel from before the web era
2. own the building
3. great angle and location (ie: Vodou in the French Quarter)
4. Really smart and shrewd owner.

All that aside I get that the purpose of your post is basically just to jab at magic, which begs the question, why are you reading my blog?

Jason Miller, said...

Not all will or have. There are a lot that have things which will make them succeed.

1. established clientel from before the web era
2. own the building
3. great angle and location (ie: Vodou in the French Quarter)
4. Really smart and shrewd owner.

All that aside I get that the purpose of your post is basically just to jab at magic, which begs the question, why are you reading my blog?

Skybrighte said...

There's one here in Portland that's been going on since 1995 and still kicking. They've outlasted several other shops that have closed in the last two years. I can imagine they're probably struggling, too.

There's another that's been closed now about a year that managed to drive people away with the amount of glamor and money drawing spells they had applied to the place. You would walk in there and immediately be hit by the most claustrophobic and slimy energy I've ever felt. When I left I checked my wallet for my cash because I literally expected it to be missing!

Myself, I think I'd be content opening an Etsy shop if I absolutely felt compelled to sell any of my charms. However, as someone who has been selling other things online for years I really question if that's any more lucrative...

Psyche said...

Yeah...I wanted to run an occult bookshop until I actually managed an independent bookstore for almost four years.

It's a lot of work for so little payoff.

moestaq said...

i've successfully been running an occult store for the last 5 years in Namibia, not a big occult supporting country 'yet'.
we bought it from a welsh lady who ran the shop for more than 25 years, it takes passion, hardest work and belief and a certain kind of magick* for the magick to happen, its a calling mostly, and no matter the skidding and sinking at times.. having your heart in it makes the road less travelled.. travelled, i'm blessed and very fortunate to do what i do* moestaq

Methen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michelle Collier said...

Great post! Really made me rethink everything. Thanks. It is a calling and I still want to do it, perhaps in a different way with a lot more thought. Namaste!

Sheta Kaey said...

I'm about to open an "occult shop with really cool art." We own the building and an extensive stock of art, so far. I'm trying to do this by kind of gradually transitioning from more art/less witchy to the opposite, as a shoestring startup. Gonna plan a lot of workshops and seek investors for additional stock and perhaps advertising.

Joseph Ziolkowski said...

My wife and I just opened a spiritual store. We do have a retail component to the store, but we also have a strong service section (readings and healing with various modalities.) Our practitioners are all established (including my wife) and have a clientele. That is where we expect to make the majority of out income with retail just beingot auxillary.

As far as magic goes, there is protection and general success patterns placed around, but on the whole, we work hard at keeping the energy constantly high and peaceful. That, to me, is what will keep people coming back.
I have a small business background, so I helped with the planning and will be contributing to marketing efforts and running of the shop (when I'm not working my business).

We are also networking with the Community, the local community (village events, chamber of commerce, etc).

That seems like a recipe for success, but time will tell :)

Jason, I love your books! We are selling them in our shop.

Joe Ziolkowski

Brandy Vires said...

OK so I have really been thinking of opening my own shop, even kinda convinced my husband. I came across this blog when I was researching the whole, how to go about it, information. I loved your input and your bare it all attitude on what to expect. It really puts perspective on things. My question is what are your feelings on these classes and books advertised about learning to open and successfully run a new age shop. Are they worth it?

Lucky Lady said...

Thank you for your honest perspective. It sounds dismal I too have been wanting to open a metaphysical center, more for classes than the chotchkies. I'm wondering about your thoughts about the online new age stores. I'm researching that now too. Thank you for your reply.