Selling online is a relatively easy way for anyone to dip their toe in the business world. Sites like Amazon and eBay are giants in the online retail world, and open to anyone with a product to sell, either physical or digital.
The upside to online selling is the monetary saving on shop premises. With lower overheads, it’s possible to start very small and control the rate of expansion.
In many respects, selling online is also a scalable business model as additional products can be added at any time and completely new lines introduced relatively risk free.
There’s no huge commitment in contractual terms; it really is a ‘suck it and see’ business environment for the risk-averse entrepreneur.
The elephant in the room is storage. To sell product you need to store product, and that means having a suitable space that keeps everything secure and in good condition.
Home or Away
Many online sellers start out with home storage. It’s convenient and a seemingly free option to stack boxes in the garage, basement, or loft.
The major problem with home storage is the limits it places on the business in terms of growth. The home has only so many nooks and crannies in which to stow items for sale, and there are other issues too:
- Delivery access – residential streets are not ideal for large delivery vans, and domestic residences are rife with challenges such as curbs, steps, small entryways and slopes or obstacles.
- Security – stock held represents future profits and if it’s stolen or vandalised the business could be ruined.
- Health and Safety – trip, fall and slip hazards all grow when stock storage impinges on living space.
That said, commandeering the garage, fitting it out with sturdy shelving and investing in locks, intruder alarms, and security lighting gives many online sellers the inexpensive start they need.
Difficulties arise when the garage is full since there’s no room to expand. In this situation, the business can falter through space restrictions.
Alternatives include renting industrial units or jumping into warehousing, although the additional cost of these solutions can be eye-watering when expenses like VAT, business rates, utility and service charges are taken into account.
For true scalability with the option to start very small, a third alternative in the form of self storage has provided many startups with exactly what they need:
- No long term contracts
- Secure sites and individually locked storage spaces
- Easy access for all sizes of delivery vehicles
- Storage space sizes ranging from very small to very large (from lockers to warehouses)
- Helpful staff who’ll sign for deliveries in the business owner’s absence (discuss this option with them first)
- Other services such as couriers or office admin help
- Convenient town locations
- Long opening hours
- All service charges included in the rent
Building in scalability allows for flexible business operation in both planned or unexpected opportunities. Seasonal fluctuations in stock levels or a one-off bulk buy bargain are out of the question with the restrictions of home storage.
With the short term contracts offered by self storage companies, it’s possible to rent additional rooms for both temporary or permanent expansion.
Add on an extra room to accommodate bigger storage needs over Christmas, for instance, then scale back again in the New Year after the seasonal flurry.
Unless you never expect the business to grow beyond a small, part-time venture, planning storage needs and how you’ll manage costs, space and logistics makes better sense.
Starting small and controlling growth is ideal, and with appropriate storage methods, totally doable.