Small town doesn't mean limited business opportunity. From service and product-based companies to e-commerce stores, gone are the days when people have to move to a big city to start a new venture.
In this article, we’ll share 19 small-town business ideas that you can get started on today. These fall into three main categories: service-based, product-based, and online.
The Product-Driven Hometown Advantage
Going local is a popular consumer trend. Product-driven small-town businesses can leverage this interest in locally made products to increase sales. You might incorporate your hometown into your products or your brand. The name of your town might be part of your tagline or even part of your business name. You can include aspects of the town — a favorite street or some local history — in the decor, on your packaging, or even into the products themselves.
While touting your locally made products can help you stand out in a crowded market, product-based businesses do have some challenges. They run the risk of having too much inventory due to inconsistent and seasonal sales. They also can require a high upfront cost to manufacture products and then either rent a storefront in which to sell them or pay for distribution. It's essential that business owners thoroughly research their industry, customer, and market to create a business plan that guides the growth of the business.
Here are some product-based business ideas that can work well in a small town.
1. Jewelry Store
Jewelry stores in small towns can have an exclusive appeal. What makes specialty jewelry stores attractive is that items can be customized to the order, reducing the need for excess inventory. Given the high profit margins, a jewelry store in a small town can earn top dollar. However, when the economy turns, jewelry can be especially hard to sell. Jewelry store owners must strategically structure their business to remain in the black during tough times.
2. Clothing Boutique
Branding your store as boutique communicates to customers that you’re one-of-a-kind. Clothing stores have an added layer of flexibility as business owners can focus on trendy new items or exclusive resale items as a consignment shop. While larger retailers are moving into more and more small towns, if they're not in yours yet, this is a chance for you to take a bigger chunk of the market.
3. Ice cream shop
Ice cream is popular but easy for consumers to find, so with this option, you’re looking at both high demand and high competition. If you decide to open an ice cream store, think about what will make people will pay extra or make the trip to visit your store. Remember the interest in buying local — it’s especially strong when it comes to local food. Nearly half of consumers say they want food sourced close to home.
Small-town bookstores can be more than just a place to buy books. They might be where locals go to catch an author signing, attend a reading club, or just relax. Making your bookstore the go-to hangout can bring in more shoppers and more revenue as a result. Bookstores are also good candidates to merge with other business ideas, such as a coffee shop.
5. Sporting goods store
In rural areas, outdoor activities like fishing, hunting, or hiking are often a favorite pastime for locals and tourists alike. Find a location near a popular park or attraction, and you can capitalize on customers who need last-minute items before embarking on their adventure.
6. Food truck
Food trucks originated in larger cities like New York and San Francisco, but this trend has made its way to plenty of smaller cities. If your small town doesn’t have one, the novelty could be a draw for customers. If there are other food trucks in the area, consider teaming up to create a food truck park or maybe designate one day a month that’s “food truck Friday.” This can be a great way to introduce your food to new customers and plant the seeds for long-term growth.
Service-Based Businesses With a Small-Town Niche
In a service-based business, professionals share their skills with the public. These types of businesses may be sole proprietorships, led by one person, but they can grow with the addition of employees or subcontractors.
Keep in mind that word travels fast in a small town and that great work will result in a solid reputation. Reviews — both in-person and online — are critical so make sure to deliver top service every time.
7. Cleaning service
A cleaning service is a great business for those wanting a company with minimal overhead and a low threshold for entry. You may benefit from less competition in small towns, but research your potential competitors first. If there are others in this space, see how you can specialize. That might be janitorial services for companies or maid services for homeowners. You might branch out down the road, but establish profitability and a strong brand reputation with one service offering before expanding to new customer segments.
8. Hair Salon
The beauty salon and barbershop isn't just a place you go to get your hair cut and styled. In a small town, it might be the hub for local news. Like all service businesses, it’s a people-oriented endeavor — especially since customers build relationships with their favorite stylists over time. For this type of business, make sure to stay on top of trends while focusing on what makes your salon different. That might be your team of friendly stylists or the nostalgic design of your old-fashioned barbershop.
9. Daycare center
Childcare is a growing industry as parents working outside the home depend on a reliable daycare center. Daycare centers in small towns are just as essential as those in larger population hubs to serve the families who live there. The most significant challenge here will be the potential pool of customers. Make sure your small town is growing, with plenty of young families settling there, so you’ll have enough customers to stay profitable.
10. Painter business
As a painting business, you can focus on serving homeowners or companies — or both. This is a service that’s always in demand in cities and towns where buildings are constructed and renovated. While there's plenty of room for a painter to build a successful business in a small town, a proven business model will help you get started. If you plan to operate on a larger scale, you’ll want to work with a team of subcontractors so you can take on more projects. Choosing the right subcontractors and marketing your business professionally are two of the most important steps as you launch your business in this industry.
11. Car wash
There are a few reasons opening a car wash in a small town can be a good business venture. For one, the role doesn't require a lot of technical skills, so you won't have trouble finding talent, important if you’re pulling from a smaller labor pool. There are also plenty of opportunities to upsell customers on additional services or car accessories.
12. Catering service
If the idea of selling food appeals to you, but you want a more service-based approach than a food truck, catering could be a great option. Begin with local events in your small town. Leverage partnerships with other businesses or community gatherings where food needs to be served. Once you have a steady stream of customers in town, expand to neighboring communities. Though this is a service business, you will be dealing with lots of inventory — food — that’s perishable. Be sure to figure this into your calculations as you’re assessing risk and potential profits.
13. Auto repair shop
If you’re already a pro at auto repair, you might want to open a shop in town. Particularly if you’re servicing a rural area where you're the only shop around for miles, you can attract business from other towns as well. While the distance may be an advantage, it may also hurt the business when attempting to ship parts or provide a specialty service, so bear this in mind as you do your research.
In big cities, there are hundreds of hotels available, often part of larger chains. But in small towns, visitors are often drawn to the personal appeal of bed-and-breakfasts. When drafting your business plan, do some research to determine what zoning permits and other regulations may apply to your bed-and-breakfast so you can decide if it will be feasible. This business can have high startup costs, particularly if you need to do any renovations to the property, but it can be a fun way to build a career in the hospitality industry and grow tourism in your community.
As with many service-based businesses, this one has a product-based component, too. You’ll be selling flowers, but the real value you’re bringing is your skill in arranging flowers. Besides refrigeration for your flowers, your general overhead costs for inventory will be much lower than, say, the jewelry store idea mentioned above. Flower shops do have some competition from online delivery services, so business owners should consider how they can differentiate themselves. A florist who delivers quickly and knows how to delight the customer can build a solid reputation in their community for outstanding service.
16. Food delivery service
Delivery services are all the rage right now, but a small town may not have a Grubhub or other service that makes deliveries. This leaves the door wide open for new business owners to step in. You can focus on delivering restaurant meals or groceries. If the latter, you may need to employ shoppers early on so you can scale and serve more customers. For both options, you’ll eventually need delivery drivers to expand how many deliveries you can take on at a time. As you weigh your options, determine if it's better for you to partner with another business as a complimentary service or create a stand-alone entity.
Online Opportunity Gap
The internet provides business opportunities that may not typically exist in a small town. Below are a few businesses where you can have your home base in a small town to reach customers around the world.
Two of these are business ideas discussed above that you can expand with an online component. But for all of these, you’ll still draw on your local network. Even with online businesses, you may find that your first customer is a neighbor or local company since they know you and trust your work.
17. E-commerce clothing store
A smart way for retail businesses to increase revenue is to sell online. If your clothing boutique is doing well locally, you can leverage online ads and your website to reach a new audience of buyers. This can be great for small towns that draw in tourists since people can visit your shop in person but continue buying from you once they get back home.
18. Graphic design business
The online marketing industry continues to evolve in new ways each year and shows no signs of slowing down. Those with a knack for designing logos, print media, and more might enjoy running an online graphic design studio. This business model tends to be freelance-based, though you could develop a graphic design agency with a team of designers. You might also want to partner with companies that provide complementary services, such as copywriting or web development, to provide end-to-end service to your clients.
19. Vacation home rental
If operating a bed-and-breakfast appeals to you, but you want to get started renting out your current property, online vacation rental sites like Airbnb may be a good option. You can spruce up an extra room or guesthouse and list it online for vacationers to find. Using a vacation rental site, you can see customer reviews, accept and decline reservations, and receive payment. While this isn’t your traditional business, it can be a good way to dip your toes into the hospitality industry, and homes that perform well provide a steady stream of income.
Big Ideas for Small-Town Business
Starting a new business is an exciting time, but there are always risks associated with launching your own venture. And with so many possibilities, it can feel overwhelming to know how to proceed.
When you’re weighing your options, bear in mind that business owners who have support are much more successful over the long term. If you’re ready to become your own boss, Main Street can help reduce risk by showing you a profitable business model, providing training, and investing in your business as you grow. We can help you set up a painting company in any size town — big or small. As your business grows and you build positive word-of-mouth from clients, you’ll become the go-to choice in your town. Learn more about how it works to see if this is the business idea for you.