Small towns offer more business opportunities than you might think. A lower population size is one drawback in exchange for many other perks, which include less competition, clear business needs, and a small market to analyze.
Nailing down your small town business idea comes down to determining what your community needs. Are you a math whiz? Maybe the local kids need some extra help after school. Did you get into baking this past year? Your neighborhood is probably dying to try your sourdough recipe.
There are many directions you can go and many Americans want to shop local. A recent Mint survey found that 55 percent of consumers are supporting local businesses by shopping in person. The same survey found that about 57 percent shopped local because they wanted to keep money within their community.
Not sure where to start? Take a look at our comprehensive list of small town business ideas to spark your creativity.
Visiting small-town restaurants can become a beloved tradition for local families.. Your town may already have a local favorite or may have smaller cafes that double as “restaurants” for the neighborhood.
Scout around town and see what competition you might have. Chat with your neighbors to learn about what they’d like to see and what food they look for when they’re out of town. Then, consider what you and your team can offer that could meet the demand brewing in your town.
Consider other things beyond the menu that can make you stand out from the competition. You can look into ways to promote your restaurant on Yelp and Google to start drumming up interest beyond your town. When it makes sense for your business, consider adding online ordering and delivery services.
Nothing screams hometown comfort like a cozy diner where the waitress probably knows you by name and knows your usual order by heart. Diners fit right into small towns because of their family-friendly atmosphere and familiar menu items. This is also a solid business idea if your town is lacking a place for families to go out for a bite to eat.
3. Speciality restaurant
Let’s take restaurants a step further. Maybe your neighborhood is hankering for a specific cuisine or food item. You may be in luck if you or a business acquaintance has some culinary knowledge in a highly coveted category.
Speciality restaurants benefit from a limited menu. When you specialize in a particular cuisine, you can hone in on what patrons really want and spend your effort perfecting dishes. Another perk of a small town? You can easily get direct feedback from residents, get to know them by name, and let them know of any changes since their last visit.
A limited menu also helps with inventory management. You’re less likely to have ingredients go bad if you don’t have a lot to manage in the first place. Another tip is to focus on dishes that share similar ingredients, so you can limit the variety of ingredients you need to purchase.
4. Farmer’s market vendor
If you have a natural green thumb and have some land to grow food, joining your local farmers market is a seamless route to take. Take a walk around the neighborhood farmers market to get a sense of the usual vendors and what residents seem to like.
You should also make note of the logistics. How often does it happen? Are there multiple markets in town or in nearby towns? What equipment do you need to bring and what does the market provide? What fees, insurance, and licenses do they require? Is the market limited to fresh produce or are they open to other types of products?
The answers to these questions reveal how practical and profitable this avenue is for you. Depending on your local farmers’ market rules, you can also use your stand as a cheap way to test products with the neighborhood without committing to a permanent storefront.
5. Food stand
No local food market? No problem! You can set up shop with your own food stand.
A standalone food stand is a great choice if you know a shop that will let you set up nearby. It’s also ideal if you want to stay in the local area and serve cuisine that thrives from streetside service. Tacos, popcorn, and novelty food items are popular food stand offerings, but you can expand to other types of food, as well.
It’s generally cheaper to open a food stand than a restaurant, but there are still permits and licenses you’ll likely need to get.
If you don’t have a relationship with a local shop owner, then you’ll also need to spend time scouting out an ideal spot and tracking down what permissions you need to set up shop. You’ll also need to familiarize yourself with any local regulations that are specific to food stands.
6. Food truck
You can also go the food truck route! A food truck benefits from its mobility. You have the option to leave town and serve other areas, even if it’s temporary. This gives you flexibility to experiment and expand your market beyond your town’s residents.
However, flexibility comes at a cost. You’ll need to factor in the costs of permits, licenses, truck maintenance, and insurance on top of the costs of equipment.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Food Truck Index says that it can cost about $28,276 to start and maintain a food truck for one year. You’ll also need to follow your town’s local rules for food trucks. This can include parking and operations restrictions.
7. Coffee and tea shop
Move over Starbucks! Local coffee and tea shops are here to stay. A mid-morning pick me up from the local coffee shop could be what’s missing in your town. Coffee and tea can be served all day for people on their way to work or for remote workers looking for a change of scenery.
Location is especially important for a coffee shop since it needs to be in a convenient spot for grab-and-go customers as well as customers who prefer to linger.
Coffee shop traffic also depends on seasonality. Most coffee shops are slower around the beginning and end of the year as well as the middle of summer. You can also keep a close eye on your foot traffic during your first few months to get a feel of your customer flow.
8. Ice cream shop
Opening an ice cream shop can be a smart move if your town is lacking in the dessert department. This frozen treat is popular with all ages!
Now that there are lots of options available like dairy-free ice cream, you can cater your ice cream selection to your neighborhood’s preferences. Ice cream shops and other specialty dessert stores are ideal if you want to work in food, but don’t want the responsibilities of a full-service restaurant.
The obvious difficulty is seasonality. Warm weather areas are better options for ice cream shops compared to cold areas. Otherwise, you’ll need to get creative to entice customers in the door when the temperatures start to drop.
There are many ways you can differentiate your shop and take advantage of your small population, such as collaborating with local restaurants to create specialty flavors and limited promotional items. Ice cream eating competitions and other fun events can help you drum up business in unique ways.
A fresh bakery is great if you’re interested in carrying a variety of items, but still want to stay within a niche. You can lean into savory or sweet offerings, or go with a mix of both! A bakery is another place where locals can stop by on their way to work. It can also be a place to swing by when they want to surprise their loved ones with a sweet treat.
On the flipside, you can skip the storefront and start an at-home bakery business. This may be your calling if you specialize in a specific item or aren’t interested in the cost, equipment, and licenses needed to open a storefront.
Regardless of your route, you’ll need to look into permits and licenses for both. Both bakery business options also open the door to additional services—home delivery, catering, and speciality items for special occasions. If your bakery has a strong reputation, you may even see some out-of-towners putting in orders!
10. Sports bar
Is your town wild about sports? They may be looking for a local sports bar so they can get together to watch big games. This can be a fun place for residents to stop by after work to catch a game. Sports bars are lively spots for after-work happy hours and game-day gatherings.
For this small town business idea, you’ll need to gauge the sports culture in your area. Are there teams that many of the area residents seem to root for? Where do they gather now?
If everyone prefers gathering at someone’s house to watch the game, then you may need to think twice about whether or not a sports bar can thrive in your town. On the other hand, if it sounds like people are over cramming into Bob’s living room every Sunday, you may have the green light to open a sports bar.
11. Winery or brewery
Compared to a sports bar, wineries and breweries have a different atmosphere and serve a much different purpose. In addition to serving as an after-work spot, it can also be a place for bachelorette parties, parents’ night out, or networking events.
Wineries and breweries require more specialized training and equipment in comparison to other restaurants. You’ll also need to consider if drinking alcohol is socially acceptable in your town. That’ll be the first red flag that a winery or brewery might not be the best business for your town!
Other than those main things, wineries and breweries can be great spots for your town to gather for special occasions. If you brew your own beer, then you also have the opportunity to sell your beer locally. After establishing a local fan base, you can also look into opportunities for broader distribution.
12. Grocery or specialty food store
Grocery stores can fit right into a small town if one doesn’t already exist. Bigger chains found in more populous cities probably don’t exist in your town. This can be an opportunity to save your neighbors a lengthy trip out of town just to get their groceries! If you have farms near your town, a grocery store is an easy way to serve fresh produce to residents while also supporting others in your community.
Even if a grocery store does exist, you can still thrive by offering what the other store lacks. However, you should always keep your customers in mind. An organic pressed juice store sounds unique, but may not be a hit if your neighbors aren’t willing to shell out the money for it.
13. Catering company
Some of the previously mentioned ideas are perfect catering service opportunities. Starting a food business focused strictly on catering could be your winning small town business idea if you’re not interested in the ins-and-outs of a sit down restaurant or the everyday bustle of a restaurant.
There’s lots of flexibility with catering companies. You can start a catering company at home or you can open up a storefront. You can also choose to specialize in specific events or dishes. Once again, the success of this small town business idea is based on the needs of your town.
Pick up a community calendar and familiarize yourself with the happenings in your town. Chat with any local organizations to learn about the events and gatherings that typically happen in your community. If you’re successful in your town, you can potentially expand your services to other nearby towns.
Are you the person your family calls when the sink is clogged? Do you enjoy working with your hands? Opening a simple handyman business could be your calling. This is also a great business to tackle if you don’t want to open a storefront, but still want to work for yourself.
Be sure to check your city and state’s laws for handyman services before you get started. Some areas require licensing and certifications depending on the type of work you plan to perform.
You can become the go-to handyman if you’re the only handyman service in town. If you do a good job, you can ask your clients to help pass your name along to friends and loved ones who also need help. You can also team up with other handymen or contractors in the neighborhood to help tackle larger projects or to combine clientele.
15. Home improvement contractor
The main difference between a home improvement contractor and a handyman comes down to the types of projects you can execute. Contractors are almost always required by their state and/or their city to possess licenses and certifications. Contractors also typically tackle bigger projects.
For example, a handyman might fix a leaky sink while a contractor could oversee a full renovation of your bathroom. Contractors can work with handymen and other home improvement pros to complete big projects.
If you’re willing to invest in the time and effort needed to get your paperwork in line, then this could be the route for you. You’ll also need to get acquainted with other pros like painters and carpenters to extend your services.
16. Gardening and landscaping
Landscaping is a great small town business idea in rural areas and towns that take pride in their lawns and gardens. Just like contractors, you may also need to get permits and licenses depending on the work you plan to complete.
Gardening and landscaping businesses benefit from repeat business. Your customer’s lawn probably needs regular upkeep. You can get a predictable stream of income if your customers are satisfied with your work and recommend you to others. You can also break into bigger projects if your town has parks or other green spaces across town.
17. Home cleaning
Everyone’s house gets messy every once in a while. This is especially helpful for busy parents on your block or people who take long commutes in and out of town for work. You can get customers on a schedule if they need regular cleaning. You can also be their go-to when they need major tidying done before hosting a party or over-night guests.
If you have other certifications or skills around the house, you can offer multiple home maintenance services. For example, you can offer to prepare meals for the homeowners as a packaged deal. Home cleaning is another great business idea if you don’t want to maintain a storefront and don’t want to get any extra certifications.
18. Thrift store
Consider opening a thrift store if you’re itching to get into retail in your small town. Thrift stores are valuable for neighbors who love a good deal.
You won’t have a big department-store sized inventory, but you can expect to get useful items donated by your neighbors. You can also consider opening a similar store, like an antique store or consignment store, if a general thrift store already exists.
Inventory management for thrift stores has perks and pain points. Your inventory isn’t perishable and doesn’t need much upkeep. You also save time and money since merchandise is collected through donations and not outside manufacturers.
However, you will need to manage the unpredictable flow of donations from customers. You can also get stuck with a surplus of products at certain times depending on items donated.
19. Clothing boutique
You can also focus on just clothes if you’re not interested in working with a big range of merchandise. Clothing stores are a necessity for small towns that don’t have big malls or superstores nearby.
It’s also more convenient to have a clothing boutique in the neighborhood since you can easily drop by and try on clothes. You can go in many directions with a clothing boutique. You can start with just women’s fashion or clothes for kids. If lots of formal events happen in town, you can add a formalwear section to your shop.
20. Dry cleaner and alterations
A dry cleaning service is great for towns with lots of working professionals or towns that have many formal events. Adding an alterations and repair service can make your business a one-stop-shop for your neighbor’s clothing needs. It also saves them a trip out of town just for simple repairs and cleanings.
Alterations may not cost much if you already own a sewing machine and other equipment. Dry cleaning and related supplies have higher upfront costs. But, getting steady business and repeat customers can help you recoup these initial expenses.
21. T-shirt designer
Instead of selling and caring for clothes, you can also make clothes! A t-shirt design business is simple and can benefit many people in your neighborhood. Students may need t-shirts for a class trip or a neighbor may need t-shirts for an upcoming family reunion. Ask around to get a sense of the potential opportunities in your neighborhood.
In addition to making custom designs, you can also sell original designs. There’s a little more risk involved since you aren’t commissioned for the work. But, this can turn a profit if the town likes your designs! You can also sell some custom designs online through sites like Redbubble and Teespring.
22. Flower shop
Fresh flowers are an easy gift for all occasions—anniversaries, promotions, and the occasional forgotten birthday! A local flower shop can outdo an online floral delivery service since residents can chat directly with you and get their flower arrangements quickly.
This is an easy small business idea compared to others that may need lots of technical know-how. At the most, you’ll need to learn a bit about flower care and arrangement. Your flower cooler will probably be your biggest expense. Like most upfront costs, the expense will be worth it once your business starts blooming.
Professional photography opens up many business opportunities for small towns. You can specialize in specific disciplines like portraits or commercial photography. You can stay open to different styles depending on your town’s needs.
Annual events like community festivals can be an opportunity to get predictable income on the calendar. Ask local businesses and organizations about any upcoming events and their interests in professional photography.
In addition to selling your services to your neighbors, you can also sell your photos online. Landscape photography can be one option if you have beautiful scenery in your town. You can sell to stock photo sites or you can try your hand at photo competitions.
24. Handmade or craft business
If you’re passionate and crafty, a storefront could be a way to get your creations out there. Take advantage of the uniqueness of your town by using local supplies or creating something inspired by your community. You can also start selling goods on sites like Etsy to broaden your market.
If you’re not crafty or don’t have enough products to fill a store, you also sell handmade crafts from local artisans. This works best if there are lots of crafty people in town who don’t have the time to set up shop. These unique products can also turn your store into a tourist stop.
25. Gift shop
We all take multi-department grocery stores for granted in bigger cities. Gift shops are great for small towns since these items could be hard to get. Your shop can range from gift cards, custom gifts, and gift wrap.
Ultimately, your stock depends on what your neighbors wish they had. Is it tough to get greeting cards around town? Do they wish that they could get special items engraved? Tailor your offerings to what they need instead of buying lots of teddy bears they don’t need.
In addition to standard gifting items, you can also include town memorabilia if you get out-of-towners in your area.
26. Event planner
Event planning is another small business idea you can easily start in a small town. Events range from small birthday parties to big networking events. You won’t need a storefront to run this business, but you will need good contacts and room to hold your supplies.
Partnerships with musicians, DJs, decor stores or rental companies, and caterers are a few contacts you may want to have handy. Unless you can offer some services yourself (and you’re not stretched too thin), you’ll probably need the extra help.
The best part about event planning is that you’re not bound to your location. If business is good enough, you may start getting requests from residents in neighboring towns!
Your neighborhood’s working parents will thank you if you start a daycare service in town! Daycare services offer steady and predictable income since most kids need care during specific times of the week.
You can start a daycare in your home, but you’ll need to make sure everything is childproofed for their safety. Your state or city probably has licensing and other requirements since you’ll be working with kids.
28. Pet and grooming store
You may have a big business opportunity in your small town if it’s home to many pet owners. No one wants to drive an hour away from home just to give their pet a haircut. You could also offer pet supplies if your town doesn’t already have a pet supply store.
Ask the pet parents around town what they wish was close by and where they currently go for their pet needs. Then, you can stock up on their preferred pet food and supplies.
29. Vet office
Becoming a vet isn’t something you can do overnight. However, if you already have the credentials or know someone who does, then you can open up a small pet clinic to service the pets in your town. A nearby vet is important for families who want to keep their pet healthy. This also gives you a built-in client base if there aren’t any nearby vets.
Maybe you’re not good with pets, but you’re good at math. Or maybe your friends consider you a grammar geek. You can use your knowledge for good by tutoring local students in tough subjects. A tutoring service is great for a small town with lots of families.
You can start a tutoring business by doing house calls or by working with local schools. Eventually, you can hire tutors who are masters in other subjects to help even more students. You may also have the opportunity to expand your tutoring to adults if your local schools offer night classes.
31. Car repairs
You may have a future as a mechanic if your town lacks a proper auto shop. Car trouble is a big hassle when there aren’t any shops around. If you have the right skills and proper credentials, you can open up a shop in your town to keep everyone’s cars in tip-top shape.
Your regulars can also help you drum up business for out-of-towners or neighboring towns. Getting customer feedback for your auto repair shop is also a major part of improving your business. You can turn negative feedback around if you listen to the complaint and make a conscious effort to improve.
32. Car wash and car detailing
In addition to car repairs, you can consider opening a car wash or car detailing service. Busy parents and professionals will appreciate a quick wash instead of spending the afternoon scrubbing down their car. Car detailing is another service you can offer if you have residents in town who like to keep their cars looking nice.
A local bookstore may be exactly what your neighborhood bookworms need. Although you can’t beat the massive inventory found on the internet, you can still offer an experience that’s tailored to your local readers. Stock up on genres and authors that are popular with locals.
You can also take advantage of your “local” status when marketing your independent bookstore. More and more people prefer to shop small than to shop with big retailers. This may also attract out of towners to your store.
Bookstores are also much more than a place to buy books. Many stores have become mini-community centers to host events like author readings and poetry slams. Some bookstores have also added additional sections and services like cafes, gift areas, and gift wrapping. You can consider adding these areas if your town doesn’t already have these services elsewhere.
34. Bed and breakfast
Unless you’ve lived in a small town, you may not understand the value of a bed and breakfast. Small towns aren’t typical tourist hot spots. However, a cozy inn is a great place for extended family to stay or for local events such as high school reunions that bring an influx of out-of-towners!
A bed and breakfast can also attract tourists who are looking to stay in a quiet area that boasts unique offerings that you won’t find in a traditional hotel. You can start a bed and breakfast in your home if you have enough room to host some guests. You can also purchase some property if you prefer to keep things separate.
35. Bicycle rentals and repairs
This niche business greatly depends on your town. Do you have a big bike culture in your town? Do lots of people own one? Do people visit your town to bike the local trails? If so, you may have an opportunity to start a bike shop in your town.
Opening a bike rental shop opens up the opportunity for visitors who want to bike, but don’t want to bring their own. Offering bike repair services is also a solid idea if your town has lots of cyclists, but no shop in town to help with repairs or parts.
36. Commercial cleaning service
Contrary to home cleaning services, commercial cleaning services focus on businesses. All businesses need to keep an acceptable level of cleanliness to stay open. You can save business owners time by taking daily cleaning tasks off their to-do list.
Just like other businesses on this list, you can expand beyond your town and offer cleaning services in nearby communities. You can also scale this business by hiring more cleaners to service more customers.
37. Tour guide
Your small town is missing a big opportunity if they don’t offer any tours! Dig into your town’s history to see if there are any landmarks or tourist hot spots. Ask around and see what spots tourists like to visit the most.
You may already have a tour route set in place based on what you find. Depending on your town, you can even set up fun attractions on your tour to show off the town.
38. IT and computer services
You are a gold mine of information if you are the only tech savvy person in town! Most people, even in small towns, own some form of technology. Understanding how to troubleshoot with patience and clarity will make you a valuable resource for your customers.
It also doesn’t cost as much depending on what services you offer. For example, you’ll need to spend some money upfront if you plan to do physical repairs. On the other hand, troubleshooting over the phone or in person doesn’t have many upfront costs. Before you start this business, make sure there isn’t already a resident techy!
39. Barbershop or salon
Barbershops and salons can serve many people with a variety of services. Nails, brows, waxing, and hair coloring are just a few things you can offer in your barbershop or salon beyond haircut services.
You’ll need to first assess what’s already around. If your town already has a simple hair salon, then you can use your shop to specialize in another service. If your town has a pretty robust women’s salon in place, consider opening a barber shop and focusing on men’s grooming services.
Gyms or fitness studios are another great business idea for small towns. There may be some people who are dying for proper gym equipment, but don’t have the means to buy equipment themselves.
It’s important to tailor this business to the needs of your town before buying anything! Gym equipment has a high price tag, so you’ll take on some costs in the beginning depending on what you need.
Your potential customers may just want a big studio to practice yoga. If this is the case, there’s no need to run out and buy 20 ellipticals.
Membership fees keep a steady and predictable flow of income. You’ll just need to spend some effort maintaining equipment and cleanliness in your gym.
41. Yoga instructor
If you’re a fitness junkie yourself, you can start holding your own classes. Yoga instructors have flexibility when it comes to class location.
You can hold a class in a local fitness studio, but you can also do it outside, at workplaces, in your clients’ homes, and in your home. Before you start holding in-person classes, double-check with your city and state if you need special permits to hold classes in certain areas.
Holding classes at multiple times of the day gives your students more options. You can also film some classes and teach online to expand your market.
How can I find the best small business idea for my town?
Research is the key to finding the best small business idea for your area. These ideas are great, but they aren’t one size fits all. Below are a few questions you’ll need to answer to get a better idea of what business could work in your town.
- What areas get the most traffic?
- Why don’t people pass through certain areas?
- Who lives in your town?
- What is important to residents of this town?
- What’s missing from your town?
- What spots are popular in your town?
- What types of businesses do residents like to visit when they’re out of town?
- Who do I need permission from to operate?
- What and who do I need to pay to legally operate?
- What resources does the town provide small business owners?
You can find some of this information by checking with your local town hall to get information on technical and legal matters like permits, licenses, and fees.
The easiest way to learn about your neighbors is to talk to them! Small towns are typically close-knit communities, so residents are probably more than happy to chat about what they like and how they hope to see their community grow.
Chatting with local business owners can shed even more color on both the residents in your town and what you may expect to face as a business.
Leveraging Your Online Presence for Your Small Town Business
Starting a business in a small town can do well if you do your research and meet your community where you’re needed. Once business is rolling, you’ll want to start collecting reviews from your customers to improve your online presence.
Although you’re in a small town, online reviews can help attract customers from nearby towns and tourists who are passing through. Reviews can get difficult to manage if you’re already spending most of your time managing your business.
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