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Big business can happen in small towns. Small cities offer the unique opportunity of a concentrated market, as well as the challenge of a limited population. Finding small town business ideas that will stick is all about meeting current demand with a great product or service.
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To start a business in a small town, you need to do background research on the local market as well as the specific geography of the physical location. In a small town, you are much more dependent on a smaller group for business, so choosing the right location to optimize store traffic is critical. Even if your business plan is based on services, it’s still a good idea to have a solid idea of how big your market is.
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Once you have an idea of the consumer market in your town, you can lay the groundwork for different small town business ideas, ultimately deciding which one you think is the best. After learning more about the resources and other businesses in your area, you can talk to other business owners and assess the costs and requirements of starting a business in a small town. For inspiration, we’ve put together this list of 35 small town business ideas that every community needs. You can use this list as a starting point for research, or perhaps find the right business idea for your small town.
Starting a business in a small town requires careful research and an understanding of your community. Once you have an idea of the businesses in your area and the local demand (more on that below), you’re ready to decide which business is right for you and the community.
Try to find an industry or service where profitable small businesses, community needs, and your own interests intersect. Here are some small town business ideas to consider.
Diner, fine dining, or somewhere in between, a successful small town restaurant is all about giving people what they want but don’t already have. When opening a restaurant, it can be tempting to copy a popular spot in town, but consider a need or want that locals can’t find nearby and an attraction worth traveling from the next town over.
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For example, a farm-to-table restaurant is a great small town business idea, but if you’re not in an agriculturally rich area, or one already exists in your town, consider an alternative. Think about what awaits your family when you leave town. Maybe it’s the elegant dining experience, or maybe it’s a slice of New York-style pizza, but chances are there’s a market for a new restaurant. You just have to understand what people want and what they will eat.
Drive slower business traffic by serving the drinks people want all day long. If coffee shops aren’t a thing in your town, serving coffee all day in a place where people go, like a bar, can slowly start to normalize the activity and encourage crossover business. A bar in your local small town may not be your dream business, but a coffee shop can bring in money at sunrise. There’s no need to compromise as long as you create an environment that works for both day and night.
Depending on county laws and state taxes, opening a liquor store can be one of the most profitable small town business ideas. Especially in places where grocery stores are not allowed to sell alcohol, liquor stores dominate the alcohol market in small towns. Be sure to read up on how to open a liquor store, as securing the documents you need (such as a liquor license) can be tricky.
A good craftsman will always be in demand, even in small towns. If you often get calls from friends, family, and neighbors to come over and look at a leaky pipe or wobble board, you may be well on your way to a small town that works.
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Starting a contractor service will be relatively simple if you already work odd jobs and have an idea of who will hire you. If people in the area aren’t familiar with your work, try contacting a general contractor who is willing to bid on a small project and hopefully get your name out to future clients. In a word-of-mouth business like service work, remodeling, and construction, people you already know and who know your work are your strongest salespeople.
You’re almost required to own a car if you live in a rural area or small town, but being far from dealerships can make routine maintenance a hassle. Auto repair services fill an obvious need in small towns and make life more convenient for locals, so you may want to consider opening a shop in your town.
Likewise, cars break down everywhere, and most tow trucks charge a mile. So, if your town is a significant distance between major cities, you might start towing cars even if you don’t have a proper repair shop.
Some people just don’t like to clean, and there’s a good chance some of them live in your town. Why not start a cleaning business for them? This is another service that takes advantage of a word-of-mouth referral system and can even be combined with other services like babysitting or yard work. Expert cleaning is a valuable skill, but not one that requires you to spend tons of money on courses or certifications, so this is a great option if you’re looking for a low-cost side hustle.
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All businesses and individuals need technology support wherever they are. No matter how big or small the city, there will always be people who use technology and struggle to connect to their WiFi.
This service will require a bit more advertising to get the word out, as it is less visible than a storefront business and less regular than a house cleaning service. But if you don’t plan on doing major repairs, it won’t require much in terms of equipment, so you’ll also keep overhead costs low.
Opening a pet store in your town is a great small town business idea if there isn’t already a local supply store or a large chain like PetSmart or PetCo. Depending on the pet population in your area, there may be a demand for pet care and boarding services.
If you’re interested in opening a pet store or pet care business in a small town, ask local pet owners where they currently get their food and care. A pet store owner in your town can also be a good resource if you are interested in offering grooming, walking or boarding services.
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Chances are there is at least one barber shop or salon in your town, but this can really help you if you want to open a successful hair salon. If any demographics are underserved, meaning there is only a barber shop that caters primarily to men, find out whose hair needs are currently not being addressed on Main Street.
If your city is already served by barbershops and hairstylists, you may want to consider a more in-depth hair care business, such as a hair salon or salon that offers makeup, lashes, and tanning in addition to hair services.
They may not be the most glamorous business, but gas stations are absolutely essential in communities where most people rely on cars and trucks for transportation. Small towns that are located on or near major highways can have significant traffic, and unlike most businesses, a gas station can actually benefit from a location that is far between towns. Selling lottery tickets and cigarettes can also bring in significant income, especially if you are the only seller in the area.
When a town that could sustain a grocery store doesn’t, there’s probably a good reason. maybe most people commute and use other stores every day, or there isn’t a large enough population to support a big box chain.
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If you want to go the independent route (ie, not open a franchise store), try to find a way to specialize your store so you don’t spend on huge inventory. Use local products, trends and tastes to help inform this decision.
Farmers’ market stores in agricultural areas that carry local produce and seasonal products are usually popular with locals and tourists alike. A city that already has a major chain grocery store, but few options available for organic, local, gluten-free, or vegan options, is a great candidate for a specialty food store.
A pharmacy or dispensary requires more legal work, from hiring a pharmacist to purchasing insurance to putting in place safety precautions, but if your town is not served by a pharmacy, this could be a great opportunity to open a long-term business in your community. .
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